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Child Life Specialist: Job Description and Outlook

Updated on April 28, 2016
Child Life Specialists help children to continue their developmental needs while coping with being in the hospital.
Child Life Specialists help children to continue their developmental needs while coping with being in the hospital. | Source

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.

A hospitalization can be an extremely traumatic experience for children.  Child Life Specialists help ease the transition.
A hospitalization can be an extremely traumatic experience for children. Child Life Specialists help ease the transition. | Source

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?

See results

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)

Position
Salary
Director/Manager/Leader of Child Life Program with BA Degree
$55,857
Director/Manager/Leader of Child Life Program with MA Degree
$67,594
Child Life Specialist with Leadership Responsibilities with BA Degree
$42,383
Child Life Specialist with Leadership Responsibilities with MA Degree
$47,199
Child Life Specialist with BA Degree
$38,870
Child Life Specialist with MA Degree
$41,479
* * *
* * *
Benefits
 
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.
 
Most recent data obtained by Sharyn's Slant from the Child Life Council 2008 Survey

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!

This is Sharyn's Slant

A Day in the Life of a Child Life Specialist

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    • Liz-reviews profile image

      Eunice Elizabeth 4 years ago from Vancouver, BC

      Hi Sharyn

      What a fabulous informative Hub. I had never heard of this career until now. What an awesome job to have.

      Thanks for posting

      Voted interesting & voted up

      Liz

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I'd never heard of child life specialists until yesterday when I read about them in a textbook for one of my grad classes, and then here the profession is again! It's funny how when you lern about something you see it pop up everywhere. This seems like a very though, but rewarding, job.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      This is new to me also and I think this must be such an awarding job. Hospitalization for children is often traumatic and a child life specialist sounds like a wonderful solution. Great hub! Voted up and shared.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I never heard of this profession until I read your article. It's been a long time since my daughter needed hospital care, so I'm out of the loop of what's going on in today's children's hospitals.

      In the 1970s and 80s, a social worker, play therapist, and pediatric nurse working together as part of the child's treatment team shared responsibility for most of the services in the list above, as by that time the importance of preparing a child mentally and emotionally for a hospital procedure was well understood. I'm very glad to see that CLS is a career where the number of jobs is expected to grow. Up, interesting, useful!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Sharyn.... This hub is simply wonderful. You have put this together with perfection. I am familiar the "Child Life Specialist," but your hub has certainly filled in any blanks I may have had. This hub is valuable and a must-read for all parents. Really educational Sharyn.......UP+++

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      This career sounds like one I would have loved. Now I am too old to begin again. I shall now look for these people in hospitals and thank them. Your Hub is very professional and easy to read with lots of great information.

    • kelleyward 4 years ago

      This is such an interesting field of work. I'm sharing this with a friend I know considering this field. Voted up and shared.

    • aykianink profile image

      aykianink 4 years ago

      Pretty cool hub. What an awesome line of work:-)

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Huh. I didn't know there was such an occupation, but I'm thrilled that there is! I know hospitals and similar places are tough to not be nervous in, and it's nice that there are trained people to help children with that. Nice!

    • jellygator profile image

      jellygator 4 years ago from USA

      I've heard of play therapist and therapy dogs for hospitalized children, but not this. It's nice to learn that the medical industry is addressing their needs better.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I had not heard of this profession. It's a good one! Thanks for enlightening me. Voting up, useful and awesome.

    • Dahlia Flower profile image

      Dahlia Flower 4 years ago from Canada

      I really enjoyed this information and the video, too.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Liz ~ I agree, I think this would be an awesome job to have. I really wish I was younger and had the energy to go back to school. Thanks so much for your feedback and votes.

      Sharyn

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I never heard of this profession, but it makes so much sense to have people in this field. Good comprehensive article - voted up!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Natasha ~ how funny that you just heard about child life specialist in your grad class and then see this article. I agree that this job would be tough, especially emotionally. But definitely rewarding. Thanks so much for your feedback!

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Pamela ~ This job and the entire field of "Child Life" was new to me too until recently when my sister began a new job as a CLS. I just love the work that she does and am extremely proud of her. Thanks so much for your votes and share!

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Sherri (ST) ~ The Child Life "work" began in the 1950s so it appears that what you describe was an indication of the earlier years and how it has expanded to today. I have really enjoyed learning about what a CLS does. Such a rewarding job! Thanks so much for great feedback and votes.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Paula ~ aww, thank you for the compliments. I am thrilled to hear you are familiar with Child Life Specialists. So many people are not. I appreciate your feedback, thank you so much.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Brenda ~ I agree, this is a profession that I would have loved. I know people say "you are never too old" etc. But I do think it would be difficult now too. Thanks so much for your compliments on this hub, very much appreciated.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Kelley ~ It really is an interesting field of work, one that I would love. Thank you so much for sharing this with your friend and others.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hello aykianink ~ it's nice to meet you. I believe this would be an awesome line of work too. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hey CC ~ There are so many people that never heard of Child Life. It's kind of a shame and I hope that I help get the word out there. Thanks so much for your feedback.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Jelly ~ Thanks so much for your feedback. I agree that it's nice to learn the medical industry is working hard to address the specific needs of children. I appreciate you stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Pamela~ you are very welcome. It does sound like a great profession, very rewarding. Thanks so much for your comments and votes.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Dahlia ~ it's great to meet you. I'm so glad you enjoyed this information and the video. Thanks you so much for stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hello mperrottet ~ Thank you so much for the compliments and vote. It's great to meet you!

      Sharyn

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      Child life specialist is I think the best thing a hospital can have. Children need all the help they can get when sick. They are special people. Voted up on your great hub.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Moonlake ~ I agree. Children are so frightened in the hospital. Having specialists that specifically devote their time to the children and their families is awesome. Thanks for your feedback and vote.

      Sharyn

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      It is very interesting to learn about this specialty and I'm glad to learn about it for several reasons, especially should one ever be needed and then to be able to suggest it to others. Thanks for posting the information for us!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Vicki L Hodges 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      This is really neat. I've never heard of this. I have a social work degree and would enjoy work like this. Great hub!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 3 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi RTalloni ~ Thank you for your feedback. I'm glad you found this interesting and hope that this information is passed on to those who would benefit. I appreciate you stopping by.

      Sharyn

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image
      Author

      Sharon Smith 3 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Vicki ~ oh, I bet you'd be great as a child life specialist. The work would be extremely rewarding too. I wish I was in this sort of field as well. My little sister works as a CLS and I am always so proud of the work that she does. Thank you so much for your feedback.

      Sharyn

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