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Solas - Developing a psychosocial intervention for chronically ill children in hospital

Research Staff

Sadhbh Whelan, Aoife Daly, Dr Diane Hogan, Professor Sheila Greene

About the project

Each year thousands of chronically ill children worldwide spend several weeks or even months in hospital isolation wards with no physical interaction with the outside world and limited contact with their family and friends. These children include those suffering from leukaemia, severe burns, those awaiting transplant and other conditions in which they must be protected from the risk of infection. These children must contend not only with the trauma and physical pain of their condition but also the related emotional stress and anguish. They face a myriad of psychosocial challenges that their healthy peers will never experience, and these are thought to impact on a child's ability to cope socially, emotionally, and often physically. These challenges faced by such children include isolation, loss of sense of control, lack of understanding, decreased self-esteem, fear, worry, anxiety, anger, guilt, change in family dynamics and loss of social interaction with peers often leading to depression and withdrawal.

What did the research focus on?

This project aimed to create a computer-mediated communication and connectedness portal for children in hospital, whose treatment or condition necessitates them to be in protective isolation for periods of time, with a view to minimising emotional stress and its associated psychosocial morbidity. The Solas project sought to apply state-of-the-art technology to provide isolated children with a richer means of interaction and communication with the outside world and to enhance a sense of presence and connectedness between these children and familiar people, places, and things that might strengthen their psychological well-being and overall healing potential.

What did the research involve?

The research team was led by Prof Jane Grimson of the Centre for Health Informatics, Dept of Computer Science, TCD, and Dr. Diane Hogan of the Children's Research Centre. The project brought together work that was carried out by Media Labs Europe on ambient media design and human connectedness with work on the development of a virtual community for children in hospital developed at TCD and with research on the psychosocial effects of hospitalisation on children at the Children's Research Centre in TCD. Working with clinicians in Crumlin Children's Hospital and St. James's Hospital, the project involved extensive background research to inform the design process, as well as evaluation of iterative prototypes built and deployed directly in these situations.

A needs assessment was carried out by Aoife Daly and Sadhbh Whelan to ascertain what children, who have to spend long periods of time in hospital, and their families, want from a computer based system. Ten children and their parents were qualitatively interviewed and two focus groups were carried out with key medical staff.

Timescale and final products of the research

This was three-year project which commenced in 2003. It was intended that the final output of the project would be a computer-based intervention which would enable chronically ill children in hospital to maintain contact with their family, friends and the outside world and to experience the associated psychosocial benefits as a result.

Last updated 15 March 2010 by The Children′s Research Centre (Email).