Koala Kids has significantly reviewed our way of providing services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  A major change is the contact points that we have with our young cancer patients and their families.  With no in-hospital visits or services, we began in earnest to collect individual family data which gave us over 130 families with whom we communicate directly and provide in-home services.

This database of families, split 50/50 between older and newer families to our services, provided a perfect opportunity to ask questions about our new way of working.  We wanted to know how families and sick children were coping during COVID, how relevant our in-home services were, what we might do better and how we were being perceived now we were not a part of the in-hospital journey.

Jacqui Louw – MD of IMO Analytics provided her pro bono services to create a quantitative survey and provide analysis and a report of the results.  84 families took the time during COVID lockdown to respond, giving us a 75% response rate.

The findings are clear that during the pandemic as many as two thirds of parents and 45% of children suffered increased stress levels.  For children these stresses included fear of contracting the virus, limits on hospital visitors and isolation from a ‘cancer normal’ social life.

The situation has been particularly stressful for mothers, with two thirds reporting feeling much more stressed and respondents averaging a rating of 8.8 on a stress scale of 0 to 10. The stresses for carers centred around hygiene needs and risks, isolation from families and regular helpers, not interacting directly with medical staff and splitting immediate family to operate within required hospital protocols.

The biggest challenge for families was described as maintaining a strong family environment. Parents spoke of having to be alone, feel alone, make decisions alone, make arrangements to physically cope alone, all while knowing that the other part of their family is similarly operating alone somewhere else.

The pandemic at its height changed care routines, with one third of families attending hospital less frequently, seven per cent attending more frequently and 11 per cent not attending in-hospital care at all.   Hospitals were also reported as feeling purely clinical with less fun and distractions.

Koala Kids’ in-home services have rated very positively . Parents indicated that during lockdown family meal boxes, hand sanitiser and masks, themed craft activities, customised toy and activity packs were most useful while interactive zoom sessions and activity packs for Mother’s and Father’s Day, AFL finals and Halloween were the most fun.

More than 60 per cent of parents strongly agree the Koala Kids’ in-home support is an important part of their child’s cancer treatment. Almost 70 per cent strongly agree the support is beneficial and fun, at least two thirds strongly agree it is useful for the whole family, and more than 60 per cent feel strongly that these types of in-home services should continue after the pandemic.

Koala Kids brand and purpose was clearly understood. The word ‘happiness’ was the highest scoring in a series of 34 words presented to respondents to rate when thinking about Koala Kids.  All parents felt that Koala Kids clearly understands that sick children still need to have fun, 81% of parents strongly feel that Koala Kids understands the power of distraction and comfort for kids during treatment, that we bring happy moments to their child and family and that we deliver what we say we will.  One of our respondents put it this way….. “You bring joy to kids’ lives who are going through such a horrible illness. Those little gifts can make a child’s treatment day easier to cope with and often a great distraction”

We remain committed to ensuring we continue to provide the most relevant in-home and in-hospital services as COVID rules and regulations allow.  We are delighted we have been able to maintain such a strong connection to children and families undergoing cancer treatment.