Monthly Archives: April 2020

Sandy Rea announced as new ambassador

Announcing Sandy Rea

Very Special Kids is delighted to announce psychologist Sandy Rea as an ambassador of the organisation.

Sandy is a leading practising psychologist in Melbourne of thirty years professional standing and has her own private practice, Sandy Rea & Associates.

She is also Channel Nine’s TODAY show psychologist and has regular spots on the Nine’s Afternoon News. She also writes a weekly column for News Corp Australia’s Saturday Herald Sun in Melbourne.

As a Melbourne local, she is familiar with the work of Very Special Kids and has driven passed it for years on her commute to her practise in Malvern.

She says she was excited to be approached to be an ambassador because of her speciality and interest in mental health and the importance of providing services like ours to families in need.

“The timing to be asked as ambassador was perfect. As a recognised specialist, being a Fellow of the College of Educational and Developmental Psychologist, I have spent many years working with children, adolescents, families and adults. My understanding of mental health, along with multiple qualifications, my delight in working with families combined with a media presence seemed a perfect combination to be representing VSK in whichever way they need me. I embrace this as a great opportunity to give back to an organisation that holds a special place in the hearts of many Victorians,” she said.

Sandy’s role as ambassador will be to advocate, and promote, the vital work of Very Special Kids.

Very Special Kids Chief Executive Officer, Michael Wasley, said the entire team is excited to have Sandy on board.

“What is so evident when you meet Sandy is her authentic enthusiasm for what we do and why we exist. She has a unique insight, and understanding, into what we do through her profession and, mutually, we are looking forward to learning from her as well,” he said.

Sandy has been using her media platform recently to put the mental health effects of COVID-19 in the spotlight not only for the public, but for decision-makers and government.

More about Sandy

Sandy has a multi-disciplined practice in mental health, deals with every day issues and is highly qualified, including holding a Master of Criminology (Forensic Psychology). Sandy provides expert evidence in court proceedings for both perpetrators and victims of crime.

Sandy’s depth of psychological counselling includes relationship challenges, family and parenting related matters, adolescent and developmental issues, depression and anxiety. Her approach to counselling offers pragmatic cognitive behaviour therapy with solution-based outcomes.

Sandy has previously worked with Corrections Victoria in the maximum-security HM Barwon Prison and HM Melbourne Assessment Prison.

Sandy is a Fellow of the College of Educational and Developmental psychology and is a member of the Australian Psychological Society.

She is a highly sought after, articulate and succinct media and social commentator with an ability to distil complex matters in simple terms.




In-Home Respite Pilot

Very Special Kids has trialled the delivery of in-home respite and end-of-life care to a selection of children and families. The objective is to determine whether respite and end-of-life care can be provided within the home, as one feasible alternative to the way we provide hospice care during the rebuild period, and potentially ongoing.

15 families supported by Very Special Kids participated in the pilot, including the Zois family, pictured above. The program was delivered by Registered Nurses and cares, as well as allied health staff, including physiotherapist and play therapist.

Ongoing discussions with Victorian Paediatric Palliative Care Program and feedback from families involved has been positive. One parent said “Our family lives in crisis day to day. Very Special Kids coming and giving respite even for a few hours let our family feel like we’re not a family in crisis and stuck in our home for the next few years. And at the same time our child is not missing out on her care”.

Once completed, the pilot will be evaluated to determine if it is a viable service to offer families in our care at a time when face-to-face restrictions are no longer applicable.

You can read more about the pilot in our most recent newsletter here.


Family Services Volunteer Training Program

Volunteers are at the heart of Very Special Kids. Their commitment to supporting families is unwavering and inspiring. In 2019, 89 individuals completed the nine week training course to be a qualified Very Special Kids Family Services Volunteer.

The training course is designed to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to provide support for families who have a child with a life-threatening condition. The program supports everyone involved, from the parents, siblings, to the very special child and also the volunteer.

The training focuses on
– Communication and listening skills
– Loss and grief
– Interacting with children
– How Very Special Kids helps families access the support programs and services that are available to them

The training sessions are run by qualified Family Support Practitioners with special guests from families, children and other volunteers to provide first-hand stories and experiences with potential new volunteers.

Alan Hall has been volunteering with Very Special Kids for 12 years, directly in the home with a family and also with sibling day activities and the annual Family Christmas Party. Alan said “the volunteer training programs are outstanding. They not only prepare volunteers for effective service, they contribute to worthwhile personal grown and development”.

Our volunteers are a crucial part of the Very Special Kids team and provide an invaluable service to families. Upon successful completion of the training program, volunteers can choose to support families in the home, hospice or at the hospital.

You can hear more from our wonderful volunteers in our latest newsletter here.

Honouring Lily

Written by Priyanka Saha

Will and I were like any first-time parents, we eagerly waiting for the birth of our baby girl. We had decorated the nursery and I couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms. But at 36 weeks, after a routine sizing scan, we were given the news we never could have imagined. The doctor told us there was a problem with our baby’s brain development, and at best, she wouldn’t live past 2 years of age.

Nothing can prepare you for being told that your child is going to die. Shock, grief, love, fear, despair, helplessness, and deep sadness. It was completely overwhelming.

Lily was diagnosed with Miller-Dieker syndrome. An extremely rare genetic disease and there are only two cases per year in Australia. We just wanted to make every second count with Lily, we wanted her to be with us at home for as long as possible.

That’s when we were connected to Very Special Kids. It was comforting to know we had options and we could get respite and support from Very Special Kids if we needed it. In such an unknown time, knowing where you can turn to for support, means so much.

In the end, Lily stayed with us the entire time, she died in our arms and didn’t go to Very Special Kids until the day after she died. Words can’t describe this heartbreaking time, the hospice team helped to make things a little easier. They gave us use of a special room and cuddle cot where Lily stayed until it was time for her funeral.

We could stay overnight too or visit her at any time. This was a precious gift, the gift of some extra time to say goodbye and allowed our family to come and say their goodbyes too. since then, we continued to be supported by their family support and counselling services. Very Special Kids role in the health system is vital for families going through the trauma of parenting a terminally-sick child and ultimately losing a child. They provide a calm and caring environment, free-of-charge, for families who already have so many medical expenses and challenges.

Their ongoing bereavement support is also critical in helping families cope with the loss and to manage their mental health in the days, and years, after experiencing child loss. It is so comforting for me to know I have a counsellor, who specializes in grief and child loss, whenever I need it.

You can help Very Special Kids provide essential services such as end-of-life care by donating here.

Meet our volunteers: Vicki Disney

What inspired you to want to become a volunteer at Very Special Kids?

After fundraising for Very Special Kids for 16 years via my work in Tatts/Newsagency, I decided on my retirement I would love to continue helping VSK.

Which volunteering role will you be doing and what will it involve?

Volunteering for Very Special Kids for me is collecting donations at various venues and involving the public in the great work VSK does.

What do you do outside of volunteering at Very Special Kids?

I enjoy travelling within Australia and also going on road trips with hubby in Victoria, Mornington Peninsula being a popular destination. Visiting family and friends is my fav. I like to challenge myself doing 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles and tracing my family history is an ongoing source of discovery.

How does your background/job help you with your volunteering role?

After working in retail almost my entire working life, I enjoyed the interaction with customers therefore giving me the confidence to go out and engage with the general public.

Why do you like to volunteer in general?

Volunteering is an opportunity for me to help those in need.

Do you have a special connection to Very Special Kids?

I know two Very Special little girls and their families who received wonderful care and counselling from Very Special Kids.

What has stood out to you about Very Special Kids?

VSK to me is a caring, compassionate, helpful, kind, hospice community for Very Special Kids -children with life threatening conditions- and their families.

Adapting to our new way

By Rachel Ficinus, Family Support Team Manager 

What makes the Family Support service so unique is our ability to connect with families face-to-face. It enables us to provide a safe space for individuals and families to talk through their stresses, fears, hopes and dreams in their daily lives, with empathy and understanding.

However, a few weeks ago that face-to-face contact was abruptly put on hold and our team had to quickly become very familiar with video software such as Teams, Zoom and Skype to continue to provide emotional support to our families. We’re a team of social workers, counsellors and psychologists so these programs aren’t overly used by us because in-person appointments are our usual preference.

Our families are no stranger to uncertain and challenging times, and our team also hopes to show the same sense of compassion, resilience and strength that they display in times of adversity.

I’ve been so proud of the team’s enthusiasm to embrace their new home offices, to think outside the box of how to engage with siblings, parents and the whole family through our ‘new way.’ Their positive attitude and support offered to each other has really highlighted the commitment and strength that this team has for the work they do at Very Special Kids.

I am sure there will be some technical difficulties along the way, and we will continue to come up with new ways to deliver our support, but we are here and ready to support all Very Special Kids families throughout the coming months. This may look and feel different from what families are used to, for example, our coffee mornings have gone virtual, but if you stick with us, we know that we will come out the other end stronger and much more tech savvy.

Finally, as a psychologist, if I could offer the wider community my top advice for keeping mentally well during this uncertain time it would be to be kind to ourselves and one another. We are all going to experience what is happening around us in different ways and focusing on what makes us the same, rather than on what makes us different, will provide greater compassion and understanding in the months ahead.

Rachel Ficinus is the Team Manager of the Family Support Team. She is a registered psychologist and has more than 10 years’ experience. She has a Masters in Psychology (Educational and Developmental) from Monash University.

Referrals for services remain open

Very Special Kids remains open for referrals by email and phone. The Intake and Assessment Coordinator, Jo D’Cruz, is available for consultation on 9804 6221 or 0438 926 047.

During this very challenging time, we will continue to support families with children who have a life-limiting condition as well as families who are accessing our bereavement support program. This support is currently provided through the Family Support Team via  Skype, Teams and Zoom – plus more traditional methods of phone contact, email and SMS. Counselling and emotional support will continue to be offered by our highly qualified Family Support Practitioners.

Although the hospice has been closed for respite stays, it is open for children who are admitted for end of life care and will be staffed with medical, nursing and personal care workers. All necessary screening and safety precautions will be taken to ensure the safe delivery of care during this time. We will also endeavour to provide families with access to allied health supports such as art therapy, music therapy and child life therapy, as well as their Family Support Practitioner.

We understand that this level of support is going to be needed now more than ever before. All Very Special Kids programs and services will recommence once it is safe to do so and we will keep you updated with any changes to our current service delivery commitments. Please contact Kara Briggs,  General Manager Services and Improvement,  on 9804 6252  if you have any questions or comments regarding the services offered by Very Special Kids over the coming months.