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2022 MBA winner Lisa Ciarrocca (right) accepting the award from ACLP Board of Directors President Quinn Franklin (left) at the 40th Annual Child Life Conference.

2022 Mary Barkey Award Winner - Lisa Ciarrocca

By: Melissa Hicks, MS, CCLS, LCMHC, RPT-S and Stephanie Hopkinson, MA, CCLS

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Tenacity, grit, compassion, and humor are only a few words that capture the essence of the 2022 Mary Barkey Clinical Excellence Award Winner, Lisa Ciarrocca. To understand the soul of this talented professional, it is important to start at the beginning and take the opportunity to be inspired, motivated, and rejuvenated in the power of child life through her story. Over thirty years ago, Lisa entered the health care world as a clinical child life specialist at Elizabeth General Medical Center in urban New Jersey. At this time, it was a one-person program, which set the foundation for what was to follow over the next two and half decades. A few years later Lisa moved on to become the sole child life specialist at Goryeb Children's Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey. She provided child life services to countless children and families, especially those who were learning about anew diagnosis of cancer, and helped them navigate how to cope with the many aspects that come along with this diagnosis. During her tenure at Goryeb Childrens Hospital, Lisa balanced both leadership and clinical practice. As the program grew to add several child life specialists, Lisa became the child life manager and continued to engage in direct clinical work to meet the diverse needs of children and families.

Inspired by the child life pioneers who started to provide services in the community, Lisa launched her child life private practice in 2014. The first of its kind in New Jersey, The Next Step Partners in Psychosocial Care now serves over 100 families. Lisa provides child life services at her developmentally responsive "office," the families' homes, the hospital, as well as working within a camp medical clinic once a year. Her work aims to help children and families find their strengths,enhance their ability to cope, and bring a sense of normalcy back to their lives. As the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Lisa quickly moved into responding to the needs of children and families through virtual visits and later meeting more families in their homes when it was identified as a safe practice. This responsive approach to meeting children and families where they were, in a time of global crisis, positioned Lisa to provide child life services and ensure access to responsive psychosocial care remained readily available!

Lisa’s love for service and advancing the field of child life continues to be felt and experienced by somany beyond the hospital walls. She has served and continues to serve in many capacities,including multiple roles on the Association of Child Life Professionals Board of Directors and onlocal boards to share her passion and expertise with others. Lisa’s story is an inspiration and illustrates extraordinary child life clinical practice.

As you continue to learn and be motivated by her story, who better to learn from but from Lisa herself? The following brief interview captures the knowledge and wisdom she shares with us. Take a few moments to hear from this phenomenal individual!

Q: What does child life mean to you?
“The first thing that comes to mind is support. It means to be able to connect full circle so there is not only the medical piece in helping children and families. There are so many pieces that make child life. The psychosocial piece connects it all, so it is a full circle.”

Q: In reflecting on your journey, tell us about what you believe contributes to the practice of clinical excellence with children and families in child life.
“Being fluent in evidence-based practice, being on top of research, upholding high standards, teaching others, prioritizing foundation of child life practice, learning what is happening now, creating, innovating, and ‘if you do not know it, learn it’ all contribute to clinical excellence.

Recognizing that child life expands outside of the hospital and outside of what may be considered traditional practice. Getting additional training and experience while practicing the core of child lifework. The Wonders and Worries Provider® training and certification has supported this! This training supports working with children of adults who have a life-threatening illness.

To me, clinical excellence is practicing your craft and constantly learning! It truly is about maintaining a high standard of child life practice.”

Q: When reflecting on your journey as a clinical child life specialist, what is that one piece of advice that had the biggest impact on you and perhaps you still carry forward with you to this day?
“Be the best Certified Child Life Specialist you can be and do not compare yourself to others. Stay confident. Do not worry about what others think you should be doing. It can be hard, put what others say aside and put yourself in those situations and shine. Do not take things personally; off what you can do. You need to develop kind of tough skin, it is not about you, it is about the children and families you are providing the services for."

Q: When reflecting on your journey as a clinical child life specialist, what is that one piece of advice you share with others?
“I have said from day one, 30 years ago, to child life interns and staff alike: Play is so important! It may not look like traditional play to others, but medical play, play with puppets-any form of play.Child life does not have to be in any specific environment like the treatment room or ER. Child life and play can happen in any space! You are a CCLS; your tools are always with you, in your mind.You must have the knowledge and foundation to take it anywhere. You do not have to have tools or things in your hands. It is not the setting you are in-it is about applying your knowledge! You do not have to be in the room; you could transfer the information to those who need it such as a parent or other health care provider. That’s what matters!”

Q: What do you believe is the value of being a Certified Child Life Specialist in community-based private practice?
“The biggest value of having a CCLS in the community is it puts children and families who may never go to a hospital setting in direct contact with a child life specialist. These children and families are the ones who benefit; it connects families who need it. It allows you to impact more children and families coping with challenging life situations who may not come in direct contact with a hospital-based child life specialist. It brings awareness to the community about health care and hospital settings. Children and families spend more time in the community than being in the hospital setting.”

Q: What do you hold as essential to your success in being a Certified Child Life Specialist in private practice?
“Experience. We need the experience to be successful. I believe to practice child life in a community you need experience in the hospital to fine-tune your foundational skills, connect you to learning different diagnoses , and learn different resources. And it helps you to have contacts in the hospital. In the community, most clients come referred from the hospital thus networking in the hospital and other community-based agencies is important. Provide free (in-kind) educational sessions to provide a foundational understanding of what you will provide; what is child life. The ACLP position statements and guidelines inform the wisdom of those practicing in the community. I do not see myself in this position without the time in the hospital. You do not know what experiences you may need to set a strong foundation of practice, including various ages, illnesses, and challenging experiences. And it is important to be flexible; it is not 9 to 5.”

Q: Looking into the future of child life, what is one piece of wisdom you would want to tell the future clinical Certified Child Life Specialist?
“Child life is not in a package with a bow with a result of being in the hospital; child life is always evolving. Think about settings, roles, and practice across the globe. It is exciting! When I got out of College it was about being in one setting: the hospital. With experience, you may expand to other child life roles and environments. We can expand! Child Life is adaptable-we need to be adaptable in every sense of the word! We are not in competition with ourselves; we all bring something to the table through the way we practice and the diverse interventions and tools we use. We need to share. When I first went into child life, people were hesitant to share. Now I can reach out and people are more likely to share! With child life private practice, it is about the big picture. You become a business owner; you need to have a business plan, insurance, office, and supplies. It is a whole new level. There is diversity in the approach to private practice. There are so many details to consider when providing child life services in private practice in the community.”

Q: What supports you? What does professional care look like to you?
“Supportive family; friends who bring me joy, fill my bucket; mentors; clinical supervision; mindful practices such as breathing; my dog; the beach; and travel.”

Q: What is one word that captures receiving this award and what it means to you?