It is no secret that the journey to becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist is one that requires commitment, resilience, and the ability to overcome challenges. But what is the true cost of child life? I found through my own journey as a student that there are many challenges and hurdles to jump through, especially those related to expenses. I would like to highlight some of the financial barriers that current students are facing when considering a career in child life, with the hopes that practicum and internship programs can consider modifications that would make their programs more accessible for a wider range of valuable applicants.
There are countless unpaid hours that go into simply being eligible for a child life internship, from mandatory volunteer experiences to practicums. This is an initial barrier that prevents many students from considering child life as a possibility. Many students cannot afford to volunteer hundreds of hours of their time, but have gained valuable experience working with children through other avenues such as paid experience.
Consideration for internship program coordinators: Can your program consider the value of paid experience rather than just volunteer experience?
The cost of applying to internships was one of the most intimidating aspects of pursuing child life for me. The costs add up quickly and include, but are not limited to:
Considerations for internship program coordinators: Are you able to accept unofficial transcripts, since students have already submitted official transcripts for their eligibility assessment? Are you able to accept emailed applications to eliminate printing and shipping expenses?
Aside from completing a 600-hour unpaid intern- ship, there are other costs that spring up unexpectedly during an internship. From buying appropriate clothing to paying for parking to traveling for site visits, the costs can be prohibitive and vary among internship
Considerations for internship program coordinators: Are you able to work with your site to find free or discounted parking for your intern? Additionally, could we learn from other psychosocial fields, like social work, where part-time, year-long internships are available? This option provides their students with time to work a part-time job if necessary.
Many students are unable to pursue child life because of these obstacles, particularly students who have already encountered obstacles in pursuing higher education such as first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color. The financial barriers in child life have been a contributing factor in the lack of diversity among child life professionals, which can have serious implications for patients and families. Our field is dominated primarily by a homogenous population of child life specialists that is often not reflective of the populations we serve. Patients come from a wide range of cultural, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds and for these patients and their families, it may be isolating to look around a room and not see one person with whom they can identify. As stated in Principle 1 of our Code of Ethical Responsibility (Child Life Council, 2011), as child life specialists we are to hold paramount the welfare of the children and families we serve. One of the best ways to ensure that families’ needs are being met is to have healthcare professionals who reflect the populations served; this can increase comfort and communication between the patient and healthcare staff and create an overall inclusive environment.
ACLP has already recognized the field’s financial barriers and has taken steps towards promoting the success of diverse professionals. ACLP’s Diversity Scholarship for internship students is a prime example of this. It has helped ease the burden for students who otherwise would have had great difficulty pursuing our field. While this is a step in the right direction that has significantly benefitted students such as myself, I am challenging the field to do more.
I recognize that some changes are easier to implement than others, but I encourage student programs to begin to have conversations about the requirements set for their applicants. Ask your program the hard questions, starting with “Are our student requirements limiting our applicants to financially secure students?” First-generation, low-income, and/or students of color should not be discouraged from pursuing child life due to financial barriers. I encourage future students to continue embracing their diversity and the unique lens it brings as a healthcare professional, and I encourage student programs to consider what changes they can implement for their applicants.
Child Life Council. (2011). The official documents of the Child Life Council. Rockville, MD: Author.