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Chaplains and Spiritual Care

What is a chaplain?

Chaplains in pediatric hospitals are clinically trained in the spiritual issues of childhood and adolescent illnesses. Hospital chaplains focus on a family’s spiritual well-being.

“Spiritual” refers to the human need to:

  • Connect to a higher power
  • Be part of a community
  • Find meaning in life experiences

Chaplains offer care for patients and families honoring their faith and path to spirituality. This includes those who:

  • Are spiritual but not religious
  • Do not believe in God
Man sitting near a pond with a red bridge while reading a book on an autumn afternoon.

Chaplains, also known as spiritual care specialists, are the part of the pediatric care team that concentrates on the spiritual well-being of patients and families.

Chaplains help the whole family. When your child’s health changes, it affects everyone. A chaplain can help you explore how faith, spirituality, and thoughts can be a source of strength and comfort.  Chaplains can help families make peace with the unknown and find hope.

Chaplains serve families with sensitivity to:

  • Religion or faith group
  • Race/ ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Disability

Learning your child has a serious illness is a major life change. It may cause you to reassess your belief system.

It can be a grieving process. You may be hurt by the loss of your healthy child.

Chaplains are family counselors

Chaplains can:

  • Provide education and counseling to address spiritual concerns
  • Support parents as they make difficult decisions
  • Identify your family’s spiritual strengths and weaknesses
  • Identify support people in your community
  • Help you maintain relationships with others

Mindfulness and spiritual care

Chaplain Elizabeth Hawkins uses mindfulness, meditation, and spiritual care to help children and families in the hospital. Learn how these techniques can help your child.

Read her blog post.

Chaplains can also work one-on-one with children and teens. Teens may need to share feelings and experiences with a trusted adult who is not a parent. They may fear their true feelings will upset their parents.

Chaplains are listeners and companions

Often a chaplain’s main role is to be an objective companion. Chaplains listen without judgment.

They can confirm what you are feeling is shared by others going through the same journey. Chaplains can also help you examine any disturbing thoughts you may be having.

Chaplains offer prayer, rituals and sacraments

Chaplains can pray with you and for you. They can perform rituals and sacraments from your faith. Chaplains can put you in touch with local religious and spiritual centers or clergy from your tradition.

How do I connect with chaplains at my child’s hospital?

A chaplain may be assigned to your child’s care team. If you are not sure, ask your care team. Most hospitals have chaplains on call 24 hours a day. The department where they work may be called Spiritual Care, Pastoral Care, Chaplaincy, or a related name.

Key points about chaplains and spiritual care

  • A hospital chaplain can provide spiritual support.
  • Chaplains offer care for patients and families honoring their faith path to spirituality might be.
  • Chaplains are family counselors.
  • Chaplains are listeners and companions.
  • Chaplains offer prayers, rituals, and rites of your faith tradition.

Reviewed: November 2022