Child Life Specialist: Job Description and Outlook
What is a Child Life Specialist?
Child Life Specialists (CLS) are trained healthcare professionals who work with children and their families helping them cope with the challenges of hospitalization, surgery, illness and disability. They focus on the psychosocial development of children under stress while encouraging valuable coping strategies for them and their families as well.
History of Child Life
Over 50 years ago, if a child was in the hospital, parents were excluded from seeing them other than during brief visitation hours, in some cases only on weekends.
Through the radical work of Emma Nuschi Plank in the 1960’s, she used the principles of child development to encourage more appropriate care for this segment of the hospital population.
For more information on the history of the Child Life movement and to gain a detailed understanding of the timeline of events over the past five decades, please take a look at my article What is the Child Life Council? Caring for Children in Hospitals.
What is the Job of a Child Life Specialist?
Most children feel overwhelmed and traumatized when in a health care setting. They are scared, confused and under a lot of stress.
Child Life Specialists work with the child’s health care professionals and parents to determine the individual needs of the patient to minimize the effects of whatever the child is experiencing.
They use a variety of techniques working directly with the child patient to support their needs during this time. Age appropriate activities are utilized and encouraged to ensure the continued emotional, physical and cognitive development of each child during this challenging experience.
CLS Services Provided May Include:
- Hospital pre-admission tours
- Emergency room interventions
- Psychological preparation for tests and surgeries
- Support during medical procedures
- Pain management support
- Therapeutic recreational play and self-expression activities
- Grief and bereavement support
- Support for parents, siblings and extended family members
- Outpatient consultation support
- Coordination of special events and activities for the child patient and their families
- Continuously educate caregivers, health care workers and the public about the needs of children in these stressful situations
Have you ever heard of a Child Life Specialist before?
Work Environment of a Child Life Specialist
The typical work environment of a Child Life Specialist is within a hospital setting including the emergency room, pediatric unit, pediatric intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit, maternity ward, surgical areas, outpatient clinics, etc.
Although today, their skills and training continue to expand to other settings such as schools, dental offices, camp programs, child & family services, hospice, funeral homes, bereavement groups and psychiatric offices; truly any type of situation where an intervention with a child experiencing trauma and stress is warranted.
Child Life Specialist Career: Salary & Benefits (2008 Statistics)
Director/Manager/Leader of Child Life Program with BA Degree
Director/Manager/Leader of Child Life Program with MA Degree
Child Life Specialist with Leadership Responsibilities with BA Degree
Child Life Specialist with Leadership Responsibilities with MA Degree
Child Life Specialist with BA Degree
Child Life Specialist with MA Degree
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Approximately 95% of survey respondents reported receiving health care coverage.
More than 90% received dental benefits.
Approximately 85% received coverage for vision benefits.
A high percentage also had provisions in place for short & long-term disability and maternity leave benefits.
Key Characteristics a Child Life Specialist
- Enjoys working with children and their families
- Works well with health care professionals at all levels
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills
- Able to manage various tasks simultaneously
- Able to appropriately adjust their demeanor to the developmental and emotional state of the child
- Ability to manage the emotional stress that comes with working alongside children who may have life-threatening medical issues
- Ability to grasp and verbalize complex medical information and procedures to children and their families
Career Opportunities and Job Outlook for Child Life Specialists
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of child life workers will increase by 12.3% by 2018.
The number of jobs in the child life field continues to rise with virtually every children’s hospital across North American creating a “child life team.” Most children’s hospitals are in large urban areas, therefore, those interested in this career may need to be willing to relocate.
Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope that I have given you plenty of information to determine if a career as a Child Life Specialist is right for you. If you have a few extra minutes, please watch the video below that will give you an idea of what a CLS does on a daily basis. Best wishes!
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