“Give me your elevator speech” is what I say to potential students in Child Life. I want to know how they would describe our field to folks who have never heard of Child Life before.

The answers are varied, but it all comes down to this. Child life specialists help children and families cope with difficult life events, mostly health related, but we are trained to assist children through many life transitions. Most specialists work in a hospital setting, but some work in private practice and in their communities. Hospital Play Specialist is a more common term used to describe a similar role in countries such as Japan, the Czech Republic and New Zealand.

What Do We Do?

In a nutshell, specialists provide children with medical education, play opportunities, procedural support and therapeutic activities. We act as a bridge and advocate for families navigating the healthcare system. We are there to focus on a child and family’s emotional health as they face scary or painful procedures and treatment. We help schools understand the needs of children facing chronic illness when they return to the classroom.

Where Do We Do It?

In hospitals, We work at bedside, in playrooms, in operating rooms and radiology units, clinics, emergency rooms, intensive care units, neonatal units and inpatient units.

In communities, we make home and school visits, We work in adoption agencies and funeral parlors, courtrooms and dentist and doctor’s offices.

What is our Training?

Specialists are trained  in child development, play theory, anatomy, research methodology, sociocultural issues, ethics, family systems and bereavement, among other things. Some have undergraduate training, but a Master’s degree in Child Life will be required for all certified specialists by 2020. In order to be certified, specialists must complete a number of appropriate undergraduate or graduate level courses and a rigorous 600 hour internship in a hospital setting. They must sit for and pass a certification exam overseen by the Child Life Council. For more information, click on Child Life Council.