The job of a child life specialist entails giving support and assistance to children as well as their families during the child’s hospitalization. The child life specialist especially offers emotional and physical support, working together with the medical team attending on children. Their services are invaluable to a child and its family during an emotionally taxing hospital situation. Child life specialists are an important component of a good pediatric health care system. These professionals work as members of an inter-disciplinary team which comprises of physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists and teachers.
Child Life Specialist Job Responsibilities
Child life specialists offer their support to children and their families in times of difficult hospitalization by being a channel of information and emotional support. They inform the families of the medical situation especially through the different investigating and diagnostic tests being done on the child. They do not offer direct medical care. Their interest lies rather in the emotional well-being of the child and its family.
Child life specialists labor to provide as normal an environment as possible to the ailing child. They encourage the children to play, laugh, and do all the small child-like thing that a child would do in a normal situation. This eases the child’s fear and anxiety during hospitalization. This is a very challenging but at the same time very satisfying experience for the child life specialist as what they are striving to do is to make the child as comfortable as possible in an abnormal and emotionally taxing environment. This provides a sense of normalcy both for the child and the parents and in the process removes some of the stress of child hospitalization.
They also counsel parents and prepare them for what has to come. By keeping them apprised of the improvement or worsening of the medical situation they help the family to cope up with all the developments. During the various tests and processes, they often stay with the child making it as comfortable for the child as possible. This encourages understanding and cooperation by preparing the child and the family before and after tests and surgeries. The child life specialists also strive to introduce optimism and engage the children and the families by creating an environment for recreation and entertainment and coordinating special events and activities.
Often, there grows a rapport between the child, the parents and the child life specialist due to the fact that the child and parents have come to look upon the child life specialist as someone offering solace, information and understanding. Their job responsibilities may also comprise of considering the needs of siblings who may be adversely affected by a child’s illness or trauma. They are also sensitive to families who have confronted grief or bereavement and offer their support to such.
Child Life Specialist Training and Education Requirements
A university degree in child life specialization is the ideal education criteria for a child life specialist. However there are few universities that offer such a course. Most child life specialist has a bachelor’s degree in child development which is a good preparatory course for this profession. A degree in child psychology is also useful for this profession. But even more important is a love for children and also the emotional strength to support (sometimes mortally) ailing children and their families.
Ability to adjust language and demeanor to the emotional state of children is a great advantage. The ability to multi-task and to explain complex medical scenarios to all age groups is also desirable. A good listener does well in such a profession.
Child Life Specialist Salary and Wages
On an average, child life specialist earns around $40,000 per annum. This varies, however, from region to region within the country and experience and the certification status. Those who do not have a credential of a certificate in child life tend to earn about $5,000 less than those who have certification.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Child Life Specialist Certifications
Child life specialist certifications come through the certification exam offered by the CLC or the Child Life Council. The CLC happens to be the only international professional organization in the child life profession. This exam is organized twice a year, in November and then again in May.
Child Life Specialist Professional Associations
There are various regional as well as international child life networking associations. In the US, there many regional associations and can be contacted through www.childlife.org. There is also the Great Lakes Association of Child life professionals, the Ark-La-Tex Child Life Association, the East Carolina University Child life Student Association and the Southern Nevada Association of Child life Specialists.
On an international level, there are associations in 18 different countries. They are also known as “The hospital play specialist” or “play and creative art therapists” internationally.