child life specialist

What Is A Child Life Specialist?

You may be familiar with the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But as a parent of a child with cancer, you know this could easily be reworded to say, “It takes a village to treat pediatric cancer.”

When your child is diagnosed with cancer, treatment usually involves a number of specialists.

But it takes more than just medical professionals—oncologists, surgeons, nurses, etc.—to make sure your child is receiving the best possible care. Her emotional and developmental well-being need to be looked after, too.

That’s where a child life specialist can help. At Children’s, a whole team of us works in Child Life Services.

Here are 3 questions and answers about child life specialists that explain how we support your child.

1. What Is A Child Life Specialist?

A child life specialist is someone trained and certified to help children and their families cope with emotional or developmental challenges as a result of a serious illness or medical event.

Anyone who wants to become a child life specialist has to first have a bachelor’s degree that includes 10 or more classes in child life or a related field, the Child Life Council explains. You also need to have completed at least 480 hours of supervised clinical experience under the direction of a certified child life specialist.

Once you have completed those steps, you can take the certification exam. The Child Life Certifying Committee is the organization that oversees certification.

After passing the exam, your certification is valid for five years.

2. How Can A Child Life Specialist Help Kids With Cancer?

child life specialist

One of the ways that we help pediatric cancer patients cope is through play. This can mean encouraging the child act out her emotions through role playing.

It can also mean showing her how an upcoming procedure will work using a teaching doll and medical equipment as a model.

We also try to help make our patients’ time in the hospital more enjoyable by hosting events, such as bingo, movie nights, and special playroom events.

These are good opportunities for kids to get out of their hospital rooms and also meet and socialize with other patients who may have similar experiences.

3. How Can A Child Life Specialist Help Family And Friends Of Kids With Cancer?

A cancer diagnosis does not just impact the sick child.

That is why we also provide support to family members and other people who are close to the patient, including siblings and friends.

This may mean providing them with emotional support and guidance. It may also mean sharing information and resources related to any psychological or social issues they may be experiencing.

We can also coach family members on how to developmentally explain certain things to their child—like what the diagnosis means or how treatment may look.

The most important thing for you to know about child life specialists is that we are here for you. Do not hesitate to reach out to us with any challenges you or your child may be facing.

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center employs child life specialists in Hematology Oncology Clinic, Infusion Center, CARES, all Medical Surgical Units, Emergency Department, and Radiology.

Christy Hogan
My background is in child development, and I use this knowledge to connect and build trust with patients and families. I’ve been a child life specialist for more than 20 years.

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