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Q&A Key Takeaways: Hope for HIE Welcomes Annie Gunning, Child Life Specialist

February 27th, 2023  | News  | Resources


Hope for HIE is growing, and we are so proud to be able to offer even more support services, programs, and opportunities for our community. As of February, Annie Gunning, Certified Child Life Specialist, joined Hope for HIE to provide Child Life services to our HIE families worldwide. Working for over 22 years in both the inpatient and community setting, and as the owner of her Child Life private practice – Empower through Play, LLC – Annie is prepared and ready to provide a wide range of services across all ages, outcomes, and impacts.

Annie joined us for a LIVE Q&A to discuss her role for Hope for HIE, and if you happened to miss the stream, no worries; you can find key takeaways below!

Key Takeaway 1: Annie is available to support the whole family

Don’t be deceived by the job title: while Child Life Specialists traditionally focus on supporting patients who range from 0-18 years of age, they are also equipped with the resources, tools, and know-how to help the whole family, including siblings, parents and guardians, and – depending on the circumstance –  some extended family members. All roads return to their primary goal of providing coping support and strategies to all those immediately affected by one’s medical situation, diagnosis, prognosis, or procedure.

Key Takeaway 2: Annie provides coping support through play, creative expression, and education. 

People understand and process hard and complicated things best when presented with information that is accessible and – even more importantly – differentiated to their needs. When supporting a patient or family member, Annie considers their age and developmental needs to create an individualized support plan that will work best.

This is accomplished in many ways: first, through play or gamification to alleviate stress related to a potentially-scary experience, like prepping for surgery or taking medications for the first time; through creative expression, such as painting, drawing, or journaling to capture one’s thoughts and feelings; and through the use of visualization strategies to promote education and understanding, like using a Hoberman sphere to teach deep-breathing practices. According to Annie, focusing on the five senses can help her patients visualize and gain a sense of control over their situations where they may have otherwise had none.

Key Takeaway 3: Your family can access a wide variety of support services 

Remember, these are for our HIE families worldwide and are inclusive to those across an extensive range of outcomes and impacts.

  1. Parental support and coaching on child development, responses, and behaviors.

  2. Sibling support
    • Relationship building and bonding
    • Understanding diagnosis and outcomes
    • Developing an age-appropriate coping plan
  3. Hospitalization support
    • Surgery preparation and coping
    • Providing easy-to-understand resources
    • Strategies to increase patient advocacy and choice
  4. Coping plan development
    • Designed for the whole family [parents, siblings, patients]
    • Developmentally-sound tools and strategies
    • Stress-relief tactics
  5. Supportive conversations around diagnosis, prognosis, or end-of-life services

  6. Bereavement support
    • Memory-making for siblings and parents
    • Coping skills list
    • Books, resources, journal prompts
  7. Education and Advocacy
    • Seeking local organizations, support groups, and individualized resources

Key Takeaway 4: Requesting Annie’s services is as easy as clicking a button 

Annie is open and ready to receive requests for her Child Life services through email at AnnieG@HopeforHIE.org. You can also click on the tab below to automatically be directed to your email provider and ask for support!

Once you reach out, you can work with Annie in whatever mode of communication works best for you and your family, whether that’s via email, a phone call, or a virtual meeting. 

Also in the works are Child Life Support Packages that you can select and personalize to your family’s circumstances. Packages include bereavement or grief boxes for siblings or parents, family activity boxes, educational resource packages, and more. We will promote this information on our website and through our social media platforms once it becomes available!

Key Takeaway 5: Here’s how to best benefit from working with a Child Life Specialist

While more Child Life Specialists are branching out and partnering with organizations like ours, many families will traditionally encounter a CCLS through a medical facility or hospital. While they will certainly guide you and your family through your specific circumstances or experiences, Annie suggests keeping the following in mind to maximize your partnership:

  1. Consider requesting a Child Life Specialist before the medical visit or hospital stay. Doing so can help all participants better plan and prepare! 
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for parental support. This includes asking for guidance on approaching hard conversations with your child[ren] or family members and how to better prepare for an upcoming experience/scenario.
  3. Be sure to ask the Child Life Specialist for take-home resources and to connect you to local support programs or organizations.

Key Takeaway 6: Many resources are available in the Child Life realm to help educate families and connect them to others! 

Below are some of Annie’s go-to resources she recommends:

  1. Association of Child Life Professionals
    • Includes resources for parents and professionals to receive general information about child life services
  2. Mighty and Bright Organization
    • This tool is great for requesting age-appropriate books and resources that promote visualization and feeling identification.
  3. Empower through Play
    • Annie’s website can walk families through how to cope with life’s challenging experiences by utilizing creative expression, education, preparation, and therapeutic play.
  4. Child Life on Call Podcast
    • This podcast, hosted by a CCLS herself, Katie Taylor, interviews various families about their Child Life experiences. Each episode’s title is organized by diagnosis or situation so that you can find one that best meets your and your family’s needs! They also have a popular TikTok presence for those of you who are interested in following; otherwise, you can listen to the episodes via their website, and it is also available on Spotify!

For even more information and to watch the whole video, visit our YouTube channel below!



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