Child Life Professional Data Center: Using Data to Advance the Field of Child Life 

ACLP Bulletin  |  Summer 2023  |  Vol. 41, No. 3

Erika Croswhite, MA, CCLS
Children's Hospital Colorado, Aurora, CO 

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Child life specialists often tell meaningful and heart-warming stories to demonstrate the quality of care provided to the children and families they serve. But quantifying the qualitative nature of child life work is an art. The Child Life Professional Data Center (CLPDC) launched in 2016 to help meet this need. The CLPDC is a grassroots database that holds information about hospitals, nationally and internationally, that employ child life programs, where they exist, how they are funded, and many more granular details. It is a tool that can be used to track child life program capacity and benchmark against other programs, giving child life specialists the power to increase funding, staffing, and credibility for child life programs throughout the world. However, this power depends on our combined efforts to sustain the CLPDC and develop our capabilities to effectively use it. This article provides a brief overview of what the CLPDC can do and why it matters for maintaining the strength and growth of the child life profession.

The CLPDC is the centralized location for child life program data with information from more than 160 child life programs (Romito et al., 2021). Utilization of the CLPDC has varied over time, ranging from 30-50 of child life programs inputting quarterly and annual productivity data. There are seven service areas distinguished by location of patients and families, including the 6 most common pediatric units (inpatient, outpatient, surgery, radiology, critical care, and the emergency department) and a recently added 7th area (adult high-acuity units), for child life specialists who support children of seriously ill and/or injured adults.  The information collected in the database depicts the number of patients and families served 34 by a child life specialist in the given service area during a certain time frame. The data can be utilized to inform staffing models, patient caseload expectations, and individual and departmental productivity. In addition, the database serves as a reliable resource for child life program benchmarking, enabling programs to compare themselves to other child life programs in their regions to determine opportunities for continued improvement in service delivery.

A direct result of the CLPDC is the best-known metric in the field of child life: the Capacity for Patient and Family Impact (CPFI). CPFI is calculated by dividing the number of patients seen by the hours worked by each clinician. There are myriad child life programs across the country who have utilized the CPFI metric as a resource. For example, a program leader was tracking the CPFI data of her staff in the emergency department and found the overall CPFI for that department was .70, meaning that the child life specialists were seeing less than one patient in an hour in the ED. This statistic inspired the leader to dive into what was happening, and she discovered that her staff were feeling burned out and over-extended. They had too many other responsibilities on their plate and were struggling to see as many kids as they had in the past. This realization caused the team to regroup and reprioritize patient care with a revitalized sense of awareness. As they intentionally sought to “say no” to competing nonpatient care requests, they saw their CPFI metric steadily grow to .85 over the course of two years. The input, tracking, and analysis of the data had paid off as the child life staff returned to their roots of doing the work they enjoyed the most: seeing patients!

Another example of how child life leaders have used the data in the datacenter is professional benchmarking. Child life professionals often receive requests from administrators and executives about how they compare to other child life programs. The database serves as a robust resource with detailed, essential information that can guide operational decisions including where, when, and how child life services are delivered, what specific programming is offered, and how the hospital is structured, including number of beds, number of staff, and productivity metrics across cities, states, and countries. For example, child life specialists who work in the surgery department in a free-standing children’s hospital can compare their CPFI to child life specialists who work in the surgery department in an adult hospital with pediatric services. This data helps validate the caseloads of child life specialists within specific departments and informs leaders about the approximate number of children who will be served daily. Leaders can then set realistic expectations with hospital administrators when determining child life staffing models.

Front-line child life specialists, program leaders, and educators who serve in both traditional and community settings can all benefit from engaging with the data center. Educators can teach students and colleagues about the details of how child life services are delivered by sharing the results of the quarterly and annual data entered in the CLPDC.  When a college instructor is able to demonstrate that the typical caseload of a child life specialist who works in the emergency department at the local freestanding children’s hospital is approximately one patient per hour, it helps to accurately prepare the student for what to expect in the field. In another way, if a creative arts or music therapy professional is interested in learning about available collaboration with the child life program at a specific hospital, they can access the CLPDC for more information. Credibility, visibility, and accessibility of child life services continue to grow and evolve through continuously interacting with the data center. This, in turn, elevates professional exchanges between child life professionals, other clinicians, and 35 administrators in healthcare and  community settings.

Databases of this nature are typically found within professional career fields of massive size like nursing, education, and sales. The CLPDC is therefore a commendable achievement in the child life profession, spearheaded by leaders of the child life profession who understood how advantageous the collection of data would be for child life specialists on the ground. They witnessed the impact of data and research for other medical, psychological, and psychosocial professions as they navigated the dynamics of supporting children, teens, adults, and families, whether it be nursing, medicine, social work, or chaplaincy. The common thread in proving the value of each discipline was through telling the story both quantitatively and qualitatively. It is critical that the child life profession strive to do the same.

The CLPDC is operationally supported by the ACLP and upheld by members of the benchmarking committee, but the database needs input, attention, and oversight from child life specialists at every level to survive. Though it might seem intimidating at first to enter and analyze data, confidence and competence increase with frequent utilization and exposure to viewing child life work through a quantitative lens. We must, as a profession, recommit to the purpose and potential of the database. We must collect and input the data for our programs because the CLPDC is only as valid and reliable as the data provided. When we engage with the data center through ongoing review, data entry, and analyses of our own programs as well as others, we demonstrate our commitment to the child life profession because we can articulate the impact of child life services through current data in real time.

The CLPDC exists to serve as an advocacy platform for the rights of children and families who face challenging medical circumstances and deserve emotionally safe care. It is here for the professionals who do the work to document and demonstrate the impact and influence of child life specific support locally, nationally and internationally. The database has untapped potential that we have yet to realize! It is our professional responsibility to give it the attention and support it deserves. In the ever-changing world of healthcare, the child life profession needs the datacenter to remain a top priority as we strive to meet the demands of the patients, children, and organizations we serve.

For more information about how to access the data center, how to enter data, and how to apply the data within your specific organization, please reach out to, or click here to be connected to the ACLP website.


Romito, B., Jewell, J., Jackson, M., Ernst, K., Hill, V., Hsu, B., Lam, V., Mauro-Small, M.& Vinocur, C. (2021) Child life services. Pediatrics, 147(1).