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Northwestern Nursing Students Pilot In-home Disability Care Program with Joni and Friends


By Linda LaFrombois on Monday, March 15, 2021

The stress of navigating the COVID pandemic has been felt around the world. For families with disabilities, the demands of providing 24-hour care during ongoing quarantine restrictions are multiplied.

This spring, 42 nursing students from University of Northwestern – St. Paul are stepping in to provide much-needed relief to families with disabilities through a new Joni and Friends (JAF) internship program called “Respite at Home.” The program, created in tandem by JAF and UNW’s School of Nursing, offers a much-needed break for parents of children with high needs, and offers companionship to the children—many of whom have few relationships outside of their home.

The Joni and Friends International Disability Center (IDC), founded in 1979 by author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, provides outreach and ministry programs to thousands of families around the world impacted by disability. Respite at Home, part of the organization’s “Cause 4 Life” Internship Program, is a success story born of disappointing COVID-related cancellations.

Last fall, COVID forced the cancellation of a clinical program many UNW nursing students depend on to earn clinical hours. Around the same time, JAF was looking for alternative ways to offer relief to Minnesota parents that had been scheduled to attend a week-long camp for families with disabilities after it, too, had been cancelled. “Minnesota Family Retreat,” hosted by JAF at Castaway Club in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, is a camp at which UNW nursing students have served.

“School programs and after-school therapies have been cut back. As a result, the heavy cloud of depression has settled over so many special needs families during this difficult time.” Kimi Archer, Director of Joni and Friends’ “Cause 4 Life” Internship Program
Joni & friends

Kimi Archer, director of JAF’s Cause 4 Life program, worked with Anne Skoglund, MAN, RN—an assistant professor of nursing at UNW—to develop a COVID-safe way to serve these families that also provided clinical hours for the students. Respite at Home met each of these needs so successfully that the JAF team is exploring a national expansion of the program.

“During COVID-19, we’ve worked hard to come up with creative ways to do ministry among isolated families that have kids with disability,” says Archer. “These children are at high risk, and their parents need more help than ever. School programs and after-school therapies have been cut back. As a result, the heavy cloud of depression has settled over so many special needs families during this difficult time.”

“So here at Joni and Friends, we asked, ‘How can we help?’ We knew we couldn't let these families suffer alone.’"

In addition to training students to provide exceptional health care to patients, UNW’s School of Nursing places great emphasis on caring for the whole person and, particularly in pediatric care, serving the families as well. Students participating in the Respite at Home program learn these valuable skills firsthand.

“These nursing students not only earn their clinical hours, but also have a chance to get an inside look at the day-to-day struggles of families with special needs and bring the love of Jesus Christ in such practical ways,’’ says Archer.

Through the Respite at Home internship, nursing students provide 30 hours of care over the course of 10 weeks to families needing disability care. In addition to providing in-home care for the child affected by disability, the students, who are placed in homes in pairs, read Bible stories, share music, and do activities provided in a “toolkit” carefully tailored by Cause 4 Life for those being served.

Following each in-home visit, Archer and Skoglund meet with every student for a time of debriefing. Additionally, the students write a weekly evaluation, complete care documentation, and craft a plan for the coming week.

“These nursing students not only earn their clinical hours, but also have a chance to get an inside look at the day-to-day struggles of families with special needs and bring the love of Jesus Christ in such practical ways."Kimi Archer
Facebook post about Respite at Home program

UNW’s School of Nursing, ranked one of the top three nursing programs in the Midwest based on NCLEX-RN exam pass rates, is characterized by a depth of hands-on training, transcultural clinical experience, the integration of faith and ministry in patient care, and a curriculum that trains students to effectively serve individuals with disabilities.

For the last three years, UNW nursing students have earned 96 transcultural clinical hours by serving families with disabilities in Ukraine through JAF’s Cause 4 Life program. The School of Nursing also integrates the “Beyond Suffering” coursework throughout its curriculum. This groundbreaking course of study on disability and suffering was created by Joni Eareckson Tada with Steve Bundy, Senior VP of the Christian Institute on Disability at Joni and Friends.

“Partnering with Joni and Friends has been an encouraging and positive experience for our nursing students and staff,” says Skoglund. “My job is made easy by the work Joni and Friends puts into their programs and through their commitment to communicate well and walk alongside us.”

“From in-home care and family retreats in Minnesota to camps in the Ukraine, the Cause 4 Life team truly seeks to better each student while blessing families that have disabilities in any way they can. The UNW School of Nursing is thankful to be involved in such a meaningful partnership.”

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