“Your child has diabetes.”
Imagine hearing those words for the first time.
Learning your child has a life-changing illness such as diabetes is incredibly stressful for the entire family.
At Akron Children’s Hospital, families have people like Lisa Broerman and her colleagues in the Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology to help them through this challenging time.
“Understandably, parents have a lot of questions and concerns when their child is first diagnosed,” said Broerman, a licensed independent social worker with Children’s for nearly seven years. “As a social worker, it’s my job to help parents understand that the anxiety they are feeling is perfectly normal and there are many services available to help them through what can be a scary time.”
Every Monday morning, the center’s staff holds appointments for families with children who have been recently diagnosed with diabetes. These “Map Sessions” teach families how to help their children lead full lives while successfully managing their diabetes.
After a group review by a diabetes educator, a dietitian, social worker and nurse practitioner meet individually with each family.
Broerman’s first visit of the day is with the family of 8-year-old Delaney, diagnosed with Type I diabetes two weeks ago.
“Good morning,” Broerman greets the family as she enters the room.
After a few minutes, it’s obvious to Broerman that the family understands what’s needed to help their daughter manage this chronic illness. The family had seen a social worker when Delaney was admitted to the hospital following her diagnosis, so many of their concerns had been addressed.
“No two families are alike, and I tailor my conversation with the family to what they need,” said Broerman. “Sometimes the family is fine with the situation. Other times they are very upset and just need someone to talk to, to listen to their concerns and offer support.”
Adapting communications and resources to meet each patient and family’s needs is the hallmark of Akron Children’s social workers.
“A social worker’s role is always evolving to help meet the family’s needs,” said Shelley Walker, director of Social Services. “There are social workers throughout the hospital, and we are concerned with family-centered care and how a child’s illness affects the whole family.”
Before seeing the next patient, Broerman heads back to her office and answers a few emails about the hospital’s diabetes camp. The popular weeklong camp is designed to give children with diabetes an opportunity to meet other children with similar diagnoses and participate in fun summer activities.
“These parents might be reluctant to send their children to an overnight camp,” said Broerman. “But our camp is staffed by our own team of medical professionals and others trained to help their children so the parents can relax. It’s an exhausting week, but I think it’s just as much fun for the staff as it is for the kids.”
Broerman’s next patient is 10-year-old Ian.
His parents are concerned about insurance coverage, so Broerman tells them about a state-sponsored insurance program through the Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps (BCMH). This program helps families at all income levels with children who have a chronic illness.
“Diabetes supplies can be expensive, and many of our families are concerned about the cost,” she said. “I always tell them about the BCMH program. It’s one less thing for the family to worry about.”
Back in her office, Broerman receives a call from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services concerning a child under their care who was recently diagnosed with diabetes.
“When a child with diabetes is in foster care, it’s critical for everyone involved in that child’s care to understand the importance of managing the disease,” said Broerman. “We work closely with the case workers to ensure that the child is being properly cared for.”
After the call, Broerman moves onto her next appointment.
“How is everyone today?” she asks 7-year-old Candice’s family.
Candice was diagnosed less than a week ago, and the family has many questions for Broerman, including how Candice’s father will manage taking time from work to take Candice to her doctor’s appointments.
Broerman explains how to file paperwork under the Family Medical Leave Act and discusses the BCMH program. The family is visibly relieved to hear the information.
Helping families take advantage of the resources available to them is an important part of the social worker’s role.
“The medical world can be an overwhelming environment,” said Walker. “A social worker can help families navigate and translate what’s going on to alleviate some of the stress involved.”
Back in Candice’s room, Broerman learns that the young girl is worried that the kids at school will tease her about her diabetes.
“I think kids tease when they don’t understand something,” says Broerman. “The best thing to do is to talk to your friends about diabetes and answer any questions they have. Once they understand, they will know that you are still the same Candice.”
Broerman understands that the concerns associated with a diagnosis like diabetes vary by age.
“Parents of babies and young children are concerned about the day-to-day managing of the illness. School-age children are sometimes worried how their friends will react when they find out about the diabetes. Teenagers worry about how diabetes will affect their day-to-day activities,” she said. “Everyone reacts differently, and it’s important for me to asses each situation and offer whatever support I can.”
On returning to her office, Broerman takes a call from a parent on the center’s Diabetes Parent Advisory Committee for Kids (D-PACK).
“The advisory committee is a wonderful resource for all our families,” she said. “They plan events where the families meet each other, write a newsletter with useful information, and are always available to talk to new families who may have questions about how diabetes will affect their families. We are lucky to have such active, concerned parents.”
Broerman spends her afternoon visiting two more families whose children have just been diagnosed with diabetes, listening to their concerns and answering their questions. These families will be invited to attend the next Map Session for more in-depth diabetes education.
“I really enjoy working at Children’s,” she said. “I like meeting the families and helping them at a difficult time in their lives. I also really enjoy the people I work with. I feel like I get to work with some of my best friends.”
If you’re interested in a career at Akron Children’s, check out our allied health job opportunities.