Meet our Allied Health Team: Shari Manley

What is a child life therapist?

Child Life Therapists (CLT) work in healthcare settings supporting children and their families through their specific and individual journeys. The work of the CLT is primarily to support the child to have their rights, desires and needs met and where possible enable the child to find their voice in the healthcare environment. CLT work within the allied health team supporting families, professionals and the wider community to understand children’s capabilities and to create environments where children are listened to and respected. The professional boundaries of CLT extend beyond individual experiences with children, the work is designed to impact the environment and the people in it to ensure that children have the opportunity to express their wishes, be actively involved in decision making and find joy through play and recreational experiences.

What does it mean for you to be a child life therapist?

CLT offers broad and varied professional experiences that enable me to explore the many aspects of work that I enjoy including teaching, creative thinking, problem solving, team work, nurturing children and engaging with people of all ages.

I first found CLT at the Royal Children’s Hospital in 2000, I was initially challenged and intimidated by the fast paced, medically driven environment but soon realised that I thrived on the action of paediatric healthcare,  in particular the opportunity to learn new things every day and work with a wide range of disciplines including nursing, medicine and allied health. I also love the families, meeting new people, providing assistance as it is required and spending each day making a difference to their experience of hospital. I came to understand that there is no other job like CLT and that it allowed me to explore and enhance many aspects of my character including my interest in advocating for children, educating others, creating new programs, listening to children, responding to their wishes and supporting children to navigate their healthcare journeys with confidence and success.

I am thrilled to be at Very Special Kids and the opportunity this provides to create a CLT program specific to the hospice environment, bringing all my previous professional experience with me and working with others to design a service that meets the needs of children and families who stay at Very Special Kids.

What attracted you to the position?

I have always been drawn to CLT work and have been investigating ways to re-enter the healthcare environment after time away teaching in the Tertiary sector. The position at Very Special Kids came into my awareness from a number of angles, including 2 previous colleagues and a close friend. I knew that with this many people telling me about the position, I had to apply. And I’m so glad I did. The parts of the job that attracted me most was the opportunity to create a CLT program from scratch, working closely with the nursing team and the challenge of the palliative context. I thrive in environments where creativity is encouraged and ideas are nurtured and I knew that was possible here.

What is your reflection within working in a hospice setting as opposed to a clinical area and how do these differ?

The hospice setting is so different to a hospital. My first impression was of the nurses and the pure love, care and kindness shown to the children. The children are not referred to as patients and there is so much room for children to be themselves. The general feel of the environment is more relaxed, but I think the nurses hide their stress well. I do notice the absence of family, in previous roles I have worked closely with the family which helps to get to know the child but that is more difficult here. I like the communal and shared spaces as this allows me to ‘share’ my therapy and approach with others, although this does present some unique challenges.

How do you work with the other hospice therapist?

I am loving the opportunity to work in such a collaborative way with other allied health therapists. I share most of my days with Belinda (Physiotherapist) and she has been a huge help in assisting me to adjust to the environment. It’s so great to work with someone who is willing to collaborate as this has great outcomes professionally and for the children. Since starting we have had our first Allied Health Team meeting and we are working on ways to collaborate, such as planning for children, creating shared therapy goals and providing a comprehensive service to families. We are also very keen to make connections with the Family Support Team in order to understand the needs of children and families in more detail and provide services accordingly.

What have you enjoyed most about your role within Very Special Kids?

I have enjoyed being challenged. It took me a little while to feel comfortable with this but now I accept the gaps in my knowledge and the need to be proactive in filling these. I love to learn, which is what drew me to teaching in the first place, so I am thrilled that I get to do so much learning here, with so many wonderful people

What are you most excited/passionate about to develop within CLT within the hospice?

CLT is about relationships. I am excited to see what influence I can have over how these relationships are developed, nurtured and maintained over time. In addition, how these relationships impact the environment and ultimately outcomes for children, families and staff.