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.

Looking Back (CLC Collection Finding Aid)

The collection of the Child Life Council consists of various materials covering the years 1955 to 2003. The collection consists of mostly printed material in the form of articles, publications, conference materials, and professional journals. The strength of this collection lies primarily in its usefulness as a tool to gauge the historical development of the Child Life profession. The Child Life Council History Committee was very active in its initiative to gather historical information from a variety of children’s hospital programs in order to develop an overall historical prospective on the profession. They were also very active in their efforts to provide biographical sketches of many of the pioneering professionals within the field, such as Emma Plank and Mary Brooks. The collection also includes scrapbooks, photographs, videotapes, a few audiotapes, and ephemera (in the form of puppets). Much of the material was produced as a result of the efforts of the Child Life Council’s History Committee, and proves useful in gaining a perspective on the historical development and growth of the Child Life profession, from its earliest inception as a “play program” to the independent and fully recognized profession that it is today. For details about the collection, see the Child Life Council Collection Finding Aid.

Our Future

As part of the 2015-2018 strategic plan, the Child Life Council undertook a process to rebrand in an effort to position the organization and its members for greater success. As a result of the rebranding efforts, the Child Life Council officially changed its name to the Association of Child Life Professionals in 2016.

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