Karen Raney-Marr, Play Specialist

Karen joins Rennie Grove in a brand new, specialist role, as a Play Specialist supporting children with life-limiting illness and their families.

With a degree in education, a foundation degree in specialised play for sick children, experience as a teaching assistant in a school for children with special needs and a nine-year career working as a play specialist in hospitals, Karen brings a wealth of experience to the new role.

Karen Raney-Marr

Karen explains:

“There were two strands to my work in hospital: acute care (for children who needed one-off treatment in a medical emergency) and chronic conditions, where children had long-term needs and had to make regular visits for treatment. I loved all aspects of my work, but I especially enjoyed being able to build a rapport with children who sadly needed to visit us again and again.

“That’s one of the things that attracted me to this role with Rennie Grove. Making regular visits to families’ homes means I get chance to see children when they’re at their most well, and having fun with their whole family.

“Another thing I like about this role at Rennie Grove is that all the focus can be on play. In hospital, understandably, a play session has to stop when other therapists are ready and available to see the patient. With home visits now – and for visits to Grove House in future – it’s all about the playing! Which is so beneficial for the child and their family. It’s really important to play. When a child is diagnosed with a long-term, life-limiting illness – you can get so caught up in a medical world that you forget to just spend time together as a family, having fun in the moment and making memories.”

Karen works with children of all ages, right from babies up to age 18.

Although the service is for the patient, and the play activity designed with their needs in mind, Karen caters for everyone and is very happy to accommodate siblings, parents and other family members into her play sessions too.

“Depending on the child and their needs, I’ll adapt how often and when I visit. For example, I may see one child every two weeks; some children I’ll only see during the school holidays; and if a child isn’t able to go to school or nursery, I’ll offer a regular, weekly visit. We want to make sure that no child is missing out on a chance to socialise or on opportunities to play.

“Sometimes, when a child has a disability, their play may look very different to that of another child. For example, some children may prefer more sensory play activities (lights, sounds, textures) or they might use toys in a different way from what you might expect. A story may need to become more of a sensory experience with different textures and sounds representing different parts of the story. Or a child may need to adapt from being an active child who enjoyed running and climbing to finding new ways to still gain enjoyment from things like football now they can no longer run around and join in as they would have done before.

“This is a learning curve for all families but especially for some of the families of children who have long-term conditions. It can be easy for parents to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about how to play with their child – especially if their needs and abilities start to change; a play specialist can give parents the confidence and tools to play again.”

Karen is part of our Children’s Hospice at Home service, which has a caseload of 56 patients, and other team members will refer children to Karen for this additional, specialist support.

Karen will adapt what she does to suit each child’s needs and abilities. Sometimes she’ll do arts and crafts, another sensory, imaginative way to play that helps create lasting, tangible memories for siblings and parents too. She says another way in which home visits differ from her hospital work is that she needs to remember to take everything with her!

She’s excited to be developing and shaping this new role for the children and families that we support.

“Although I’ve joined the charity during the pandemic and we’re restricted in what we can offer, it’s great to be able to visit children in their own homes and see the difference play can make to their lives.

“I can’t wait until we’re allowed back into Grove House and can begin to host group sessions for children and parents. The play sessions in patients’ homes are so beneficial, but it will be great for parents and children to enjoy the social aspect of group play in a safe, supportive environment too.”