What is a Child Life Specialist?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2018
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A child life specialist works in a hospital setting to provide support for children who are hospitalized. As well, the child life specialist contributes to the psychological wellness of siblings of children who are hospitalized, or children of parents with a serious illness. The goal of the child life specialist is to reduce stress for children, and in addition, to reduce stress for parents by providing some care to the children during the day.

A child life specialist usually has a B.A. degree in the field, or in child development, education, or a similar area. He or she receives further training by conducting an internship at a hospital with a child life department. Most regions require certification in child life prior to allowing the person to be employed as a specialist. A child life specialist must also undergo fingerprinting and background checks before certification or employment.

Not all hospitals have such departments. Some rely instead on social workers and sometimes chaplains, or freelance counselors to work with a child. In general, however, most major hospitals, and all pediatric hospitals will have a large department of child life specialists.


One of the duties of the child life specialist is conducting informational tours for children who are going to be hospitalized. If this option is not suggested when one’s child is going to be hospitalized, it is prudent to ask for it. These tours are generally conducted a few weeks before a planned hospitalization and are usually free. Touring the hospital can often help ease a child's fears.

The child life specialist may also oversee playrooms for hospitalized children and their siblings. Provided the siblings or children of hospitalized parents don’t have colds, fevers, or recent exposure to chickenpox, they can usually play in the playroom during any hours it is open. In this way, the child life specialist can engage the child, using both recreational and therapeutic play to help ease anxieties. As well as toys specifically geared toward the hospitalized child, playrooms also have many regular toys and games, which can make hospital stays less boring, and help children focus on something other than being ill, or having ill family members.

If a child is too ill to go to the playroom, a child life specialist can come to the child’s hospital room and use play therapy, or simply play with the child to help them remain mentally healthy during a hospital stay. They usually also have books or tapes on hand if the child wants to learn more about his or her condition, and they have a variety of age appropriate toys for each child. They will also question the parents on the types of stress the child may be exhibiting, to see if they can reduce that stress through play therapy.

For example, a child life specialist might find a child with a severe fear of blood tests and shots. In this case, the child life specialist might bring a tub of warm soapy water to the room, with oral syringes that can be filled and refilled, so the syringe gradually becomes a less feared object. The goal is sometimes to incorporate as many normal hospital supplies as play items, so the child has a chance to learn more about these unfamiliar items.

Most child life specialists work for the opportunity of performing valuable and rewarding, although sometimes difficult work. In most cases, monetary rewards are not considerable. Many specialists, however, find that the rewarding aspects of the work far outweigh the compensation.


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Post 1

I suggest the author of this article re-check the information he or she has posted. This article down plays the sincere importance of Child Life involvement in the care of children. The education background is inaccurate and Child Life Specialist's primary role is not to provide quality child care, it is to help to facilitate normalcy in an otherwise very foreign place. It is also to ensure that the child/sibling and family continue to thrive against the challenges they will face.

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