There are twelve in-patient Children´s Hospice services in Germany. Only a few studies have evaluated the question whether employees need specific skills to offer a needs-based support for families with children and youths with life-limiting conditions in in-patient Children´s Hospice services in Germany (JENNESSEN et al. 2011; JENNESSEN & SCHWARZENBERG 2013). This was one of the research questions in the qualitative study of SCHWARZENBERG (2013). Therefore, in 2011 eighteen (18) experts, who are employees in the field of education and care, were interviewed in ten in-patient Children’s Hospice services in Germany.
Refer to Fig. 1 above: In-patient Children´s Hospice services in Germany in 2012 (SCHWARZENBERG, 2013, 89)
The findings of the interviews show that most of the job descriptions are unspecific. This goes some way in explaining why a variety of professions in the field of care as well as in the field of education and therapy, such as social work, special needs education, nursery teaching and several therapy areas are employed in an in-patient Children´s Hospice service. In addition most of the employees have job experience of many years in the field of care or education. Moreover, most of the employees have additional qualifications such as in Palliative Care, Bereavement Care or counselling techniques (e.g. SCHWARZENBERG, 2013).
Further findings highlight the fact that employees need a variety of skills. Those skills are on the one hand specific Hard skills such as care techniques or knowledge about death and dying. On the other hand, Soft skills such as empathy, openness and flexibility are significant. Some employees evaluate those skills as more important than Hard skills. This finding is supported by other evaluations (JENNESSEN et al., 2011; JENNESSEN & SCHWARZENBERG, 2013).
The need for “Thanato-competence”
The most frequently named skill is the ability to reflect aspects of death, dying and grief and to communicate these with the families. This skill is named by SCHWARZENBERG (2013) “Thanato-competence”. Thanatology (greek, “thanatos”; death) is the science of dealing with death and dying (FELDMANN, 2010). Thanato-competence is the initial point and foundation of dealing with children and youths with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions and their families in Children´s Hospice services. Figure 3: “Thanato-competence profile” shows the variety of named skills in the interviews and points out the importance of the Thanato-competence.
Refer to Fig. 2 above: Thanato-competence profile (Schwarzenberg 2013, 337)
To gain these Hard and Soft skills, employees can participate in further education training or specific courses, offered by in-patient Children´s Hospices or by the Bundesverband Kinderhospiz e.V. or the Deutscher Kinderhospizverein e.V..
In summary, the question whether employees need specific skills to offer needs-based support for families with children and youths with life-limiting conditions in in-patient Children´s Hospice services can be answered with “Yes, they do!”. The variety of specific Soft and Hard skills can be defined as the foundation of professionalism, not only in Children´s Hospice services but equally in the field of Palliative Care.
Dr. Eileen Schwarzenberg (PhD) is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Oldenburg, Germany in the field of special education needs of children and youths with physical disabilities and life-limiting conditions. Her contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
FELDMANN, K. (2010). Tod und Gesellschaft. Sozialwissenschaftliche Thanatologie im Überblick. 2. überarb. Auflage. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
JENNESSEN, S., BUNGENSTOCK, A. & SCHWARZENBERG, E. (2011). Kinderhospizarbeit. Konzepte, Erkenntnisse, Perspektiven. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.
JENNESSEN, S. & SCHWARZENBERG, E. (2013). Professionalität in der Begleitung lebensverkürzend erkrankter Kinder und ihrer Familien – ausgewählte empirische Ergebnisse. In: Zeitschrift für Heilpädagogik, Ausgabe 02/13, 48-55.
SCHWARZENBERG, E. (2013). Pädagogische Begleitung lebensverkürzend erkrankter Kinder und Jugendlicher und ihrer Geschwister in stationären Kinder- und Jugendhospizen. In: Schriftenreihe Sonderpädagogik in Forschung und Praxis, Band 34. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac.
SCHWARZENBERG, E. (2013). Pädagogische Begleitung lebensverkürzend erkrankter Kinder und Jugendlicher und ihrer Geschwister in stationären Kinder- und Jugendhospizen. In: Schriftenreihe Sonderpädagogik in Forschung und Praxis, Band 34. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac. Pages: 89, 337.