TLC for Tiny Patients

Certified Child Life Specialist Angela Brennecke with NICU patient Reyker Colglazier from Elletsville

Did you know that even the tiniest patients at Riley Hospital for Children benefit from the services of Child Life Specialists and Music Therapists? Today we are pleased to introduce you to a Riley at IU Health employee who is part of the extraordinary team caring for babies in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit: Certified Child Life Specialist Angela Brennecke.

Q: How long you have been providing Child Life services at Riley?

A: I have been at Riley since August 2012. I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Child and Family Services. I did an internship at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa; a Child Life Fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and now I’m here!
Q:What kinds of services do you provide to NICU patients and their parents?

A: A big part of my job is promoting the developmental needs of infants, both premature and full term. I can provide one-on-one developmentally appropriate activities and stimulation for the older babies or hold the smaller ones as they are getting used to more stimulation and interaction.

Babies in the Riley NICU now receive the services of Child Life Specialists and Music Therapists. Sometimes the best medicine for a baby is simply having someone hold them.


It is difficult for families to deal with an extended hospitalization so I’m here to help them cope and promote healthy bonding to their baby. Parents have asked for ways to personalize their bed spaces and activities to distract them and help their time here go faster. Sometimes they ask for information on developmental milestones and what they can look forward to doing with their babies.

Nurses call me to help hold the fussy babies when nothing else with calm them. I am working on getting more volunteers trained to come in a help hold babies.

Q:  What are some of the
ways you help the brothers and sisters of babies in the NICU?

A: RSV season is from October to about April, so siblings under the age of 18 are not allowed to visit patients on the NICU. During that time I do several things to help them. If the siblings are in the waiting room then I can offer to do FaceTime by having one ipad with the sibling and the other at the patient’s bedside. This can sometimes be the first time a big brother or sister is seeing the new baby. Often times the sibling will sing a song or just talk to the baby. It’s also a great time for them to ask questions about what they see, the type of bed, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, pumps and monitors. I have also organized sibling groups/activity times. One of our Music Therapists, Ann Hannan, also helps with these and gives the siblings a chance to create their own song about the new baby.

Q: What are the most challenging parts of your job?

A: Since we are an intensive care unit, we have some babies who don’t make it. Watching a family go through the grief process can be emotionally difficult. Part of my job during this is to help siblings understand why their baby brother or sister isn’t coming home with them. I try to help them create as many memories as possible. I also help the nurses create memory items like pictures and footprints.

Q: What are the most rewarding parts of your job?

A: Seeing a family come together and bond during such a difficult time is very rewarding. The first time a big brother or a big sister gets to meet their baby is a huge deal and can be so exciting for them. I take pictures and create little books all about the baby, then the siblings can take it to school and show their friends. Its always great to then hear parents say that their older children have memorized the book and don’t go anywhere without it.

Q: Riley’s NICU is preparing to move into its new home in the Simon Family Tower next week. What have you been doing to get ready?

A: There is a lot of training that has to take place to get everyone ready for the new unit. It will be a completely different environment because every baby will have their own room. I’ve been ordering swings and bouncy seats, going to meetings about helping families find their way around the new space and planning a fun waiting room for siblings to play in.

Q: The Riley Hospital Child Life program relies heavily on donor support. What is your message to supporters who help fund your work by giving to Riley Children’s Foundation?

A: These NICU services are a brand new program thanks to our wonderful Riley supporters. I am so grateful and so excited to be here and be working with such a great medical team on the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. I can’t wait to see how the program grows, and I am always telling more people about what I am doing here.


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2 Responses to TLC for Tiny Patients

  1. avatar Jennie Bailey says:

    Hi! How would some go about getting some information on being trained to volunteer to help hold babies?! I’ve went through the interview w/ Aaron & Im interested in this part of the volunteering. Thank you!!

  2. avatar Riley Blogger says:

    Thanks for your interest, Jennie! For NICU volunteers, we require that they have at least 1 year of volunteer experience in a hospital setting. Here is the information the Child Life team passed on about becoming a volunteer:

    We have an 80-hour minimum commitment for traditional volunteers and a 50-hour minimum commitment for college student volunteers. A typical volunteer shift is a weekly recurring shift of three or four-hours in length. Individuals Appling for this program must be at least 18 years old.

    Our on-boarding process, though extensive, can be done smoothly. It consists of a background check, health screen, and training sessions. IU Health pays all fees pertaining to the on-boarding process. We have this process to protect volunteers, patients, families, visitors, and staff regarding patient confidentiality and environment of safe, quality care.

    While fulfilling your commitment, and any time you volunteer, we pay for your parking and provide you with a meal pass that is good within Riley Hospital.

    To begin the process, you will need to complete a volunteer application by using this link:

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