Professional psychosocial services
In paediatric oncology a multi-disciplinary team is needed to treat and care for the child undergoing treatment, as well as the family. The social worker fulfils a very important role in this team to ensure that holistic care services are rendered to the child and family to help them cope with the far-reaching implications of the diagnosis and treatment.
Due to the financial and human resource constraints in which a hospital social work department functions it is not possible to allocate a social worker to paediatric oncology exclusively. For this reason, CHOC has implemented a team of CHOC social and social auxiliary workers, in collaboration with the treatment centres and hospital social work departments.
Families experience emotional and practical stresses after diagnosis and throughout the treatment process and social workers provide an essential professional service in supporting them throughout the long journey to recovery. The social workers are able to interact with families in their home language and understand their social and cultural backgrounds as well as work closely with medical and nursing staff in treatment centres. Their services are also available telephonically to families after they return home.
Even with a good prognosis for cure, there are still a significant number of children who die. Going through the process of the death of a child is very traumatic. The social workers are there to guide and support them through this difficult time.
CHOC, in collaboration with the Hospital and Social Work Management of the then Johannesburg Academic Hospital, appointed the first social worker dedicated to the Paediatric Oncology Unit in August 2004. Over the years this partnership between CHOC and public sector hospitals has grown and CHOC now employs four social- and three social auxiliary- workers, overseen by the Psychosocial Services Manager Alta Bence.
They are placed in the paediatric oncology units at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Johannesburg (a social worker and social auxiliary worker), Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto (a social worker and social auxiliary worker), Universitas Hospital, Bloemfontein (a social worker), Frere Hospital, East London (a social worker) and Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth (social worker). The aim is to introduce further social workers into the other treatment centres.
What does a social worker do?
- Facilitates the counselling of and support to parents at the time of breaking bad news.
- Undertakes psychosocial assessments of the families referring to other disciplines and resources as appropriate.
- Provides individual and/or group guidance and counselling to the child and family from diagnosis to the end of treatment.
- Prepares the parent and patient for medical and treatment procedures (please hyperlink to article on preparing for procedures).
- Carries out discharge planning.
- Assesses reasons for defaulting on treatment and intervenes accordingly.
- Provides palliative and end-of-life care and support for the child and family.
- Provides bereavement support as needed.
- Facilitates statutory investigations when necessary under the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.
- Attends hand-over meetings, ward team meetings and ward rounds.
- Liaises with the child’s school regarding the implications of treatment and eventual reintegration into the mainstream school system.
The programme is managed by Alta Bence, CHOC’s Psychosocial Support Services Manager. She is a social worker herself with more than 20 years’ experience as a medical social worker, of which 14 were spent in the paediatric oncology unit at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.
In addition to rendering professional psychosocial services, the social work team are also involved in non-professional support groups.