The role of a social worker in the NICU is to support our patients and their families throughout their NICU experience and assist them with a successful transition to home. The social workers in the NICU are master’s level prepared and licensed clinical social workers by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. They work closely with the medical and nursing team to best meet the needs of our patients and their families. Social workers can be seen as a family’s advocate and shoulder to lean on throughout their time at CHOC.
Social workers assess the unique needs of each family as they work with them and are available to provide support ranging from financial assistance with basic necessities to temporary lodging and childcare arrangements. They also connect families with outside agencies that can provide additional support with necessities and future planning and health care.
Perhaps most important, social workers are by your side when it comes time to make decisions about your baby’s care. If you are feeling confused or frustrated, a social worker can help make things easier to understand and provide insight and a source of strength when times are tough. Social workers can even assist in connecting families with psychology services if they feel they need more, in-depth counseling to support them through the experience.
In the case that a baby’s health takes a turn for the worst, our social workers and the entire NICU staff are by the family’s side when it comes to making decisions about final moments and bereavement. Learn more about the CHOC Children’s NICU Bereavement Program.
The NICU’s family support liaison provides CHOC NICU families with support, information and resources both at CHOC and in the community. As the mother of a NICU “graduate” baby, our family support liaison understands what caregivers are going through and can lend a supportive ear when times are tough and provide vital information on assistance available to families. She also helps bring NICU families together by providing opportunities for them to socialize and learn outside the NICU.
CHOC Children’s cares about our patients’ and their families’ spiritual and emotional well-being, and know that having a baby in the NICU can be a stressful experience. Many families find it comforting to be able to practice their faith in the hospital. Our hospital chaplain is available to:
• provide spiritual support
• provide emotional support and strength during difficult times and while making decisions
• pray or meditate with you
Spiritual Care Services are regularly available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., for all patients and their families. After-hours care may also be available upon request. A visit with the chaplain can be arranged by your nurse or another member of the health care team. The chaplain can also arrange visitation with community clergy from your particular faith tradition.
It’s natural to want to be with your baby at all times while he or she is in the NICU, but that can be tough and parents need to be sure to take care of themselves too. During those times when you cannot be present, we invite you to select up to four “surrogates” that can be at the hospital with your baby.
The job of a surrogate is to provide the company you would normally provide your baby when you are at the hospital—including holding or touching the baby, giving the baby a bottle and singing or talking to the baby. And while no baby is ever alone in our NICU between our caring nurses and volunteer cuddlers, it’s always nice to know that someone close to the baby (like a grandparent, aunt or uncle) is with your child. Although the surrogate may be at the baby’s bedside when medical information is shared, we do not specifically provide surrogates with the child’s medical status; specific medical information is only shared with the baby’s parent (legal guardian).
Surrogates must be at least 18 years old and in good health at the time of their visit. They cannot bring other visitors not on the surrogate list with them into the NICU and may be asked to leave the unit during certain procedures or emergent situations. During the winter viral season, the number of surrogates may be limited to prevent the spread of illness and infection.
Our NICU Cuddlers are special, hand-selected CHOC volunteers who assist nursing staff with one of the most important aspects of each infant’s treatment—cuddling. While our nurses would love to be able to cuddle our patients all day, our cuddlers free up our nurses to perform their many other responsibilities while still providing your baby with human touch when families are not available.
Families with older children may struggle with how to explain why their baby brother or sister cannot come home from the hospital or why they must spend so much time away from home at CHOC. Families may also see their older children act out at home or at school or notice that they are fearful of visiting their new sibling at the hospital.
Upon request, a child life specialist can meet with our NICU babies’ siblings to help explain what goes on in the NICU in a language that is easy for them to understand, using books, toys and explanations that make sense to their age and development. Child life specialists can also take siblings on a tour of the NICU to explain the different machines and medical tools so that it is less scary.
For more information on how Child Life Services can help siblings, families should speak with a NICU social worker.
Children who have spent time in the NICU or in the hospital as a baby, may be at risk for developmental difficulties. Our Early Developmental Assessment Center (EDAC) is a vital resource for families with children who were born early, had difficulties at or shortly after birth or are concerned about their young child’s development. Learn more about having an evaluation at our Early Developmental Assessment Center.