Working Life: Jess Rees is an acrobat, entertainer and counsellor, all in one

The family support worker at the Rainbow Trust says working with children who have life-threatening conditions can be tough, but much of the time it's great fun

Jess Rees
Jess Rees

You can't take yourself seriously in this job: I'm often running around hospitals pulling silly faces.

I've even resorted to walking around the car on my hands to encourage children to get in. In this job, acrobat, counsellor, mediator and children's entertainer are all core skills. I was thrilled when I started two years ago – I didn't know such a role existed until I saw it advertised.

I support families with children who have life-threatening or terminal illnesses by doing home or hospital visits and entertaining the ill children while their parents get jobs done or give their siblings one-to-one time. We read books, do arts and crafts and have some messy play time. I've spent a lot of time recently with one child: we take turns to act as singing contestant and judge on our version of The Voice.

I also accompany families to medical appointments and provide support, such as helping parents understand new information or distracting their children while they talk to the doctors. Today I've driven a family to hospital and later I'll be playing in the park.

Lots of people say they couldn't do my job because it's too sad, but my role is loads of fun most of the time, although one of the children I support died recently. I attended his funeral, which was tough. Despite having a caseload of 28 families, it was only the third bereavement I've experienced in 18 months. You can't help but get attached to the families, but we can speak to a psychologist frequently and we're a close team. There's always someone with a similar experience who can listen and advise.

I work 38-hour weeks but it's flexitime, so I can start early, do my shopping while a family is at hospital, then finish late.

I like the fact that I'm trusted to adapt how I work to meet different needs. The child who died was interested in animals, so I took my hamster to visit. It might be unconventional, but he loved it. I can't change the diagnosis or make children better, but I can make things easier and make them laugh.

The Rainbow Trust provides emotional and practical support to families who have seriously ill children

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