Devon Gulick discusses her role as a child life specialist
Q. What is a child life specialist?
A. A child life specialist is a person who has extensive knowledge in child development and works to promote a sense of normalcy for pediatric patients in a healthcare setting and/or other challenging environments. We help promote effective coping skills through play, age appropriate medical preparation, education and self-expression activities. We work in collaboration with doctors, nurses and other hospital staff to promote family-centered care and to meet the unique needs of each child and their family.
Q. What are some typical responsibilities of a certified child life specialist?
A. Child life specialists are engaged with the patients and families in the following ways:
•Provide support and distraction during medical procedures.
•Provide age appropriate non-medical preparation for procedures, surgery and other tests.
•Facilitate medical play using real and pretend equipment.
•Provide therapeutic play activities to allow children to express their emotions.
•Promote normal growth/ development of patients by providing activities at bedside and in the playrooms.
•Support siblings during a patient’s illness or hospital stay.
•Provide support for bereavement and grief issues.
•Supervise volunteers and provide pediatric specific orientation and training.
•Coordinate special events, holiday celebrations, daily activities, entertainment and donations.
Q. What are the qualifications needed to be a certified child life specialist?
A. A minimum bachelor’s degree or master’s degree* with specific coursework in human growth and development, family studies, psychology and related fields is needed. *By 2022, all newly certified child life specialists will be required to hold a master’s degree, In addition, the position requires a minimum 600 hour internship, certification examination, professional development hours to maintain certification and adherence to the Code of Ethics and Standards established by the Child Life Council.
Q. What are possible career choices for a certified child life specialist?
A. Child life specialists are mainly employed by hospitals; however, with the growing number of specialists, many are applying their skills in other areas. These areas include: outpatient medical facilities, camps, schools, court systems, doctor’s offices and funeral homes. Child life is still a new and growing field. As it becomes more prevalent, there will hopefully be an increase in the need for certified child life specialists.
Q. What are the benefits to having a child life specialist at the Lehigh Valley Health Network?
A. Children exhibit less fear and anxiety during procedures and will have an easier time adjusting to medical challenges in the future. Interventions by a child life specialist can help increase patient cooperation and help reduce pain during and after the procedure. Lastly, providing emotional support for the family will help reduce anxiety levels which in turn will help reduce a child’s anxiety and promote positive coping.
Q. Do you work with adult patients?
A. We work with the children of adult patients. We are able to prepare a child to visit a loved one in the hospital by teaching them about equipment in age appropriate ways and providing explanations in age appropriate language. We also help children develop coping skills and provide emotional support during their visit.
Q. How can I obtain child life services for my child?
A. Ask your health care provider if child life services are appropriate and available. If you want to learn more about child life specialists and the child life profession, you can visit the Child Life Council website at www.childlife.org.
Q. How can I help support the child life program?
A. Many programs are run strictly on donations. These donations provide birthday and holiday gifts for children, prizes for a job well done, toys and materials to fill the playrooms and toys to provide at bedside for the children who may not leave their rooms. Donations also help child life staff provide special events, meals for families and anything else a child or their family may need during their hospital stay. You can also contact your child life specialist to see if there are any specific items their department may need.
Devon Gulick, BS, CCLS is a child life specialist at Lehigh Valley Health Network - Cedar Crest.