Play is an important part of childhood but there have been no programs for play and socialization for children with complex medical needs. Children with complex medical needs (CCMN) are characterized by their medical fragility, are technology dependent and will require health care support beyond what is typically required. Therefore, these children are often unable to participate in playgroups and social activities. Without access to group-based activities that are developmentally appropriate, children with complex medical needs miss out on opportunities to engage with their peers, leading to social isolation and adverse effects on their quality of life.
Collaborating with parents of CCMN, VHA Home HealthCare addressed this gap by co-designing an innovative 6-week playgroup called Playdate to support play that is financially accessible, medically safe, and fun for children. To understand the impact of this program, VHA led an evaluative study to examine:
- If Playdate could improve perceived quality-of-life for CCMN using the PedsQL™ as a pre-post measure and
- Perceived impacts, benefits, and experiences of Playdate by parents or primary caregivers
The pre-posttest shows a 27.4% increase for scores representing total quality-of-life functioning and 31.7% in psychosocial functioning. Interviews repeatedly echoed caregiver perspectives that Playdate had a positive impact on their child’s quality-of-life and provided much needed respite for parents. Parents also praised program staff for their compassion, competency, but expressed a desire for longer sessions with more opportunities to participate. Our findings support that program like Playdate can demonstrate positive benefits to CCMN in terms of improved quality-of-life through exposure to play in an environment that empowers their abilities while also extending benefits to caregivers.