SickKids Children’s Council continues tradition of patient leadership

The Children’s Council provides a place for patients to support one another and provide input on hospital-wide initiatives

By Jessamine Luck

Within The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) there is a unique group of 16 changemakers who share their input from the frontlines of the hospital. They make up the SickKids Children’s Council and on June 6 they were recognized for their efforts to make SickKids a better place for patients and families at the End-of-Year Celebration for the Children’s Council and Family-Centered Care Advisory Council.

The SickKids Children’s Council has been bringing the patient voice to the inner workings of SickKids for 17 years. The Council currently has 16 members ranging in age from 10-18 years and this year, for the first time, the group was open to siblings of patients to better understand their unique perspectives. Child Life Specialists provide administrative support to the Council, which is modelled after high school student councils.

Past and present Council members have weighed in on such far-reaching initiatives as the inpatient meal program, the SickKids Foundation’s VS campaign, the design of Marnie’s Studio and patient events. This year they have established an orientation manual for new child and youth advisors, contributed content for videos on and helped plan the annual teen prom.

At the End-of-Year Celebration, Council members received recognition certificates before attending the final Children’s Council meeting of the year. “The Children’s Council’s engagement and participation is at the core of the model of care in which SickKids as an organization continues to strengthen,” said Pam Hubley, Vice President, Education & Learning Practice, and Chief, International Nursing. “We appreciate the time and energy the Council has given over the last year, to respond to emails, provide an opinion, or pose a question to ensure we are considering all possibilities that may affect the process of how we care for kids.”

The ceremony and subsequent final meeting were bittersweet because, this year, four Council members are turning 18 and graduating from SickKids. One such grad, Tobin, 17, who has been on the Council since 2011, says the Children’s Council has added a different perspective to the place where he has spent much of his life since he was two years old. “As a patient or sibling you see the immediate care to yourself and you see the hospital at face value, but when you’re on the Children’s Council you get an inside scoop on what’s going on,” he says. “In a way it’s relaxing and fun.”

For Vanessa, 16, the highlight of the Children’s Council has been the support it has offered her. “Being in a setting where there are both patients and siblings of patients in a room sitting down and talking about their story has made me feel less alone,” she says. “It’s made me become a little bit more grateful because there are people who are going through worse things than I am.”

Interacting with other kids is one of the recurring highlights for Council members. “I remember when I was a little kid, looking up to older patients and now that I’m five months away from graduating I’ve appreciated seeing the impact that I now have on little kids,” Tobin says. “The friendships you form here are different from the kind you would normally have at school.”

Andrea Fretz, a Child Life Specialist who oversees the Children’s Council, can also feel the energy in the room while working with the Council members. “Facilitating the Children’s Council during their meetings is an easy task as their engagement and participation is so passionate,” she says. “They view their voices seriously and know how important Children’s Council is. They recognize that it really is at the centre of the model of care which SickKids as an organization continues to strengthen.”

Many of the current SickKids Children’s Council members are looking forward to another year of providing insight into crucial hospital projects. Some even hope to continue their involvement after they graduate. “I’m planning on coming back next year and hopefully until I graduate,” says Vanessa. “Hopefully when I graduate I can also be part of the Family-Centered Care Advisory Council and continue to share my input and be part of building a better community within the hospital.”

Jessamine Luck is a Communications & Public Affairs intern at SickKids.