Riley’s Problem Solvers, Peacemakers and Support Beams

March 14, 2018
Topics: Riley Staff Profiles, About Us

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Caitlin Scanlon

Social Workers at Riley Hospital for Children are hard to describe but impossible to do without. 

They are problem solvers, peacemakers, support beams and crisis managers―the “glue” that helps families stay strong as their child faces a health challenge.

As we celebrate National Social Work Month in March, we want to take this opportunity to introduce you to one of the caring professionals on the Riley Social Work team.


Caitlin Scanlon completed her undergraduate degree in New Jersey and her Master’s degree in Social Work at New York University. She felt pulled toward children coping with grief issues when she volunteered at a bereavement camp for children. “I fell in love with being able to help children going through these experiences,” says Caitlin. “When a child faces grief they can be marginalized from their friends, since others can’t relate to what they are dealing with. To watch these children connect and grow during their time at camp was so special.”

Caitlin was offered a unique Fellowship opportunity in Pediatric Palliative Care at Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with Harvard University. The experience was “wonderful, special and eye-opening” according to Caitlin. “In Palliative Care, we work with the child and family when a child has a life-limiting or life-threatening illness,” she explains. “I bring a layer of support, and my goal is to make each day the best day possible for that individual child and family.” 

She said she considers it a great honor to help families process the many types of losses that often occur when a child faces a serious illness, including the loss of expectations of what their futures would include, and loss of specific physical functionalities. 


Today, as a Social Worker with the Palliative Care team at Riley Hospital for Children, Caitlin says she feels grateful for her incredible team and the meaningful work they do. The toughest thing is describing her work, since there is no such thing as a “typical day” in Palliative Care Social Work. “The whole family is impacted by a child’s serious illness,” she says. “I can help them establish their preferences for communication with the medical staff, help serve as an advocate and interpret medical information that can be tricky to understand, support them through challenging medical decision-making, and help them explore what each decision would mean in terms of their everyday life. 

My job as a Palliative Care Social Worker is to work with each individual family’s situation and help make every day the best day possible. There are days when we have dance parties. And there are days when we also talk about hard stuff, such as end-of-life issues.”

Caitlin says people often tell her that they “don’t know how she does it,” but she finds her role to be a great honor. “I believe there is a fit for everyone,” she says. “I like to think this is my fit forever. I still have a lot of zest for it. It is so special to hear families’ stories. They let us in at such a vulnerable time in their life. When we can be a source of solace and a safe haven among chaos and challenging moments, it is very rewarding.”


The majority of funding for Riley Hospital’s Social Work team comes from donors through Riley Children’s Foundation. Caitlin shares this message with donors who make her team’s work possible: “It is incredible the amount of support everyone in the community shows for Riley. Everyone has a connection. As a Social Worker on the Palliative Care team, I would not be here without donors who support Riley Children’s Foundation. I love coming to work every day. I am honored. I recently spoke at Ball State University Dance Marathon (BSUDM) because Palliative Care is one of the main programs at Riley that their funds support. To see their passion for Riley and Palliative Care in particular gets me excited! It’s wonderful to see college students becoming informed about our work and so motivated to help. They are incredible advocates.”


Caitlin also appreciates the way Riley Children’s Foundation empowers families to find personal ways to give back to Riley Hospital. “I am continually inspired by Riley families who give back, even when they have lost their child due to serious illness. For a family to feel so strongly about giving back to Riley, which was a hard place to be, is a testament to the compassionate care provided here. What an incredible legacy for a family to help create for their child. Everyone wants to know that they made an impact on the world. Riley Children’s Foundation does a beautiful job helping families reach their goals. In a way, their child is still giving back and their story is still alive. We can uphold their story through their work with Riley Children’s Foundation.”

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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