Diversifying the Field:
Supporting the Development of Child Life Academic Programs at Historically Black Colleges & Universities & Hispanic-Serving Institutions


ACLP Bulletin  |  Winter 2023  |  Vol. 41, No. 1


  • Belinda Hammond, EdD, CCLS, CIMI, Eastern Washington, University Lecturer, Children’s Studies, Child Life
  • Katie Walker, PhD, CCLS, Eastern Washington University, Assistant Professor, Children’s Studies, Child Life
  • Jennifer Beasley, PhD, North Carolina A&T State University, Assistant Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences
  • Chiara Bacigalupa, PhD, Sonoma State University, Chair & Professor, Early Childhood Studies
  • Linda M. Platas, PhD, San Francisco State University, Chair & Associate Professor, Child & Adolescent Development
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Diversifying the field 1

With the current population of Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS) reflecting 91% Caucasian, 1.5% Black/African American, and 3% Hispanic (ACLP Member Survey, 2018), representation of the diverse populations we serve has not yet been established. This lack of racial diversity has been widely recognized in the field, and several conversations have taken place exploring how to best impact representation. With many clinical supervisors sharing that racial and ethnic diversity is not currently represented in applications received for clinical practicums and internships; as such, we recognized the need for students to begin exploring child life within their community, long before clinical experiences are sought.

We realized our child life community was not seeking out racial and ethnic diversity, yet expecting it. Racial and ethnic diversity can be impacted by identifying where racially and ethnically diverse students find their academic community. This means finding students where they are studying and collaborating with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) to introduce students to the field of child life (Hammond, 2021). In recognition of ACLP’S Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion(DEI) initiative, Eastern Washington University (EWU) is piloting a mentorship program for the development of child life academic tracks within HBCUs and HSIs to specifically impact the students pursuing degrees through these academic institutions.

Mentorship is described as a “guiding relationship” (Waddell et al., 2016) and is recognized as a valued element of supporting growth in the fi eld of child life (Beltran, 2021). Eastern Washington University’s child life mentorship program was created as an action step towards increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the child life fi eld and as a passion project for the faculty involved. To date, the HBCU and HSI academic institutions, North Carolina Agriculture and Technology State University (NCA&T, HBCU), Sonoma State University (SSU,HSI), and San Francisco State University (SFSU,HSI) are collaborating with EWU’s child life mentorship team to begin the process of gaining course approvals for child life courses in Fall 2023. Each of these universities had previously explored offering child life courses but found it was difficult to proceed without a CCLS on faculty to provide guidance. Our hope is to continue providing mentorship to HBCUs and HSIs until their child life programs are sustainable without our support.


The idea of a mentorship program was initially developed by Belinda Hammond during her doctoral dissertation. One theme identified in thematic analysis was the lack of child life academic options in HBCU programs and how important this felt to the student to not have the option of pursuing her studies within what she felt to be her community. Hammond received feedback on how much child life education was needed at the undergraduate level, how there were no child life academic tracks at HBCUs, and how this could impact DEI within child life. This participant was eager to begin a career in higher education, specifically teaching with her local HBCU, so we started by exploring what was in place and what was needed for the HBCU closest to her to offer a child life track. As a California resident, Hammond was introduced to both of our HSI partner programs after they contacted a local CCLS for guidance. Thus far, our connections with the HBCU and HSI institutions involved have relied on networking with our students and colleagues.

mentorship process


Currently, each of these three schools are in a different state of program development. This is due to the timeline for getting courses approved through each university’s curriculum committee, as well as when the opportunity has existed to pilot classes prior to university curriculum approvals. The mentorship process continues to evolve as we encounter new opportunities and challenges at each collaborating institution. Described below is the general structure of what we strive for the mentorship program to include.

After the EWU mentorship team was established, a meeting was set with the department chairs and other academic stakeholders at each of the institutions. These meetings allowed the mentorship team to meet the key players at each institution and gain a better understanding of the existing collaborative programming available locally to support child life students, as well as the existing faculty in place to support new course development. The mentorship team worked with faculty to determine which ACLP required courses each school was already offering and which may need further development. The teams worked together to complete necessary documentation for the schools’ curriculum committees to approve newly developed courses and to determine what local experiences may already exist for students to gain exposure to child life under a CCLS (e.g., hospital settings, medical camps).

Once the initial structure of a child life program was outlined, it was time to recruit students. With two programs actively running, each was offered Q&A sessions for students in both Early Childhood/Child Development, as well as in related majors, such as psychology, education, and various pre-professional programs (e.g., pre-med, nursing, various therapies). Sonoma State University provided the opportunity to participate in the Q&As within an Early Childhood Studies course and for broader interest across the campus, while San Francisco State university had enough interest in the program to ensure the classes would be offered without hosting a Q&A. By offering child life courses to both students pursuing child life as well as those outside of a child life major, two goals were achieved: enrolling enough students to ensure the classes would have the required minimum enrollment to move forward and educating others on some essentials of child life practice which could ensure pediatric patients received pediatric friendly care from child life as well as through other related fields. Many students pursuing these other careers never receive specific training in helping children cope with medical experiences. Thus, coursework that focuses on the therapeutic use of skills to support successful coping can benefit students in multiple majors, which can include interacting with children in stressful situations.

Finally, local CCLSs were hired to teach the new child life courses for each of the two HSI programs, with recommendations made for the HBCU campus for their Fall 2023 start. This is an ongoing process as each university continues to expand its course offerings. The mentorship team and each of the universities are currently involved in ongoing conversations regarding additional program needs, exploring grant funding, and looking at potential clinical sites for students to gain field experience.

Though the EWU mentorship program is in its infancy, we are hopeful this is a step toward progress. With three collaborating universities actively developing their child life academic programs this year, we are eager to support an additional three to four programs for a Fall 2023 start, all of whom are actively in discussions to develop their child life academic programming and community collaborations. The lack of awareness of child life in many academic settings, as well as the belief that child life skills are only valuable in hospital, are certainly barriers we hope to remove through education, data, and the mentorship program. We are just beginning to explore affiliation agreements on behalf of these academic institutions and are thrilled with the response so far, especially with those hospitals exploring affiliation with HBCU and HSI campuses without an active offer having been made to a student. The EWU mentorship team is actively exploring grant funding opportunities to support further development of these academic programs as well as to provide stipends for student living expenses during clinical training. Additionally, we plan to pursue funding for original research on the mentorship program itself. While studies have been conducted to explore mentorship for new academic faculty (Law et al., 2014; Waddell et al., 2016; Nowell et al., 2017; Martin et al., 2018), none have been done to study mentorship for establishing new academic programs. Our hope is to further explore the impact of mentorship to establish child life academic programs for students in underrepresented communities.
Diversifying the field 2


Q: How did you learn about child life?

Dr. Jennifer Beasley, NCATSU, HBCU NCATSU:

We first learned of child life through a meeting that was set up by Dr. Belinda Hammond with our FCS department chair. Dr. Hammond reached out to our department chair to initiate discussions about the Child Life Specialist Program and our chair invited the Child Development Program area faculty to the

Dr. Chiara Bacigalupa, SSU, HSI:
A faculty member had previous experience as a volunteer in the Child Life Program at UCLA Medical Center.

Dr. Linda M. Platas, SFSU, HSI:
Manager and staff from UCSF Benioff asked if they could come and present to students – after that we’ve invited them back every year.

Q: How did mentorship make adding the needed courses possible?

Dr. Beasley, NCATSU:

Two of the main components of mentorship that have been helpful include: 1) Shared knowledge and expertise of our “mentors” regarding the child life program and the curriculum required for the program. For example, Dr. Hammond and Dr. Walker have been able to review our current child development classes and have advised us on what classes needed to be added to our program area to develop the child life specialist program. 2) The second component of mentorship that has been helpful is accountability. Dr. Hammond and Dr. Walker have been quick to respond to our questions and have offered guidance and a gentle push to keep us moving forward despite any obstacles we face.

Dr. Bacigalupa, SSU:
We do not have faculty members with recent or extensive experience in this field, so we did not know what students needed to take, and we did not have the expertise to develop the courses on our own.

Dr. Platas, SFSU:
I wouldn’t have known how to align/create courses without it.

Q: What are the major lessons learned through mentorship so far?

Dr. Beasley, NCATSU:
Honestly, we have learned more specifics of the child life specialty field including the priority to diversify the field. We have also learned that the child life field is well connected (from hospitals to medical camps to academia) and is supportive of the expansion of more child life professionals.

Dr. Bacigalupa, SSU:
We have a better understanding of the field and how to support students. We have been able to connect with child life specialists in California who can serve as faculty and advisors for our students. Really, we need a full-time faculty member who can devote some of their time to thinking through how to develop a robust program, but our faculty is currently too small for the number of programs we run and the amount of work that we do.

Q: Did you face any unanticipated challenges so far through the process? How did/are you going about solving them?

Dr. Beasley, NCATUS:
The biggest challenge to date has been the time and capacity to develop the program and focus on moving it forward due to faculty overload at our university (and likely many others!). When faculty are on multiple research projects, teaching, advising students, and serving on numerous committees, priority does not necessarily go to development of new programming. However, we are in the process of writing a proposal to support the development of the child life program and if funded, will allow faculty time and effort to prioritize the challenge of time and capacity of the development of the Child Life Program.

Dr. Bacigalupa, SSU:

We want to work on practicum opportunities in the future, but do not currently have the resources to make that happen. We also live in an area that does not have local child life programs, so we are feeling somewhat stuck about how to help our oncampus students with this piece. In addition, if we were to add a formal program, that would require a minimum of one year’s time for approvals.

Dr. Platas, SFSU:
The academic process takes a long time. Need to be approved at various levels

Q: How do you plan on recruiting students to the newly formed program?

Dr. Beasley, NCATUS:
We plan on recruiting students through not only our existing student base here in our department but with a marketing campaign to recruit across our university from other related departments (e.g., Psychology, Nursing, etc.). We also plan to seek the guidance of our mentors on how to market, advertise, and recruit from outside our university.

Dr. Bacigalupa, SSU:
We do not currently have a program, but do have individual classes. If we were to put one together, word of mouth and information on our website is often our best recruiting tool. We probably need help deciding on the best way to present this information so that we do not over- or under promise on what we are able to provide right now.

Dr. Platas, SFSU:
Don’t have a formal program yet, however we keep track of career goals for all of our students.
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Association of Child Life Professionals (2018). ACLP membership survey.

Association of Child Life Professionals (2020). 2018 year in review.

Association of Child Life Professionals (nd). ACLP Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Action Plan.

Beltran, L. (2021). Exploring mentoring experiences of child life specialists working with chronically ill
children. [Doctoral dissertation, Capella University]. ProQuest Dissertations.

Hammond, B. (2021). Development and implementation of a child life community practicum
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Waddell, J. Martin, J., Schwind, J., & Lapum, J. (2016). A faculty-based mentorship circle: Positioning new faculty for success. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 46 (4), 60-75.