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My CUH Story - Kat Collen

Kat Collen - Play Specialist
Kat Collen, play specialist

Play isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.


It is the language of a child and is how they communicate – it’s how we often communicate as adults too! Emotional and social development also comes out of play. The CUH play team work well with clinical staff to promote the importance of play as a tool for recovery, and we all want to make the hospital experience as positive as possible for the children, young people and families.

Before joining CUH, I worked with children with global developmental delay for 15 years and then at East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices as an activity co-ordinator. Becoming a play specialist was a natural progression and I started my two-year foundation degree training course, which included a placement at CUH. Steph Fairbain was my mentor and I have been here for seven years now. The course covered every stage of child development from 0 to 16 years of age and also included modules on healthcare in society, enhancing resilience for children and young people and leadership and management in the work place. I have to register as a health play specialist every year and have CPD requirements too.

Every day is different on the ward and PICU. This morning I talked to a 15-year-old about their upcoming treatment and how they were feeling. I also led some therapeutic play with a three-year-old who was anxious about an operation. I showed him a teddy with a cannula and we practiced putting a face mask on. It’s important at that age to know they will wake up from an anaesthetic. Therapeutic play can involve preparation and distraction for a procedure. Post-procedural play, can be especially important if a child comes in and requires an operation or procedure straight away, with no time to build up to it. Managing their emotions afterwards through role-play is very helpful to their recovery.

We can build up relationships with children very quickly and some will wave and blow us kisses when they leave the ward. I’ll say to them, come and see us BUT no more sleepovers! I’m always thrilled that they’re better, recovered, and on their way home and back into the outside world.