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My CUH Story - Sophie Barber

Sophie Barber play specialist
Sophie Barber, play specialist

I first read about the role of a play specialist when I was 16 on the Prospects careers website and told everyone it was what I wanted to do. It took me six years to qualify, I did a childcare qualification before my foundation degree and then a two-year placement. The degree isn’t medical-based, it covers a lot of the theory of child development and the child as a whole, including the stresses of the environment they grow up in. A child’s background and circumstances can have an impact on how they behave, especially when faced with the stressful experience of being in hospital. We can help deliver care in a different way and help to relieve pressure on clinical colleagues. If a patient isn’t drinking or taking medicine, we can spend time with them to explore their fears in a way that is suitable to their age and the type of child they are.

A play specialist isn’t just trained to play, we can do a lot more than that.


I have worked at CUH for two years as a play specialist in the emergency department. I like the variety of the department and the pace required to build up trust with a child who comes in. I have a list of conversation starters which helps get straight into the distraction part of therapeutic play. With younger children this can be talking about their favourite TV character or talking about their pets, which is always a favourite subject. It is very intense to prepare a child for surgery or a sedation when it is going to happen in a number of hours. A parent’s anxiety will rub off on them too – it’s often easier to alleviate a child’s fears quicker! There is scope for a play specialist to help with every kind of procedure, whether it’s a blood test, putting a cannula in, a scan or having a general anaesthetic. In one shift recently I was involved in the care of 36 patients, either offering refreshments, bed-space activities, answering questions and giving therapeutic intervention where needed.

The awareness of the play specialist role is growing but we are keen to do more and utilise our skills. We are constantly training and keeping up to date with current practices, more recently in children’s mental health. Play is a safe space for a child and the activities we do can help identify why a child might be withdrawing. We can make a big difference for patients and try to make being in hospital a positive experience for a child.