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Erick Blandin: Program Director at Child's Play

Meet Erick Blandin, the Program Director at Child’s Play. By partnering with over 185 children’s hospitals and domestic violence shelters around the world, Child’s Play provides video games and state-of-the-art gaming technology to kids in need. Their grant program funds technological specialists who work in the partner hospitals to implement new gaming technology into patients’ lives. Erick’s favorite part of his job? Visiting hospitals to see the work Child’s Play does come to life.

Can you tell us more about the work Child’s Play does?

Child’s Play has been around for 17 years, we were founded by web comic artists and fanatic gamers. At the time, there was a lot of media coverage about video games being bad for kids and they wanted to change that narrative. Now, we build wishlists for our partner hospitals around the world. Individuals or organizations can buy gifts off the list or donate money that translates to an annual gift to our partner hospitals. We have a grant program that funds a pediatric game specialist who works in the hospitals to maintain game equipment and bring new gaming technology to hospital settings. Outside of hospitals, we work with domestic violence shelters to provide portable gaming kits that kids can use during their stay.

How do you think games improve children’s lives?

It’s normal for kids to want to play games. If you are stuck in a place where games are not available, like a hospital, kids are more likely to be sad and lash out behaviorally. Having games available to kids in hospitals and shelters makes them feel normal. At the very least, it’s something to motivate them to get out of bed, which is a big feat for some patients. We can recommend games that work well with a child’s specific illness. For example, we wouldn’t recommend the same game to a child with chronic pain that you would for a child suffering from anxiety. A lot of doctors aren’t gamers and don’t understand that distinction, and we can guide them to be successful in how they implement games in their hospitals. The hospitals that have our game technician specialists are able to implement games into a child’s therapy, like using an interactive VR game to help with physical therapy goals. For kids who can’t leave their rooms because of immune-sensitivity issues, we bring them telerobotics so they can travel around the hospital via robot to talk to other patients and “see” visitors. Games give these kids an escape that benefits their mental, emotional, and physical health.

What do you do as Program Director?

In short, I help to put people together in communities to cultivate ideas. There are very few game technicians in hospital settings, and they rely on each other because they are often the only person in this field working in the hospital. As part of my job, I get to travel to our different partner hospitals to work with the child life department staff. I started at Child’s Play as the 3rd employee, and now I manage all of our programs and run all the behind-the-scenes action. We have a very small staff, which is made possible because of our strong giving community.

What is the future of Child’s Play?

There’s around 250 children’s hospitals in the U.S. alone, and it would be great to grow the number of partner hospitals we have both nationally and internationally. We have partnerships with hospitals in Australia, Germany, Canada, and Kenya, and I want to spread our reach so that we can help more children in more corners of the world. In an ideal world, I hope we can grow the game technology specialist program. The hospitals that have those technicians are able to do such incredible work with gaming technology and are able to turn game donations into therapeutic practices. Child’s Play would love to implement gaming and technology coursework into the child life training to show hospital employees the benefits of implementing gaming into their practices. How cool would it be to have a Master’s in Gaming Technology for Child Life? That’s where I hope Child’s Play will get us someday. All of this could be a lot more feasible if our fundraising could expand beyond the gaming community. More donations means there are more grants to support, which means we can grow globally.

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