Child life specialists are experts in child development, who promote effective coping through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities. They provide emotional support for families, and encourage optimum development of children facing a broad range of challenging experiences, particularly those related to healthcare and hospitalization. Understanding that a child’s wellbeing depends on the support of the family, child life specialists provide information, support and guidance to parents, siblings, and other family members. They also play a vital role in educating caregivers, administrators, and the general public about the needs of children under stress.
The following is a list of responsibilities typical of a child life specialist:
Calling the hospital and asking to speak with the child life department is the most direct approach. However, most hospitals with established child life programs share information about child life services on their Web sites. Often this information will be found under “Patient and Family Services” or “Family-Centered Care.”
In addition, the online CLC Directory of Child Life Programs is a members-only resource that provides contact information and details about each program, including internship and volunteer opportunities.
If you are interested in obtaining child life services for your child and family at the time of a healthcare encounter, ask your physician or healthcare provider if child life services are appropriate and/or available. The best way to find a child life specialist is to reach out to a hospital-based child life program. There are currently a few child life specialists working in private practice to help children and families cope with a variety of experiences, although the scope of work of each private practitioner may vary depending on needs of the community served. Your healthcare provider may be able to provide a referral if a private practitioner is available in your area.
Child life is a growing but competitive field. Although child life has its traditional foundations in hospitals, an increasing number of child life specialists are applying their unique expertise to help children in other environments, including outpatient health care facilities, doctors’ offices, hospice care, specialized camps, schools, court systems, and funeral homes.
To a large degree, the employer demand for child life specialists will depend on the healthcare industry and geographic location. In some areas, child life positions will not be readily available, and many child life specialists consider relocating for an open entry-level position or internship. There is a growing awareness of the child life profession within the health care community as well as in general public, and we expect to see a corresponding increase in demand for child life specialists. Please refer to the Career Center for more information.
Most hospitals require that child life professionals on staff be certified, or at least be eligible to sit for the Child Life Professional Certification Examination at the time of employment. As with any competitive field, the more you can do to augment your resume, the better.
For more information on how to become a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS), please review Certification Eligibility Requirements.
No, you do not need a degree in child life in order to become a child life specialist. For the purposes of Getting Certified, you may have a baccalaureate degree in any subject.
Please note that CLC cannot make individual recommendations on what one person should study in order to best prepare for a child life internship/fellowship or the Child Life Professional Certification Examination. Each student should choose courses based on his or her own interests. However, a list of Curriculum Recommendations, including potential areas of study related to child life, is included in the information available to Students, Interns & Educators. Those seeking to ensure that their coursework will meet the requirements for certification should review Certification Eligibility Requirements.
CLC’s online Academic Program Directory provides contact information for colleges offering child life programs. Please keep in mind that CLC updates this list at the request of the academic programs themselves, and therefore cannot attest to the ongoing accuracy or comprehensiveness of the directory.
It is important to be flexible, patient, and innovative in order to obtain a position in child life. Volunteer opportunities that allow you to work with children with special healthcare needs or with children undergoing stress are experiences that you may use to build your resume and sharpen your skills. Learning a second language is also useful for working in today’s diverse healthcare community. Individuals new to the child life profession may find themselves working off-hour shifts or relocating to another city or state in order to secure an entry-level position.
A summary of the results of CLC’s 2008 Child Life Profession Compensation Survey is available in the Career Center. This large-scale study profiles three main child life position types, along with an outline of the compensation results for each. The CLC Salary Calculator (available to CLC Members only) filters the data collected in the survey, and provides specific salary information based on position type, years of experience, education level, and location. Visit Child Life Compensation to learn more.