Child life specialists are concerned with the developmental and psychological well-being of children during hospital stays and medical treatments. They provide families with support and information regarding their loved ones’ illnesses, injuries, possible surgeries and treatments, hospital protocols, and other pertinent information.
Why Become A Child Life Specialist
Since child life specialists are uniquely versed in child psychology, they encompass creative play and other educational methods to assess and alleviate a child’s anxiety. For families involved in long-term care, child life specialists can provide them with hospital tours, information about special events, and coordinate care between the family and staff. Above all, their objective is to reduce the stress involved with hospitalizations and various treatments, while advocating for the individual needs a child patient and his or her family.
Child life specialists work in an emotionally sensitive occupation; therefore, it is paramount that they possess specific traits that will lead to success:
Have a love for children
Concerned with family life
Excellent communication skills
Can address serious issues in a way that children and families understand
An ability to understand and address a variety of healthcare issues
Work as a part of the healthcare team
Educated about child development
Capable of multitasking
Knowledgeable of hospital practices and protocols
Excellent coping skills
Child Life Specialist Work Environment
Child life specialists work mostly in hospitals, serving children and families admitted for in-patient treatments. However, they may also work in a variety of other settings:
Since normal hospital hours only extend to the evening, child life specialists can expect to work during the day. After hours is usually handled by emergency room staff. Depending on employment, some positions may require work during weekends and holidays.
In 2015, the median annual salary for child, family, and school social workers was $46,906. To be more specific, a child life specialist survey (2012) declared that the average salary was $39,263. Region, experience, position, education level, certification, and breadth of program determine salary and benefits.
Child Life Specialist Career Outlook
This occupation will continue to grow. Nearly all hospitals that treat children will have staff dedicated to these services. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for child, family, and school social workers will be approximately 15 percent in the next decade.
Child Life Specialist Degree
To become a child life specialist, an individual must have at least a bachelor’s degree, plus a certificate to practice in this capacity.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree. Many programs exist that offer specific undergraduate degrees for child life specialists. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a concentration in child development, child and family studies, recreational therapy, and early childhood education are also appropriate. As long as the accredited program offers courses in child psychology, with an emphasis on clinical practice, an individual will receive the necessary training. Other courses should include child and adolescent development, family psychology, loss and grief, and human anatomy and physiology.
Note: It’s important for individuals to make sure that their program of study prepares them for post-baccalaureate work. This work should include internships and volunteer work that will aid in the certification process.
Step 2: Earn a master’s degree (optional). Many employers prefer advanced credentials. Specific graduate degrees in child life are recommended; however, degrees in family and child studies and other relevant studies are acceptable. This type of degree may better prepare students to become teachers or researchers in the field, as well.
Step 3: Become certified in the field. Nearly all positions will require specific certification to work as a child life specialist. The only organization that offers this certification is the Child Life Council (CLC). To become a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS), an individual must meet the following requirements:
Hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree
Complete applicable coursework (in child life or related subjects)
Complete a program internship, with a minimum of 480 supervised hours of child life clinical experience
Pass the Child Life Professional Certification Examination