Child life experts are health care professionals that assist children and families in coping with illness, injury, disability, trauma, or hospitalization. They are an important element of the health care team because they offer additional resources to children and families to help them cope with the frequently stressful circumstances of illness or injury.
Scope of practice
Work as a child life expert changes daily and provides for a great deal of creativity in establishing coping strategies. Child life specialists vary from many other types of health care professionals in that they focus on the patient’s psychosocial requirements, which include mental, emotional, and social needs.
A child life specialist’s tasks and responsibilities include the following:
- Helping children and their families comprehend a process, treatment, or other aspects of their medical experience by employing several techniques.
- Creating age-appropriate techniques to reduce trauma and enhance comprehension of a medical diagnosis through treatment programs that include therapeutic play, teaching, planning, and activities that encourage growth and development.
- Advocating for children’s and families’ unique needs
- Assisting children and their families in processing and dealing with medical issues
- Providing parents and family members with information, support, and advice
- Coordination and management of care are coordinated and managed in collaboration with the health care team.
- Non-direct patient care duties include offering learning opportunities to members of the health care team, organizing student education, and keeping therapeutic materials and activity spaces stocked.
Child life experts play an important role in patient care and work with children and their families. They frequently collaborate with social workers, chaplains, nurses, physicians, and other members of the healthcare team.
Depending on the size of the organization, child life specialists may deal with a diverse range of patients, or they may specialize in working with cardiac patients, outpatient surgery patients, emergency department patients, or a patient group with a specific medical diagnosis.
Child life specialists typically work in hospitals, but they may also find work in medical clinics, hospices, dental offices, schools, camps, and, in certain cases, their patients’ homes. Their days are hectic, and child life experts are virtually constantly on the go, making rounds to assess patient needs and provide direct interventions to patients and families.
Child life experts typically work full-time, 40-hour weeks, Monday through Friday; however, weekend or holiday hours may be necessary.
Becoming a child life specialist
Child life specialists that are successful have a strong desire to work with children, great communication skills, and the ability to manage the emotional stress that comes with dealing with children who have life-threatening conditions.
The following are common degree requirements and other qualifications for child life expert jobs:
- Bachelor of Science in Child Life Studies (or a related field such as child development, child and family studies, psychology, or early childhood education)
- The Association of Child Life Professionals established education criteria (ACLP)
- Previous job experience with children
- 600-hour internship as a child life expert
The Association of Child Life Professionals organizes certification (ACLP). Child life specialists that have been qualified can work as certified child life specialists (CCLS).
Career opportunities and outlook
Child life experts may expect to earn a median income of $60,000 per year.
The area of child life services began to thrive in the United States and Canada in the early 1960s, thanks to the pioneering work of Emma Plank and others, who trained with Maria Montessori and applied child development concepts to encourage proper care for hospitalized children. Before then, it was fairly unusual for parents to be prevented from visiting their children in the pediatric wards save for limited visitation hours. The Association of Child Life Professionals is an excellent resource for learning more about this profession.
Today, children’s particular emotional and educational needs are recognized by creating an atmosphere and programs that include family members as important parts of the health care team.
There were 53,500 child life experts in the United States in 2016. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this occupation will expand at an average pace over the next decade.
Many child life experts rise to managerial and supervisory positions as their careers progress.