A Theoretical Vision for Child Life

ACLP Bulletin | Fall 2019 | VOL. 37 NO. 4

Donna Koller, PhD
Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada
It is hard to imagine a more highly qualified candidate for the extraordinary recognition of the Mary Barkey Clinical Excellence Award than Erin Munn. Erin’s child life colleagues describe her as smart, wise, and dedicated. These traits translate into a child life professional who consistently practices with clinical excellence. Erin’s commitment to leadership, research, and training of emerging child life professionals is clear in her accomplishments.

Erin has practiced child life for nearly 30 years, beginning her career in 1995 at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Early in her career, she demonstrated high levels of practice as she was one of two applicants selected to fill a newly created role within child life in 2003. This role paired clinical responsibility with the responsibility of providing mentorship to staff to build confidence and expertise in practice. Also, in 2003, Erin moved into the chair position for the Child Life Certification Committee, contributing to the early development of the child life specialist credential. Through her tenure at Hopkins, she continued to practice in clinical areas as well as manage the department’s education and training programs. In 2006, Erin was elected President of the then-Child Life Council and led the organization through its 25th anniversary. 

Erin moved to Nashville in 2011 to join the child life team at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Erin began at Monroe Carell as one of the cardiology child life specialists, covering very robust cardiology and cardiac surgery services. Her work with this team helped define her as a child life clinical expert and ultimately was the foundation to support her advancement to the highest clinical expert ladder level at the hospital, Child Life Specialist 3. In September of 2018, Erin was selected as the child life specialist to join Team Hope. This is a collaborative program across the medical center changing the way health care teams care for newborns diagnosed with drug withdrawal symptoms at birth, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). The interdisciplinary team consists of health care specialists from the newborn nursery, neonatal intensive care unit, and an acute care unit, along with child life, social work and lactation consultants. Erin works with the lactation consultant to facilitate a weekly support group with expectant mothers who have used opioids during pregnancy, to prepare for the delivery and bonding experience when their baby arrives. Erin’s expertise in infant development serves her well in this role as she coaches expectant moms in ways they can read their infant’s cues and respond appropriately. The outcome is that new moms are prepared to bond with their child during the withdrawal process and beyond. Additionally, Erin participated in a round table with the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Administration and the First Lady of the United States of America, discussing strategy, value, and success in working with children and families with a NAS diagnosis.

Participation in Round Table with U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Administration and the First Lady of the United States discussing strategies for working with children with NAS.
Erin’s multiple publications demonstrate her expertise in developing child life intervention and practice with unique populations and in understanding the professional well-being of child life specialists. Most recently, she was a co-author on the published white paper by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP), “A Value Proposition for Certified Child Life Specialists.”

Erin’s dedication to the child life profession is never more apparent than in her commitment to the education and training of future child life professionals and to ACLP. A true clinical expert, Erin’s role as the Child Life Training Coordinator at Johns Hopkins and then as an intern supervisor at Monroe Carell has provided her a plethora of opportunities for education and training for child life students. Child life interns under Erin’s supervision consistently share feedback about her ability to help them use developmental theory and evidence to guide their work and challenge them, so they truly build a skill base during their internship. Erin has successfully participated in the ACLP Mentor program, supporting career development and growth with her mentee. She also co-chaired the ACLP Internship Task Force, 
which authored the ACLP Internship Supervisor Manual, building the foundation for the continued growth and standardization of child life clinical training programs. 

2016 ACLP Conference
Her participation in the ACLP Internship Accreditation Oversight Committee was yet another example of her dedication to student training. Other committee participation includes Research, Conference Planning, and Awards. She was a co-author for the first “Clinical Supervision Position Statement for the Child Life Council” in 2008.

Erin never stops learning and seeking information—a true characteristic of a clinical expert. She recently attended a two-week Canine Companions Inc. training workshop as the secondary handler to our hospital’s new facility dog. She and the primary handler of the dog continue to practice simulated events and experiences as the dog acclimates to the hospital and working with children and families.

When I spoke with Erin and asked why she continues as a child life specialist she replied, “I fell in love with child life when I started volunteering with the Child Life Department at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 1990. I found my vocation and like many of us, I think, it felt like a calling.” She also shared this quote from the book “Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC” that resonated with her passion for child life: “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.” Her favorite part of child life is that sense of being fully present and immersed in a child’s play world and the connection with others—building relationships with children and their families in the playful moments and the vulnerable ones, serving as a temporary companion along their journey and bearing witness to their courage, joys, sorrow, and resilience.

While her role as a child life specialist certainly defines a large part of Erin Munn, she also is active in learning and experiencing new things. She is an avid traveler, loves to try culinary delights of all kinds, and is an enthusiastic gardener, seamstress, and knitter. Erin identified two of her proudest moments as when she touched the Stanley Cup in 1992 (she is a huge hockey fan) as well as being crowned the Inaugural Lip Sync Battle winner in our Seacrest Studio.

Congratulations, Erin, on this very well-deserved award! Thank you for all of the great things you have contributed to the child life profession and ultimately to the care of patients and families.