by Beth Ferrari, BSW, Social Worker, Family Support Program
Friends of Karen

Imagine what it would be like if someone stepped in, stood with you and guided you from the moment that event began to upend your life. When I work with the families assigned to me, I am that consistent person supporting them every step of the way. I am a social worker on the Friends of Karen Family Support Program team that consists of social workers, child life specialists and creative arts therapists. Together, our ultimate goal is to help families remain stable, functioning, and able to cope throughout the child’s illness.

That isn’t easy because when a family is rocked by a child’s cancer diagnosis, every aspect of their life changes. I am there to help every member of the family navigate through this new and complicated world. After the family completes the intake process, they get paired with the social worker that will stay with them through every phase of their journey. I start by speaking with the parents and completing an in-depth assessment to determine the services they will receive, including a referral to our Sibling Support program. Since I am in touch with the family often, I am able to respond to their needs as they change. I advocate for them and provide the financial support to pay their bills and provide the psychosocial supports they need to cope. (see Sidebar).

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would meet with families at the hospital or in their home. For more than a year, these conversations have happened on the phone or via video chats. Friends of Karen’s goal is to eliminate barriers to getting help, so we respond quickly when a family is in crisis. For example, when I hear a family can’t pay their rent or there is no food in the refrigerator, we provide financial assistance quickly.

All Friends of Karen social workers are trained and experienced working with children who have a life-threatening illness like cancer. Because nearly 90% of the children we serve have some form of cancer, we help families address a wide range of issues that arise from cancer’s impact on their lives. Because of our depth of experience, we can anticipate many of the problems families will face and can help them plan for or avoid these pitfalls and challenges.

When the child finishes treatment, the family will receive periodic check-ins from our case managers. During these conversations, we learn if any new issues have arisen or if the child has relapsed. If they have new needs, their social worker will be alerted to work with them again. If a child passes away, we will be there for the family and offer bereavement support to the family. Every family member we serve gets this personalized approach, and can be reassured that they never have to go through their child’s cancer alone.