What difference can the fulfilment of a dream make to the life of a child with a serious or life-threatening condition? That is the intriguing question to be asked by a unique study launched by the University of Stirling.
The three-year study titled: The Power of Dreams: assessing and measuring the impact of making dreams come true for life-limited children, is being jointly funded by children’s charity Dreams Come True, in an innovative collaboration between the University and the charitable organisation.
Dr Liz Forbat, Reader and Co-Director of the Cancer Care Research Centre within the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at the University, is carrying out the study with PhD researcher Jayne Galinsky.
Dr Forbat said: “There have been no previous studies carried out in this field so we are in the early stages of understanding what happens when these children and young people have a dream fulfilled.
“Dreams Come True has had a lot of feedback from parents telling of the many ways that a dream experience has helped their child. These families also speak of the positive effects this had had on their own lives. The charity wants to better understand the outcomes of dream fulfilment and the impact across the whole family.
“This pioneering study has a challenging methodology and it is exciting for the University to be leading the way in this area of research. Each member of the family, including the child, will be interviewed as part of the process to fully understand their experience of the child having a dream fulfilled. We will also speak to bereaved families to see how they reflect on the experience after the loss of their child.”
Dr Forbat added: “The study reflects that Dreams Come True takes seriously the need for evidence into the impact of these types of services on the families involved.”
PhD researcher Jayne Galinsky, who previously worked in Richard House Children's Hospice, in London, added: “Working in a children’s hospice taught me that what happens to a child affects the whole family. When that experience is something amazing like having a dream fulfilled - brothers, sisters, parents and carers all feel that in some way.
“I wanted to be part of this study to help formally explore what it means to have a dream fulfilled. I’m particularly interested in how siblings of children with life limiting and long term conditions are affected, and what this means for the family over the long term.”
Dreams Come True is a children's charity serving families in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Children and young people aged from two to 21 can apply to the charity to have a dream fulfilled.
Over the last 24 years the charity has fulfilled the dreams of more than 5000 children and young people with serious and life threatening conditions. Each dream request is very personal, from meeting a celebrity hero to fulfilling a very personal ambition - playing the Wurlitzer organ in the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool as one recent example. Many children simply dream of overcoming barriers to enjoying their everyday lives and Dreams Come True also helps provide vital sensory equipment, wheelchairs or specially adapted bicycles.
The immediate joy that a dream brings to all the children is apparent, but families too share in that joy. Many families tell of how a dream experience has lifted spirits, boosted confidence and even helped children to return to school.
One mother whose 18 year-old son has chronic epilepsy and cortical dysplasia said she hoped that Dreams Come True would help her son have an amazing holiday of a lifetime at Disney World in Florida. But she hadn’t anticipated the longer term impact the experience would have on his self-esteem and sense of self. She added: “Rickie’s dream being fulfilled was the start of a life changing experience.”
Another mother whose 13 year old daughter Ellen has cerebral palsy and developmental delay, described the dream experience she shared with her daughter as “a life saver”. She added: “As a single parent family it was a much needed break and one we will remember for years to come.”
The charity says their needs to be greater understanding about the way in which fulfilling a dream appears to provide a positive focus, empowering families, giving renewed strength to deal with the on-going burden of chronic illness, and sadly for some, the very difficult process of bereavement.
Chief Executive of Dreams Come True, Peter Newman says their needs to be greater understanding about the way in which fulfilling a dream appears to provide a positive focus. He added: “We believe passionately in the power of dreams to inspire, motivate and empower children and young people with life limiting and life threatening conditions.
“Our partnership with the prestigious Cancer Care Research Centre at the University of Stirling will enable us to begin creating the evidence base that will inform and support all the organisations working towards better services in the paediatric palliative care sector. Our long term goal is to make dreams come true for many more terminally and seriously ill children. We believe that this research will enable us to demonstrate to everyone who supports the charity the powerful impact of what we can achieve with their help.”