How Can I Help?

"It takes a village to raise a child."

Hillary Rodham Clinton quoted this African proverb to illustrate the importance of everyone in the community when it comes to raising children. This point is especially applicable when that child has a chronic illness. It has often been said that a chronic illness in a child is a diagnosis that affects the entire family. It can even affect the entire community. When dealing with a chronic illness, both the child and the family will need the support of neighbors, classmates, and others in the community. With this support, the journey to achieve a full and meaningful life will be much easier.

It is common for scout groups, 4-H clubs, places of worship, sports teams, schools, neighborhood groups and others to want to help a child with a chronic illness. We have listed some suggestions below, but the best approach is to ask the family what they need. If you come up with ideas that work, please share them with us so that we teach them to others.

  • Visiting a friend in the hospital. Cards, letters and small mementos are always appreciated by children in the hospital. While you are at it, why not include a card for the child's parents or individual greetings for the siblings? Everyone likes to know they are not forgotten during these difficult times.
  • A box full of small trinkets to open daily is a sure-fire favorite for kids who are sick. Depending on the age of the child, a pencil with a funny topper, an eraser, a new box of crayons or a silly picture cut from a magazine are all bound to please a youngster who is anxious to return home, and rejoin friends at school or the playground.
  • A manicure, pedicure or complete make-over can be a great morale booster for the teenager in the hospital. Kids who have to be in the hospital for an extended period of time, or who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy love the chance to feel pampered. This is also a great idea for parents of chronically ill kids.
  • Playing a board game. Magazines, a deck of cards, board games or supplies for arts and crafts help make the time pass more quickly in the hospital.
  • Some favorite music CDs or "Books on Tape" offer entertainment and relaxation with minimal of effort. Be sure the child has access to a CD player.
  • A basket of snacks and fresh fruit is greatly appreciated by parents who are restricted by the selection in hospital cafeterias. Juice boxes, sodas and bottled water are other good choices.
  • Meals for the family at home are appreciated greatly by parents and siblings when one child is hospitalized or very sick at home. Grocery shopping and meal preparation are hard to schedule with the increased demands of caring for an ill child. Be sure to call ahead to determine if there are specific food allergies, likes or dislikes.
  • Help with cleaning.
  • How about assembling a cleaning crew to do household chores or yard work?This is an enormous help to the family, and is a great project for a scout troop or any similar club.
  • Providing laundry service is another way to help a family in need.
  • Providing a carpool or transportation might be essential to help siblings maintain their normal lives while parents are required at the hospital. You might offer to bring the siblings to the hospital and then take them back home.
  • Babysit young siblings.
  • Babysitting for young siblings of the sick child is one of the things that parents tell us is a wonderful gift. Going to dinner, a movie, bowling or other special outing often helps the siblings feel that they are important and are not forgotten. Babysitting for all the children, including the child with the chronic illness is a splendid idea, which will allow Mom and Dad to have a quiet date .
  • Homework assistance for siblings is a great way to help a family with a chronically ill child. Parents may need to be at the hospital and would then be unable to assist their other children with homework, or they may be too exhausted to tackle math late in the evening.
  • Community members often ask about organizing fund-raisers to help the family. It is essential that you check with the family before launching any type of fund-raising activity. There are ways to do this correctly. However, if it is done incorrectly, it could result in unwanted complications with tax liability and insurance coverage. If interested, the parents can check with the social workers at the hospital to learn about any special restrictions or things to avoid regarding fund-raising.
  • Needs continue for a long time. Frequently, communities rally around a family when a child is first diagnosed or injured. Unfortunately, the challenges and struggles for the family and their child might linger for years after that initial attention has waned. It is difficult to continue supporting a family for months or years, but they will need your support as time passes. Indeed, their need for support will probably be even greater.

More than anything else, the simple act of offering to help and showing that you care is greatly appreciated by the families of children with chronic illnesses.