Australian & New Zealand Childrens Haematology/Oncology Group


Spotlight Series – Tanya Alestalo

Tanya Alestalo
Paediatric Haematology & Oncology Social Worker, Redkite
Perth Children’s Hospital, Western Australia

Tanya is one of three social workers working with paediatric haematology and oncology patients and their families at Perth Children’s Hospital in Western Australia. Tanya’s position is funded through Redkite, a national charity that supports children and young people with cancer and their families, with practical, emotional and financial support. She has been working as a haematology and oncology Social Worker for close to 6 years, previously working with diabetic children and their families.

‘Working within the haematology and oncology space can be challenging. Social workers don’t specialise in a type of cancer, meaning they work with patients who receive a broad range of diagnosis and therefore treatments. The continuous evolving knowledge required to perform this role effectively and the broad expectations that come from working in a multi-disciplinary team can be demanding.’

Each patient diagnosed with cancer at Perth Children’s Hospital and their families are assigned a social worker who will assist them throughout their treatment with a focus on adjustment to diagnosis, the impact of treatment, navigating the hospital systems, information and education of relevant hospital and community based services and referrals to charities/NGO’s that can provide varied assistance. Initially, each family will receive a standardised psychosocial assessment which helps to highlight the entire family’s strengths and support networks as well as possible psychosocial challenges which provides a guide for the social workers as to the levels of engagement the family may need throughout this difficult period and treatment duration.

‘Treatment can be a long stressful process for haematology and oncology patients and their families. As a social worker this time allows us to build rapport and a strong relationship with them. This relationship enables us to positively impact the family and that is remarkably rewarding.’

‘As social workers, we should never underestimate the importance of relationship building.’

Tanya is also a part of the team that provides strategies to help patients and their families with managing the practical, personal and emotional impact of illness and hospitalisation. This includes providing guidance, counselling families adjusting to a new diagnosis, and assisting during a crisis or traumatic event (which can include child protection, domestic violence, family court, psychosocial crisis and discharge planning concerns) highlighting that social workers are a vital part of the multidisciplinary treating team, not just for the patient but their entire family.  

‘As a social worker working with children, the role encompasses providing care and support to the whole family unit.’

As many health professionals working in the paediatric haematology and oncology space have noted, no two days are the same. Tanya emphasises how much her typical day has changed in the last few years, with the forms of communication with families dramatically changing. Electronic communication and Smartphones now enable families to communication via varied discourse when queries arise, meaning Tanya can address these questions promptly, prior to seeing the patients and families that are receiving treatment on that particular day.

Throughout her career Tanya has also been involved in research. She is currently in the initial stages of a research project focusing on how to best understand the paternal involvement of children diagnosed with cancer. The main objective of this study is to better appreciate the unique experience of the fathers of children who have been diagnosed with cancer to enable social workers to provide targeted support in the future.

Tanya hopes to continue her role as a social worker in paediatric haematology and oncology for many years to come. She would like to see an increase in staff resources across all allied health areas within the paediatric haematology and oncology space, to provide comprehensive support and services for each patient and their family.

Below are the different health professionals and researchers we have shone a light on during September