History of the ACLP


The Beginning

The child life profession has developed since the 1920s to improve healthcare experiences for children by providing play, preparation, and educational programs. These child life services were necessary to assure the emotional stability and healthy development of hospitalized children and to mitigate the fear and pain often associated with their medical treatment. The child life specialist became an early and ardent advocate of frequent family visits and parental participation in the care of the child. This progressive philosophy was the precursor of family-centered care.

See the Timeline for a chronological listing of important events.

Visit the ACLP Archives web page to learn more about the history of child life.

The First Meeting

In 1965, a group of pioneering women in the field met in Boston to share their work, their triumphs, and their challenges. Their goal was to create child- and family-friendly hospital environments. They discussed the possibility of creating a child life organization, but they realized that to make significant changes in health care, they would need a larger, multidisciplinary organization. These women established The Association for the Well Being of Hospitalized Children and Their Families. It officially became known as the Association for the Care of Children in Hospitals (ACCH, 1967) and was renamed the Association for the Care of Children’s Health in 1979.  ACCH membership included doctors, nurses, child life specialists, parents, and other health professionals working with children and families. A Child Life Study Section was created to help the child life profession achieve a separate identity within ACCH to continue developing its own professional practices and policies.

The 1970s

During the 1970s, child life professionals collaborated to define the theoretical basis of their work with children, the essential elements of professional practice, and the requirements of an educational program to prepare students for the profession. The number of child life programs increased substantially, and colleges developed academic curricula incorporating hospital internships to prepare students to work with the hospitalized child.

The 1980s

In 1982, the independent Child Life Council (CLC) was established with its own officers and its own professional development conference. A method of professional certification was adopted that assured a standard of practice for child life specialists, and by 1998 a standardized Child Life Professional Certification Examination was in place. By the end of the 1980s, extensive criteria and supporting documents had been produced: program review tools, requirements of professional competency, outlines of how to start a child life program, standards of clinical practice, and standards of educational preparation.

The 1990s

During the 1990s, when a financial crisis developed, hospital restructuring and cost-containment initiatives reduced the number of child life specialist positions, shortened lengths of stay, increased outpatient visits, and increased home care and hospice programs for children. In response, the CLC developed the Vision-to-Action strategic planning process. A representative group of child life professionals was elected by the general membership to study how the profession was to move forward into the 21st century. Their recommendations were brought to the membership at the 1996 conference in Albuquerque for discussion and action.


Today, child life professionals work and influence the delivery of care in both healthcare and community settings. Certified Child Life Specialists work in pediatric in-patient units including critical care units, and in outpatient areas including emergency departments, radiology and imaging, specialty care clinics, and behavioral and rehabilitation facilities.  They also work in other settings such as community outreach programs, private practice, hospice services, home health, camps for children with healthcare needs, private medical and dental practices, and services to children of adult patients. Child life specialists continue to help infants, children, youth, and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of illness, injury and treatment.

View a video celebrating the past 40 years of child life here!

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