Becoming a host family is one of the most gratifying roles you can play in the Gift of Life Program. It offers your family an opportunity to provide and share in the emotional support of children and their parents while they are experiencing one of the most stressful times of their lives. They are separated from their normal support network and the care you provide them will be invaluable to their mental and physical wellbeing. Your patience and calm demeanor in first getting to know your visiting child and parent will be important as you welcome them into your home. The family’s appreciation for your love and care will more than make your effort worthwhile.
You will not be alone in this effort. The GOL program you are working with will assist you in many ways, including the providing of transportation to and from doctors’ appointments, hospital visits and the entertainment of the child and parent during their stay. It is recommended that each GOL District appoint its own Family/Child Services Coordinator.
There will always be a parent or guardian accompanying the child that you are hosting. This child is coming to the United States due to a lack of cardiac care treatment in his/her home country. Without the treatment being provided by the GOL affiliated hospital, the child you are hosting will most likely not survive. This experience will allow you the opportunity to witness the physical and spiritual healing of a family. The bond created between you, the child and their parent will last a lifetime. You are providing love and kindness through the hosting of this child that will contribute positively to the ongoing impact that Gift of Life and Rotary have on families and communities here at home and throughout the world.
You will be assisted by the GOL Program Family/Child Services Coordinator at all times. You are expected to meet with the GOL Program prior to the arrival of the child in order to coordinate all aspects of the visit. In addition all family members living at home may be asked to join this meeting. You may be asked what role each family member might be expected to fulfill during the hosting experience. It is important that you communicate with him/her and keep them advised of all developments regarding the child’s care. In case of an emergency, please contact the Coordinator immediately. Always remember that you can reach out for information, advice, and support.
- Identify the person from your GOL Program who is the Family/Child Services Coordinator before the family’s arrival. This person will be the liaison between you, the doctors and the hospital. If a problem or medical issue arises, you will need to contact that person who will contact the doctor or hospital. It is important for you to have his/her contact information, which will allow you to reach them at any time. It is only in the rare situation that you should contact the hospital directly. This procedure will insure that the doctor and hospital have only one person to deal with and will not be overburdened with phone calls from GOL. In case of an emergency, and you cannot reach this primary GOL Rotarian, you will need the contact information for the medical doctor who has primary responsibility for the child.
- Request information from your GOL Coordinator about your visiting family such as: language spoken, religion, dietary needs and any other relevant information that will make their stay more comfortable.
- Communicate with the GOL program in the child’s home country through your GOL Coordinator to assure that the child arrives with appropriate clothing.
- Discuss your expectations of the roles of each of your family members them as they relate to the visiting child and parent, and how their daily routines may be affected. Discuss cultural issues with your family, asking them to be patient and flexible with the child and the parent. Continue to attend to the regular routines of your family life – i.e., birthdays, religious services, medical appointments, work, extended family activities and celebrations. You may want to encourage the visiting family to join you. However it is necessary to respect their responses as they may not want to intrude.
Review with your family the following issues:
- You and your family will likely become attached to the child and parent
- It is important to remain open, flexible and aware of everyone’s needs.
- If you are able and willing, you may offer some relief and private time to the parent, and spend some time with the child.
- In case the visiting parent becomes depressed or overwhelmed, do not hesitate to reach out to the GOL Coordinator for assistance. If talking to you or their family back home does not seem to help, feel free to ask your GOL Coordinator for professional assistance. Recognizing that their feelings may be due to what is happening at the hospital with their child and assuring them they are not alone and that their reactions may be normal can be reassuring. Accept the parent’s reactions – most any reaction of fear, anxiety, guilt, sadness, or withdrawal will represent the stress felt. Expressing your understanding, without telling them to feel any differently, will be exceptionally helpful. Listening is comforting.
- Discuss with your GOL Coordinator whether a stipend can be provided for you to cover basic expenses like food and clothing for the child and parent. The GOL program will be covering all expenses associated with the child’s medical care.
- Plan to greet the child and parent when they arrive at the airport. Discuss with your GOL Coordinator whether you will be transporting the child from the airport to your home. Note the emotional and physical level of energy and fatigue of the family upon arrival and ask them what they need to feel comfortable. Be prepared for them to need privacy and rest, and be available to help them adjust. Explain to them their accommodations – let them relax upon arrival and give them privacy unless they express otherwise.
- Anticipate the need for a translator to be available upon arrival at your home so that you can review the basics of their stay in a comfortable or less confusing manner. It may be necessary for you to be sensitive to the cultural, social and personal customs important and usual to the parent and child. If you need to teach any customary habits as we are used to in our homes, it may be necessary to show parents and then let them learn by doing. For example, you may need to show them how to use the bathroom, laundry or other personal hygienic supplies and methods. It may be important to show them how to use the shower, the bath, towels and soap. It will be important for you to pay attention to how they react to all new things and please remember to be patient. Take your time and allow them to slowly take in all the new experiences. They may be especially unaccustomed to the washer and dryer, television, radio and other electrical items so you may want to spend extra time explaining the use of these machines. Moreover, you may care to explain to them the need to keep common rooms neat and clean. Other customs may involve food preparation (some families may not be used to the need for sterile dishes after eating), use of seat belts and child car seats (some children may be upset by the restriction of the seat), fear of some foods, pajamas for bedtime (some children sleep in clothes they wear during the day due to lack of pajamas). Some parents may not know how to tie a child’s shoe. Some may come without diapers, not having any in their home. You may need to place a waterproof pad on the child’s bed.
- Plan to have a suitable space for the child and parent to stay while they are in your home. The provision of a separate bathroom and bedroom is preferable.
- Arrange for rides with your GOL Coordinator to and from the doctor and hospital. Whoever escorts the family to doctor visits may need to encourage the family to write down medical instructions for pre-surgical and post-surgical care of the child. As host family you can support by reviewing this information at home and asking them if they need help in following through on directions.
- Keep calm in the face of a tense or stressful event – If the child needs to be re-hospitalized or seen by a doctor on an emergency basis, stay calm and escort them to the medical setting.
- You may be requested to bring the child and parent to a Rotary meeting. Please discuss this with your GOL Coordinator before or soon after the arrival of the child and parent in the United States.
- You may provide the parent with a limited phone card for them to call home periodically. Develop your own policy as to whether the parent can use your phone and what limits you would like to impose on that use. You do not have to provide phone service each day.
- Understanding the culture of the child and parent – perhaps share food and recipes with them and inquire about their rituals and customs. They will usually want to share these with you as well. . If the child is a fussy eater, keep the meals simple, inexpensive and healthy. McDonald’s once in a while is acceptable for a short time. Pasta, hamburgers, hot dogs and vegetables are fine. Some of the children are not used to eating 3 regular daily meals, or eat less per meal than others. If in doubt, ask the GOL Coordinator to check with the hospital for a recommended diet for the child.
- Accompany the child and parent to the hospital on the day of surgery so that you may provide emotional support for the parent. The parent may be able to stay overnight with the child. A member of your family and the translator should be with the family until surgery is over and the medical report is received. If no one from your family can be there, be sure to arrange for a Rotarian to be there instead.
- Affirm that the parent is in charge of discipline. Develop a positive approach to the parent. When possible, complement the parent’s approaches and empathize with the challenge of raising a child with an illness. However, when children need behavioral limits set that the host family feels are appropriate, the host family needs to explain the rules of the house–and make specific recommendations. If it is an emergency and the child is in danger of hurting himself, then the host family needs to step in. Otherwise it is best to consult with the parent first and get his or her agreement. If the visiting parent is not able to cooperate for any reason, the host family must reach out to their GOL Coordinator and translator for assistance. Additionally, if you find that the parent is disciplining the child with too much control, or intimidation or humiliation, please feel free to reach out for help, and explore the possibilities of discussing more gentle ways of helping the parent deal with their child. This type of intervention is best done by first talking alone with the parent with a translator, to see f you can gain the trust of the parent. This will help to make the parent feel more empowered and more effective. Most parents who are coercive or forceful are feeling disempowered or are using culturally acceptable disciplinary means. If they are anxious, they need to be responded to gently unless the child is in danger. Most families will appreciate your help.
- Assist the family in times of stress. The visiting family may experience stress they cannot put into words and may not be able to reach out for comfort. Visiting parents may neglect their own self-care and become exhausted or overwhelmed. You can help by assisting them, which could be very effective. Please feel free to offer this option for the parent and notice the response you receive. Do not insist but leave the offer open. If you find that the visiting parent needs or is asking for more information than they are being given, ask your GOL Coordinator to talk to the doctor to request a meeting for the family. Please do not reach out to the doctor yourself, as we need to limit the contact with the doctor and hospital to one person unless there is an emergency.
- Excursions with your family may be fun and beneficial to help relax the child and parent. You might plan some simple trips with your affiliated GOL program such as a zoo, botanical gardens, children’s museums, puppet shows or children’s theater, depending on the status of the child. Documentation of these trips will be important for the parent and child so you may consider providing them with a disposable camera so they may take their own photos.
- It is important to remember that your goal is to support the child and parent during this time of great stress. You and your family are the first observers. Your ability to get to know and understand the child and parent will be important for them to have a positive stay. You ultimately will need to accept them for who they are and not try to change the way they do things but to support them in whatever way you can.
- Facilitating the family’s return home: Assist the family in packing; donated clothes and toys may be kept and packed as efficiently as possible. Extra luggage is costly. Acknowledge the family’s separation anxiety from and sense of loss with your family. Let them know that their (and your) feelings are normal and that you will maintain contact with them after their return home. Their anxiety may be felt in their wish not to return home, fear of traveling with their child who is recovering, concerns of not having adequate medical support at reassurances, inform your club coordinator who can inform the doctor, and help will be obtained. It will be quite usual if your family also experiences feelings of loss as the child and parent prepare to leave. It is helpful to all for you and your family to acknowledge this. Feel free to have a small celebration at your club or home to send the family home with more positive memories you will all have forever.