Research Fellows 

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Maile Jones, MEd, CCLS


Maile Jones, MEd, CCLS is a Certified Child Life Specialist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and Health and Wellness from Tulane University and a master's degree in applied Child Studies from Vanderbilt University. Maile has published and presented across a wide range of topics including the importance of play in healthcare settings, the ways in which children’s anxiety and fear are influenced by medical play interventions, and the legacy perceptions of pediatric patients, parents/caregivers, and healthcare providers. She has also published research focused on the psychological, biological, and interpersonal processes in stress and coping among children and families facing healthcare adversities including Cancer, Huntington's Disease, and more recently, COVID-19. As a result, Maile’s research interests and clinical practice include understanding psychosocial issues that impact children and families in healthcare settings, examining best practices for legacy-building interventions, and exploring how adverse childhood experiences influence children’s appraisals of medical stressors. In 2021, Maile was awarded the ACLP Student Research Award and co-recipient of the Professional Research Award.


Sherwood Burns-Nader, PhD, CCLS


Sherwood Burns-Nader, PhD, CCLS is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In this role, Dr. Burns-Nader coordinates the undergraduate and graduate child life programs, teaches child life coursework, and maintains a research agenda. She earned her PhD in Educational Psychology and her MS in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Child Life from the University of Alabama. Dr. Burns-Nader's research interests include examining the psychosocial issues affecting children and families in the healthcare setting, the benefits of child life interventions during healthcare procedures, and the value of play in development and coping in children. She has publications on these topics in such journals as BurnsPain MedicineChildren's Health CareClinical Pediatrics, and Journal of Child Health Care. In 2018, Dr. Burns-Nader received the Association of Child Life Professionals Research Award. She is an active leader in the Association of Child Life Professionals and the Southeastern Association of Child Life Professionals, including serving as Chair to the Child Life Certification Commission and Chair to SEACLP.


Kathryn Cantrell, PhD, CCLS


Kathryn Cantrell, PhD, CCLS (pronouns she/her/hers) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development, Family Studies, and Counseling at Texas Woman's University. Kathryn's research interests include examining best practices for pediatric chronic illness disclosure, racial disparities in pediatric psychosocial services, and social justice pedagogy in child life. Kathryn is the former Executive Editor of The Journal of Child Life: Psychosocial Theory and Practice, an ACLP publication. 


Sarah Daniels, PhD, CCLS


Sarah Daniels, PhD, CCLS, (pronouns she/her/hers) is a Certified Child Life Specialist working in a remote research role for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. She also works as an adjunct instructor teaching Research Methods for Child Life Specialists at Bank Street College and Loss and Bereavement at the University of Alabama. Sarah received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rhodes College, and both master’s and doctoral degrees in Educational Psychology and Research from the University of Memphis. Sarah’s research and quality improvement interests include projects that evaluate the feasibility, efficacy, and role of child life services in the hospital setting. More specifically, Sarah enjoys exploring trends in technology use and youth development, psychosocial aspects of adolescent and young adult oncology, and mixed methods research design. Sarah volunteers for the ACLP Journal Committee as a member of the Review Board for the Journal of Child Life: Psychosocial Theory and Practice. 

Abigail Rainey

Kia Ferrer, MS, CCLS, GC-C


Kia Ferrer, MS, CCLS, GC-C brings to the ACLP Research Fellows program extensive expertise in the study of racially marginalized populations across the pediatric mental health infrastructure (i.e. higher education, accrediting bodies, workforce, and those in training). Ferrer is passionate about fostering inclusivity in the healthcare community through the mentoring of students and colleagues, and she is personally and professionally focused on raising awareness about cultural consciousness and the varieties of racism (personal, systemic, and institutional) that children and families face in pediatrics on a daily basis.
Ferrer is uniquely qualified to consult on these critical issues in child life, as she has been a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) for a decade, a Chicago native of Puerto Rican descent, Adjunct Faculty at Erikson Institute (a graduate school in child development), and University of Illinois of Chicago (UIC) Jane Addams College of Social Work. In 2017, Ferrer was offered a Doctoral Fellowship to Erikson Institute and Loyola University’s PhD Program in Child Development (expected 2023) and is an active member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee convened by Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP).
In addition to her strong academic and professional background, Ferrer has presented at several conferences hosted by ACLP, Cooley’s Anemia Foundation, Mayo Clinic Social Media Conference, and Make-A-Wish Foundation. Most recently, she presented a plenary on Cultural Consciousness at ACLP’s annual conference in May 2020 with CCLS Divna Wheelwright and internationally recognized developmental psychologist, Dr. Cynthia Garcia Coll. Ferrer is a doctoral candidate currently involved in a variety of research projects based in Chicago and Puerto Rico, critically analyzing texts and evaluating professional training curricula for early childhood professionals.
As an ACLP Research Fellow, Kia will bring cultural consciousness and sensitivity to the varieties of racism faced by our members and the families they serve, and will help ensure that our organization supports research that is aligned to our values of inclusivity and equality in the support for the early care, education and healthcare for families of color.

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Cara Sisk, PhD, CCLS


Cara Sisk, PhD, CCLS is an Assistant Professor in the School of Human Ecology at Tennessee Technological University. Having served children and families as a practicing Certified Child Life Specialist informs her work educating child life students. Cara’s clinical experience influences her research interests of children’s healthcare experiences, children with special healthcare needs and disabilities perceptions of healthcare, children with special healthcare needs social relationships, and the integration of child life interventions into child life research. Cara contributes to child life through scholarly publications, professional presentations, and volunteer service with the Association of Child Life Professionals. Cara currently serves as a member of The Journal of Child Life: Psychosocial Theory and Practice Review Board. 

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Brittany Wittenberg, PhD, CCLS, CFLE


Brittany Wittenberg, PhD, CCLS, CFLE is the Adaptive Care Team Program Coordinator and Outpatient Child Life Supervisor at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. In this role, Brittany is developing, implementing, and evaluating the adaptive care program throughout the Phoenix Children’s network, and providing clinical leadership to the outpatient child life team. Brittany completed her PhD, MA, and BS in Human Development and Family Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, with an undergraduate concentration in Early Childhood Development. For seven years, Brittany practiced as a CCLS in the Surgical Services Department at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin, Texas. For five years, Brittany worked in academia as an assistant professor at Missouri State University and Louisiana State University, where she helped develop and grow the child life programs at both universities. Brittany’s research agenda focuses on the stressful experiences and transitions children and families encounter throughout the life course, specifically in the pediatric healthcare environment. Her research interests include academic and research preparation of child life students; healthcare professionals' perception of the CCLS role; and the impact of child life services on children, their families, and healthcare providers. Brittany has published in the Journal of Interprofessional CarePediatric Dental JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies, and The Journal of Child Life: Psychosocial Theory and Practice. In 2015, Brittany completed the inaugural ACLP Leadership Academy and has since served on various ACLP committees, including Scientific Advancement of Professional Practice, Awards, and Research and Scholarship committees.

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Jessika Boles, PhD, CCLS – Lead Fellow


  • Jessika Boles, PhD, CCLS is an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University; she also works as a Certified Child Life Specialist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Rhodes College, a master’s degree in applied child studies from Vanderbilt University, and both a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology and graduate certificate in Qualitative Research from The University of Memphis. Since 2009, she has worked as a Certified Child Life Specialist for infants, children, adolescents, and young adults with chronic, life-threatening, or terminal illnesses and injuries in oncology and critical care. She also currently leads the CHILL lab at Vanderbilt University where her team studies various dimensions of Children’s Healthcare, Illness, Legacy, and Loss. 
Click here to read more about Jessika.

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