One Way to Serve: Hospital Sitter

By Jennifer Smith
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girl in hospital sitter program
The Hospital Sitter program was created to ensure children in foster care are not alone during their stays in the hospital.

His little hand grabbed mine as we walked outside, only letting go to put another fruit snack in his mouth. This little boy, whose attacker only stopped beating him because he thought he was dead, smiles as he leads me to my car after my interview with his foster parents. A little boy who all the medical professionals in the ER that night thought wouldn’t make it. And if by some slim chance he did, would for sure be blind, paralyzed, and never talk. For Kay and Mike Nelson, what started as a safe “yes” to serving as a Hospital Sitter grew into so much more. 

An urgent email requesting a Hospital Sitter for a little boy somehow seemed different than the previous requests Kay had answered. The midnight to 4 AM shift made no sense for a mom of three, but she felt the Holy Spirit pressing for her to say yes. 

Hospital Sitter

In the year before, the Nelson family watched their best friends, who were foster parents, serve many children in foster care. It opened their eyes to the foster crisis and led Kay to search for ways to help them. With three biological kids, a full-time job, and introverted nature, fostering did not seem like a good fit, but she still felt called to do something. Babysitting seemed like a great way to support her friend. So, she attended the South Texas Alliance for Orphans’ Babysitting Collaborative. Attendees could stay through lunch and receive additional Hospital Sitter training. With her medical training and passion to serve, she felt this was another great avenue to serve abused and neglected children. 

After completing the training, she received emails for children in need of a Hospital Sitter to comfort them during their hospital stays. Most were short-term for a tonsillectomy or illness until that life-changing evening in June. 

The Unexpected

As she walked into his room, shock, heartbreak, anger, and fear rushed over her. She gently and quietly sat down by his little body so broken, bruised, and swollen it took her breath away.

A frantic caseworker demanded, “What are you doing here? Who are you?” 

“I’m just a volunteer here to sit with him,” Kay answered.

“Oh! Praise God! Will you stay here and pray for him?”

And pray she did! One-night turned into multiple days of sitting, holding hands, praying, and hoping. After coming out of a medically induced coma, his eyes still swollen shut and a paralyzed left side, the little fingers on his right hand found comfort playing with the familiar rings on her hand. 

Her ”yes” to Hospital Sitting felt safe. It felt logical. Her husband fully supported her time spent serving this precious little boy and also her efforts in advocating for him. It wasn’t long before he too made weekly visits to encourage and comfort him. Caring for him was a true team effort. His team included a rotation of four Hospital Sitters who shared the shifts. Two retired teachers who served him even nicknamed themselves the “Grandpa sitters”.

Hospital Sitters

boy in hospital sitter program

The Hospital Sitter program was created to ensure children in foster care are not alone during their stays in the hospital. Sitters are able to color pictures, play Uno, read books or just hold hands to ensure a child’s time in the hospital is a little less frightening. Sometimes sitters are needed to support a single foster mom who has other kids at home and must juggle time at the hospital and time at home. Other times it is children recently removed from abusive homes who have not been placed in a foster home yet. Hospital Sitters also free caseworkers up to search for the best placement for each child. And, they provide children in the hospital with a caring adult to rely on during an often scary, painful time.  

Week after week, she sat with him, advocated for him, prayed for him until he healed enough to be discharged. A few questions to the caseworker about where he would go and who would take care of his special needs led to a whirlwind of classes, approvals, and paperwork to officially approve the Nelson family as his foster family. The logical, safe choice no longer made sense. This little miracle boy, who stole their hearts, needed a home and a family. Now he would be able to continue his healing in their home. 

God always had a plan for this precious fruit snack loving, Dude Perfect fan. He still plays with those familiar rings. 

He has no idea that he changes the lives of everyone who has the privilege of meeting him. 

Everyone Can Do Something

As I left our time together, he reached out his hand. His big eyes were shining through cute red-framed glasses under a blue protective helmet. “Nice to meet you.” And in Dude Perfect fashion, he raised his little fist. Fist bump, noggin, “see ya”…I met a miracle tonight.

The Nelson family’s “yes” continues to be used by God to radically change many, many lives. Their “yes” has encouraged many more to say yes to serving alongside them. Providing meals, babysitting, donations of needed supplies, playdates, and prayer. This amazing family hopes to encourage you to seek out the unique part you can play in helping children heal and families thrive. Their little guy was impacted by so many; paramedics, police officers, investigators, nurses, doctors, specialists, therapists, caseworkers, babysitters, and Hospital Sitters. All working together in their own unique role.

There are many roles to fill! Everyone CAN do something!

Will you take your next most courageous, faithful step to serve children and families impacted by the foster care system? If not you, then who?

These children, often hurt by the very adults that are supposed to protect them, desperately need to know they are not unseen, unknown, silent victims left to journey through a system alone. Our willingness to sacrificially serve testifies to their God-designed inherent worth and value in this world.

Find Your Role

If you would like more information about starting a Hospital Sitter program in your area, serving in the current Hospital Sitters program pioneered by the South Texas Alliance for Orphans in the San Antonio area, or finding other ways to serve, check out the Alliance website.

Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No teen parent is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

Copyright © 2021, Jennifer Smith.

*Names changed to protect their privacy and identity.

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