Fostering Children with Complex Health Needs


Suzy Rigby is a foster carer who specialises in fostering children with complex health needs and life-limiting conditions. She explains how the Story Massage Programme online training has been directly beneficial for her 13 year old foster son.

Benefits for Children with Complex Health Needs

“I came across the Story Massage Programme in the children’s hospice we attend. I saw first-hand the huge benefits for children with complex health needs in terms of relaxation, anticipation, stimulation and so much more.

“My fostering agency were very happy to fund me to go on the training. It is hard to find courses that can be applied directly with such positive benefits. It was great to be able to do it at my own pace in the evenings. It fitted in so well with caring for my foster son, who is profoundly disabled. I could do it in bursts as short as 5 minutes or whilst sitting at his bedside if needed.

Fostering Children with Complex Health Needs

“At the end of the course, students are asked to write or adapt a massage story using the Story Massage strokes.  My role as a foster carer means that I am quite sleep deprived and don’t have much creativity! So, I wrote one around a weekly activity we do, going swimming at the hydro pool. It was very easy to write as it was based on our normal routine. You can download it here: Going Swimming at Serennu.

“This massage story gave me the idea to use the programme to support my foster son’s routine. He has limited understanding of the world around him and is also blind. He is unable to attend school, so we are together at home all day, every day. I have created a timetable of activities that suits his needs. However, I am always looking for ways to help him understand his routine. For example, day vs night, weekdays vs weekends. I also want to help him prepare for activities and learn to anticipate where we are going. I can’t just tell him, as he has no understanding of language. I can’t show him a photo or visual timetable as he is unable to see. So, I decided to use the Story Massage Programme. I’ve written massage stories for lots of different activities including ice skating, music therapy and staying at the hospice.

Massage Stories to Prepare for the Day

“I start our day with a massage story for prepare for what we’re doing that day, then I get him dressed and ready. Once we are ready and about to leave, I repeat the same massage story. Then I do it a third time just before the activity starts. Each one starts with The Calm stroke, and the words ‘today is… we are going to…’ This help aid his understanding of where we are in the week what’s happening etc.

“Although I don’t know how much he understands, he always responds to the massage story in a very positive way. It prepares and calms him before moving on to an activity. It helps provide more structure, but in such a lovely and child centred way. The massage stories I have written are specific to him and his experience, rather than being generic. The stories include the names of people he will meet and exactly the experience he will have. But I can easily adapt them every time he has a new activity or experience.

Library of Massage Stories

“We have a folder of massage stories for his routine, as well as a lovely library of massage stories that we use in the evenings just to have some time to connect and relax and unwind regardless of what the day has held.

“My foster son also enjoys the pre-written massage stories, both from the Story Massage book and the community Facebook page. I have adapted some of his favourite songs such as Dance Monkey and his favourite stories or poems.

Positive Touch and Connection

“My foster son has a lot of medical interventions each day that are uncomfortable and unpleasant. I am determined that he will experience more positive touch than negative touch so that he doesn’t associate touch with pain and unpleasant procedures.

“The Story Massage Programme has become very important for us both. I would recommend it for anyone fostering children with complex health needs. It is a beautiful way for us to connect and to be in that moment, fully engaged and focused on each other.”

Would you like to train in the Story Massage Programme?

Are you inspired by the work of Suzy in fostering children with complex health needs? Would you like to learn more? Sign up for our Story Massage Online Course and help share the benefits with the children or adults in your care – at home or at work.

We teach you how to share the ten Story Massage strokes and work with you to adapt familiar stories and even create some sensory stories of your own. Ideal for all teachers, SEN staff, support staff, therapists, Early Years practitioners,  those working with people with additional needs, Baby Massage Instructors, Relax Kids Coaches… everyone with an interest in sharing positive touch activities with children and adults of all ages and abilities.