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A child life specialist is a health care professional whose role is to provide psychosocial support and education to children and families affected by medical experiences. Typically, child life specialist jobs are held by individuals who are certified by the Child Life Council, an international organization that regulates the child life profession. Most child life specialist jobs occur within a pediatric hospital setting, but in some cases these professionals are employed in other settings appropriate to their clinical expertise. A position as a child life specialist assistant could be available in some settings.
Child life specialist jobs typically feature a variety of ways to support the psychosocial needs of children and families who are undergoing acute or chronic medical conditions, surgeries, terminal illness, or other stressors related to medical experiences. A child life specialist might make use of therapeutic play, relaxation techniques, humor, and other developmentally appropriate activities to help reduce stress and promote self-expression. He or she also helps to psychologically prepare the child and family for upcoming medical procedures such as testing, surgeries, or treatments. Whenever possible, child life specialists are present with the child during medical procedures.
A career as a child life specialist could be appropriate for an individual who enjoys interacting with children and families. Key job requirements are excellent communication skills, the ability to explain medical procedures in a simplified way, and knowing how to adjust to the emotional and developmental needs of individual children. Responsibilities within child life specialist jobs could also include a variety of related activities including administrative work, writing, coordinating workshops and other programs, or public speaking. Child life specialists frequently collaborate with other psychosocial support professionals such as social workers and chaplains, as well as doctors, nurses, and other members of the medical team.
Depending on the size and complexity of the individual hospital setting, child life specialist jobs might be found on inpatient or intensive care wards, in emergency departments, or in outpatient clinics. Some child life specialist jobs occur in similar health care settings such as hospice organizations or private medical offices. Occasionally, such jobs might develop within peripheral contexts, including schools or community intervention programs.
Child life certification requires a bachelor's degree in child life or a related field such as psychology, child development, or early childhood education. To become a certified child life specialist, an individual must also undergo a supervised clinical internship and pass a certification exam. He or she must also engage in continuing education opportunities to maintain certification.
The child life profession first developed within the U.S. and Canada in the 1960s. Early on, the profession was deeply influenced by the child development theories of Maria Montessori. Now, there are child life programs within many major metropolitan and research hospitals.
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