Bringing smiles to the faces of sick children.

TLC for Kids is Australia’s leading children’s charity. For 25 years they have given relief and distraction to children and their families during stressful and traumatic situations. TLC for Kids offers four services that are accessed over one-million times a year across Australia. Each service is designed and developed with one aim – to help bring smiles back to the faces of sick children and their families.

Interior Images are longtime supporters of TLC for Kids. We believe in the critical importance of the work it does, and the real difference it makes in the lives of those who need it the most.

Today we want to share the story of TLC for Kids. Our goal is that you too will be inspired to get involved, and together we can help to create more smiles.

Q&A with Tim Conolan AM – Founder & CEO of TLC for Kids.

Q. What inspired you to start TLC for Kids 25 years ago?

A. I started TLC for Kids in June 1998. On a guided tour of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Ana Darras (then, working in Public Relations at the hospital) explained the vast number of children admitted to the hospital that were ‘falling through the gaps’ and were missing out on emotional support. I was struck by the enormity of illnesses and health-related issues faced by children. I felt that, regardless of the situation relating to a health complication, be it a serious or chronic illness, car accident or terminal disease, most kids need some sort of distraction or support to help them get through what is often the toughest time of their life.  There was a need for a support group or charity to focus on helping the child regardless of their illness. This is where and why TLC for Kids was established.

Q. What was the very first TLC program to get off the ground?

A. The first program to be implemented was the RAPID TLC program, which remains the fastest referral system of its kind in Australia. Approved healthcare professionals can request free emotional and practical support for sick children and their families, and TLC for Kids is committed to responding to all requests immediately, ensuring action within 24 to 48 hours, or even within the hour, which inspired the name ‘RAPID TLC.’ With its rapid turnaround and lack of restrictive criteria, TLC for Kids strives to ensure that no child misses out on support.

Q. If we were to walk into a hospital or medical room right now and see a TLC for kids’ program in action, what would it look like?

A. You may see one of our TLC Distraction Boxes, either in the cupboard, under the bed or in the hands of a healthcare professional. The TLC for Kids Distraction Box Program is designed to give nurses and healthcare professionals the perfect tools to guide young children through painful examinations and procedures. Each Box is placed in medical rooms and contains items that engage the attention of the child; complement the procedure; comply with hospital infection control protocols; and divert attention away from the procedure.

Q. Can you explain how your support programs have changed or evolved over the years?

A. RAPID TLC Program: This service provides rapid emotional and practical support to sick children in need, as well as their families, through an efficient referral system. TLC for Kids responds promptly to all requests, ensuring no child misses out on crucial assistance. Over the years, this service has become quite streamlined in its approach to increase turnaround time for deliveries whilst making it easy for healthcare professionals to submit requests. This involved the development and fine-tuning of our online referral system.

TLC Distraction Box Program: The Distraction Box Program equips medical rooms with engaging and comforting items to distract and guide young children during painful examinations and procedures, helping to alleviate their distress. Over the years, this program has gone through a number of adjustments and improvements, from the size and shape of the box itself, to the items used for distraction therapy. There have also been some improvements in training materials and methodology to make it even easier for healthcare professionals.

Tap 2 Distract App: The Tap 2 Distract App offers digital distraction therapy, aiding in pain management and stress relief for children facing medical procedures. The app has been widely appreciated by healthcare professionals and patients alike. Still in its early stages, there have already been some improvements to gameplay and content as a result of feedback from the users of the app.

The TLC Ambulance: The TLC Ambulance is the first program of its kind in Australia, offering an immersive and engaging experience that differentiates the vehicle from other patient transport vehicles. The TLC Ambulance is more than just a vehicle – it offers a beautiful, memorable day out for families to treasure forever. Since its launch, there has been a number of minor changes to the interior look and feel, along with the extension of service delivery by adding additional support deliverables to the entire family.

Q. How do you measure whether a program or service is successful?

A. We receive feedback on a regular basis from healthcare professionals using our services. This ensures we are staying up to date with the needs of the hospitals and sick children under their care. This feedback is vital for us to identify any areas we could improve on or if we are hitting the mark with what is required. We also receive heartfelt messages of gratitude from the families we assist, which help gauge the success of our services.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced with TLC for kids since you began?

A. The most significant challenge we face is raising awareness about our cause and establishing direct communication with decision-makers in larger businesses, major philanthropists, and board members of large philanthropic trusts, as well as potential investors and partners. Being independent of Government funding, we rely entirely on the benevolence of kind-hearted individuals, businesses, and organisations to sustain our free services nationwide. With countless worthy causes vying for attention, it becomes arduous for people to discover each charity and determine which one aligns best with their values for support. Undeniably, our journey has taken the road less travelled, akin to salmon swimming upstream while evading bears. Nonetheless, our ultimate aim is to reach and provide support to millions of children and individuals worldwide, and we are unwaveringly committed to achieving this goal despite the challenges ahead.

Q. You have impacted millions of lives over 25 years, could you single out a moment, milestone or interaction that really stands out to you?

A. This is a very hard question, as there have been so many moments over the last 25 years. I guess what stands out for me, apart from the incredible generosity of everyone who donates to our cause to keep us going, are a few messages from the hospitals and families:

From a hospital referrer: The staff at our hospital always say “we don’t know where some of these families would be without TLC for Kids. Nothing is too hard for them, and it gives us peace of mind knowing they are there to support these families.”

From a TLC for Kids families: Families who have lost their children who take the time to write a thank you letter to us for assisting them with funeral costs. This one breaks our hearts as it takes great strength to sit and write a letter after losing a child.

A couple of standout quotes:

“It was wonderful to see our little boy smiling and happy again. Your gift and support was not only for our son because his happiness was a gift to our whole family.”

“Your support by providing an air-conditioner (burns patient) was a real lifesaver. He could sleep so much better thanks to your kindness and it made a huge difference”

And one of the most moving quotes I have is from Casey’s mum, who said to me on the last night of the Trip of a Lifetime, “You have brought our daughter back to us”

Q. You have recently launched the Tap 2 Distract app. What feedback have you had so far?

A. We are incredibly delighted with the feedback we have received so far. Numerous healthcare providers have described it as a game-changer, particularly in assisting children with needle phobia during their immunizations and vaccinations. In addition, people of all ages have found it helpful in coping with stressful situations, which is a fantastic additional benefit. The achievement that fills us with the most pride is that the Tap 2 Distract App has become an integral part of Ambulance services, featured on a custom-made decal inside every Ambulance in Victoria. The other exciting feedback has been that other Emergency Service providers have expressed interest in our app as well.

Q. How important is the support you receive from organisations such as Interior Images?

A. The support we receive from various organisations, individuals, and businesses is of paramount importance. Their kindness and generosity enable us to make a difference over 1 million times each year. Our work is undoubtedly challenging, especially when we assist families with terminally ill children. However, knowing that there are people in the community backing us up helps us get through these tough times so that we can support the most vulnerable. We are incredibly grateful to all those who have supported us, and who have been a crucial part of our journey for many years. Their continuous assistance has allowed us to reach tens of thousands of children and their families, and we cannot thank them enough for their unwavering commitment to our cause.

Q. If you were able to create an ideal future, what would TLC for Kids look like in 10 years’ time?

A. In envisioning the ideal future for TLC for Kids in 10 years, our perspective has evolved. While our initial goal was to become redundant, indicating a world without the need for our services, we now recognise the ever-growing gaps in support and services. Hence, we believe that there will always be a necessity for a charity like TLC for Kids. Looking ahead, our vision for TLC for Kids in 10 years is to extend our distraction and support services globally, ensuring they reach over 5 million children and their families annually. We aim to witness a substantial increase in the support reach of our core services while also witnessing the widespread adoption of our Tap 2 Distract app. We envision this app being utilised by hospitals, emergency workers, healthcare professionals, and anyone seeking a few minutes of positive distraction to enhance mental health and well-being. Through these efforts, we aspire to make a significant impact on the lives of those in need, continuing our mission of providing essential care and support to children and their families across the world.

To learn more about TLC for Kids, and to discover how you can get involved – visit https://www.tlcforkids.org.au/

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