Our Blog

Helping families to support each other

By Karen Brailey, Lead Nurse

Sometimes it’s the things we have in common that bring us together. At other times, the things that make us different are the ones that unite us.

Chestnut Tree House is built on love. Every child that we care for is the centre of someone’s world and we never forget that. Equally, we understand that when parents and carers first come to us, they are very possibly still reeling from the shock of a life-limiting diagnosis. They need our care too.

Making meaningful connections

The support available at Chestnut Tree House is multi-faceted. Families can talk to social workers, therapists and our chaplain, as well as the care team. But something we have learned in recent years is the value of peer support. A few years ago, our then-chaplain set up a group of 12 dads – half of them bereaved, and half with children still receiving care from us. The group did all sorts of activities – from pub meals to hikes – and formed enduring friendships.

We know that it’s not always easy to maintain friendships when you have a child with a life-limiting condition. Life can be chaotic and unpredictable, and even when things are on an easy keel it’s not possible to leave a child with such complex needs with a babysitter. Sadly, social interactions can dwindle to the point that families are very isolated.

That’s why we have made outreach such a central part of what we do here. There are so many ways the whole family can get involved at Chestnut Tree House, from family fun days to sibling activities and days out. Ultimately, though, we want to ensure that the friendships flourish on the outside, perhaps long after we have stopped caring for the children that first brought families together.

A special understanding

We have a lot of experts working in our team, but sometimes the most qualified person to help is someone who has been through it themselves. Parents and carers of children with cancer meet regularly and I know they find each other a great support. For these families, life looked very normal until a bombshell diagnosis. Friends and the wide family might not know what to say, so it’s so helpful to have people to talk to who are going through the same thing. Other groups bond over a shared condition, too – such as the young lads with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, whose parents also keep in touch.

We often talk about families at Chestnut Tree House belonging to one of two groups – bereaved and non-bereaved. It can sometimes seem, particularly to someone with no experience of a children’s hospice, that these groups couldn’t be further apart. But everyone is here for the love of a child. And that warmth and care extends to the other families here too.

Image at chestival - of a family having fun

Images from our festival-style family day ‘Chestival’ held at the House in summer 2023!

Our future plans

We hope to build on the success of our other groups by running more events for bereaved and non-bereaved families to meet and share experiences. For the non-bereaved, it’s an opportunity to see that life goes on – that there is hope even after the worst has happened. It’s a place to ask questions from people who have been there. And for bereaved parents, it’s a link with their beloved child – a place to talk about them without limits.

If you're a Chestnut parent or carer

We will be revealing more plans over the coming months, but if you are a Chestnut parent or carer and would like to know more, please speak to your key worker.

Celebrate our 21st Anniversary with us!

Throughout 2024 we're looking at how children's hospice care has changed over the last 21 years, and looking forward to what the future holds too. We'd love you to get involved and help us make our 21st year the best year yet.

Our 21st Anniversary