Child life specialist

Child life specialist

Child life specialists are pediatric health care professionals who work with patients, their family and others involved in the child’s care in order to help them manage stress and understand medical and various procedures.[1] "The objectives of such services will be to minimize the negative impact of situational disruptions while maintaining individual growth and development and family relationships."[2][3]



A child life specialist in America is a professional traditionally employed in the hospital setting. He or she focuses on the psychosocial development of children, and encourages effective coping strategies for children and their families under stress.[4] Child life specialists recognize individuality in patients, and use a range of developmentally appropriate activities, including play, preparation for a medical procedure, education, self-expression, and family support to help cope with hospitalization, illness, or death and dying.[5] Child life specialists are trained to take into account the cognitive, emotional, and physical development of each child in order to encourage optimum development of children facing a challenging experience, particularly one related to healthcare and hospitalization. This sets them apart from all other healthcare professionals.[6][7]


Child Life Specialists collaborate with parents and other healthcare professionals to meet the distinct needs of children in managing the effects of stress and trauma. Because children may feel overwhelmed, child life professionals help children gain a sense of familiarity and control of their environment through much play and exploration inside the healthcare facility. Understanding that a child’s wellbeing depends on the support of the family, they also provide information, support and guidance to parents, siblings, and other family members.[8]

Services that a child life specialist provides include:

  • Psychological preparation for tests, surgeries, and other medical procedures
  • Support during medical procedures
  • Therapeutic medical and recreational play
  • Sibling support
  • Support for grief and bereavement
  • Emergency room interventions
  • Hospital pre-admission tours
  • Outpatient consultation with families
  • Educate caregivers, administrators, and the general public about the needs of children under stress.[9][10]

Child life specialists work with patients and families in many settings, such as inpatient units, surgical areas, outpatient clinics, the pediatric intensive care unit, the Emergency Department, and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Although child life specialists typically function in the hospital setting, their skills make them specially trained to support children and families in other settings, such as hospice, dental care, schools, specialized camps, funeral homes, or wherever children experience stress or trauma. In each of these areas, child life interventions focus on the individual needs of the child and family.[11]

Interventions and pain management techniques

There are many physical, emotional, and cognitive stressors that accompany a hospital stay. Child life specialists use child-centered interventions and pain techniques to work with the patient and family members to help them cope with hospitalization and medical procedures.

The interventions include encouraging parent presence and participation in care; showing parent(s) how to participate and be involved; talking and communicating frequently with patients in a calm manner; avoiding child discomfort; providing choices when appropriate; being realistic and truthful with youth and adolescents, and; providing "age appropriate" activities that foster a sense of accomplishment. Pain management techniques child life specialists practice include sharing music, favorite toys or objects, encouraging words and statements, singing, videos, comfortable positions and places, and using humor.[12]

Education and certification

Bachelors and Masters degree programs focused on child life include a variety of coursework, including child health systems, child life, the role of the child life specialist, the meaning and development of play, child life methods and materials, issues and processes, and alternative applications of child life. Many programs also include a practicum or internship.[13]

The child life profession can be challenging and competitive. It is one that demands excellence, as they are responding to a number of different and complex issues by applying their unique accumulation of knowledge and skills in healthcare settings and elsewhere. Thus, it's important for child life specialists to have a basic mastery of child development and the initiative to learn to skills as they become increasingly valuable to their organizations.[14][15]

The Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credentialing program is a rigorous, examination-based professional certification credential. Certified child life specialists have earned a Bachelor's or Master's degree, with an educational background that includes human growth and development, education, psychology, and counseling. They are required to complete a 480-hour clinical internship program and a rigorous application and examination process. Certification is maintained through professional development hours, which are reviewed at the end of every 5-year certification cycle. The only certification program for Child Life Specialists is through the Child Life Council.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Armstrong-Dailey, A. and Zarbock, S. (2001) Hospice Care for Children. Oxford University Press US. p. 251.
  2. ^ Professional Mission Statement. Child Life Council. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  3. ^ Child Life Specialists. Boston Children's Hospital. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  4. ^ Swanson, B.M. (2005) Careers in Health Care. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing. p 45.
  5. ^ What Does a Child Life Specialist Do? St. Louis Children's Hospital. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  6. ^ Child Life Specialist. Lifespan Youth. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  7. ^ Child Life Specialist Career Overview. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  8. ^ What is a Child Life Specialist? Child Life Council. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  9. ^ Child Life Specialist job duties. Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  10. ^ Child Life Specialists. Texas A&M University Medical Center. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  11. ^ Penn State Child Life Program. Penn State University. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  12. ^ Wittenburg, R. (1995) Opportunities in child care careers. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing. p. 18.
  13. ^ Child Life Specialist Concentration. Wheelock College. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  14. ^ What are a child life specialist's educational requirements? Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  15. ^ Child life specialist - Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 4/28/08.
  16. ^ Certification for the Child Life Specialist. Child Life Council. Retrieved 4/28/08.

External links

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