Howard Hand In Hand Program offers families a helpful hand during trying times

Family Health, Cancer
Nov 3, 2022

The St. Joseph’s/Candler support program made adjustments due to COVID but is still going strong to help children of sick parents

Families, businesses, schools and community programs were forced to make a lot of changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Howard Hand In Hand Program at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion was no different.

But, we want the public to know this free, support program for kids with a parent diagnosed with a serious illness is still going strong.

“We are still available. We are still the same. I still come out to families, at no cost. They don’t even have to be a patient of ours,” says Skye Cossio, LCRP and Howard Hand In Hand social worker.

What is Howard Hand In Hand?

The Howard Hand In Hand Support Program provides support, education and guidance to children and teens, even young adults, with a family member facing a life-threatening disease, such as cancer, heart failure or stroke.

This free program helps children cope with and process their thoughts and feelings, which often include fear, sadness, anger and confusion, Cossio says. As a social worker, Cossio can help families manage how life has changed for them because of illness or disease.

Howard Hand In Hand is open to any child, teen or young adult (especially if they have a disability), Cossio says. The parent does not have to be treated at St. Joseph’s/Candler. Cossio works with children as little as a single time or multiple times throughout their journey.

“If you look at the bigger picture, it helps the patients get through their treatment because they know their kid is being taken care of, in whatever nature they may need help,” Cossio says. “It’s a holistic approach. We have social workers that directly help the patients, and I’m here to directly help their children.”

Related Article: Why you might see a social worker at your hospital stay or visit

Cossio meets with families one-on-one, either in person or via Zoom. She can meet with just the child or with the parent(s) and child and always asks the parents’ permission before taking any actions.

Adjustments made

Like many things, adjustments had to be made when COVID was rampant. The program was no longer able to offer its in-person sessions or group meetings because of social distancing and visitor limitations. But that didn’t stop Cossio from helping families. She’d still meet virtually with “her kids,” as she calls all those she sees, and find ways to surprise them.

For example, she started chalk talks. It was as simple as getting a box of sidewalk chalk and writing messages on the sidewalks and driveways of some of the kids she was helping – with the parents’ permission of course. Soon, the kids would write messages back to her. It didn’t matter how far Cossio had to drive, she wanted “her kids” to know she was there for them, especially during a time of isolation for many.

“It shows them that someone cares, that some is listening. It’s all about making connections, especially during COVID, and I’m continuing to do that,” Cossio says.

With COVID numbers down, Cossio has returned to in-person sessions, if the family feels comfortable, but the monthly children support groups haven’t returned yet. She’s willing to go to school meetings on behalf of the parents, help children with homework and fun craft projects and even play video games with the child – whatever helps “her kids” get through a difficult time.

“It’s all about getting mom or dad or that guardian better,” Cossio says. “We don’t want you to miss your chemotherapy appointment because of a teacher-parent meeting, but we also know you want to be at that meeting. I can go for you; Zoom you in, while you are here sitting in a chemo chair.”

“We want you to get the best possible treatment and outcome. If you are focused on your child and not getting the care you need, in the end everyone suffers.”

How do I know if my child should participate in Howard Hand In Hand?

Going through cancer or any serious illness affects the entire family. Some handle it better than others – but there’s nothing wrong with feeling the way you feel or how your child feels.

If you are a parent going through a difficult time, Cossio says there are some signs you can look for in your child that you may want to seek additional help. These include:

  • A drop in grades
  • Changes in their social dynamics with friends or a change in their friend groups
  • Changes in their personality – are they moody or distant?
  • What are they looking at on the computer or other devices that may be alarming?
  • Have they made drastic changes in their interests?

And, Cossio adds, are they asking a lot of questions that you don’t feel comfortable answering?

“If you are not comfortable, that’s OK and that’s where I can come in,” Cossio says. “I’m here to help do whatever I can to help your family through this difficult time.”

Related Article: Children’s counselor offers advice when talking to your kids when a serious illness strikes your family

Contact Us

If you’d like to learn more about Howard Hand In Hand or schedule a time to talk to Cossio, you can reach her at 912-819-5671 or email her at


How Howard Hand In Hand got its start

After losing his own mother to cancer as a child, Dr. John Howard, Founder of Howard Family Howard Family DentalDental, desired to support children in a similar situation. It started with a $150,000 donation to create the Howard Hand In Hand Support Program for children, and to this day, Howard Family Dental continues to raise funds and support the Howard Hand In Hand Program.


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