Child Life in Action

in Japan with Kana Harada, CCLS

by Bea Wikander | October 8, 2019

Kana Harada, CCLS, is a Certified Child Life Specialist at a general and surgical pediatric medical center at Toho University Omori Medical Center in Tokyo. The center specializes in kidney transplants, and patients come from all over Japan for treatment. Kana also works with surgery and hematology/oncology patients and provides support for children whose parents are hospitalized with a terminal disease or other serious condition.

Kana first learned about child life as a nursing student when she attended a lecture by a Certified Child Life Specialist. At the time, child life was not recognized as a profession in Japan, and there were no job opportunities in the field. Unable to pursue a child life career at the time, Kana continued her nursing studies.

While in college, Kana had the opportunity to attend a nursing student practicum in the US and was able to visit different types of hospitals and care facilities, including a hospice center, a nursing home, and a children’s hospital. On a tour of the children’s hospital, Kana met a Certified Child Life Specialist and learned more about the profession and certification process. Kana returned to Japan, graduated from nursing school, and became a pediatric nurse, but she never gave up on her dream of one day receiving the CCLS credential.

Midwest Conference Edgewood Students and Alumni
Photo caption: Kana educating a patient about a procedure

Photo caption: Medical play: Learning and playing go hand in hand

During her five years as a pediatric nurse, Kana became more interested in learning about child development and the importance of psychosocial care for children and families. Eventually, she left her nursing job and moved to the United States to attend East Carolina University as a Child Life major in the College of Child Development and Family Relations. Finally on the path to achieving her career goals, she completed her internship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, OH, and became certified in 2008.

When Kana was starting out in the profession, she struggled to explain the role of a child life specialist to medical staff. In Japan, nurses perform some aspects of the child life role, providing psychosocial support in addition to medical care. Kana tried to educate nursing staff about “the different way of approaching a patient from a child’s point of view and their family’s point of view instead of just approaching from the medical point of view."

Japanese families generally show appreciation for child life services and the psychosocial care provided. For many reasons, it is challenging for a parent to explain medical treatment to their own child, and Kana says parents are grateful to have professional support. She notices that they are often pleasantly surprised to see a significant change in their child's attitude towards hospital experiences and procedures. Parents appreciate that the child life specialist is available to listen to their requests and concerns, and “the CCLS becomes the bridge to mediate between families and medical staff.” Kana is optimistic about the future of child life in Japan, and one sign of progress is that parents have begun requesting that a child life specialist be assigned to them.

"The continual efforts and the success of the actual practices have been making it easier for Japanese medical staff to open their mind and to become aware of the necessity of child life's support and CLS services"

Despite an increased awareness of the profession, it is still a challenge to become certified in Japan. No college or university offers a child life degree, and there are no internships available. The fact that there are 50 Certified Child Life Specialists in Japan speaks to their individual determination and dedication to the profession. Although Kana supports creating a child life degree program in Japan, she believes aspiring child life specialists should study in the United States or Canada and learn from exposure to established North American child life programs and internships.

Surgical preparation
Photo caption: Using a book to provide post-surgery support

In addition to her clinical work, Kana served as president of the Japanese Association of Certified Child Life Specialists (JACCLS), which was established in 2011 and now has about 43 certified and student members. She currently serves as a vice president. The organization provides peer support and learning opportunities such as lectures and case studies and even an annual conference to support members in providing the highest caliber of psychosocial care in Japan. JACCLS also offers training and mentorship for newly certified child life specialists, who are working in a Japanese hospital for the first time.

JACCLS members
Photo caption: JACCLS members participating in a study group about therapeutic play (March 10, 2019)

Kana’s dedication to the child life profession and to increasing education and awareness in Japan does not end with her clinical work at Omori Medical Center or leadership roles in JACCLS. She is dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of pain management, and, in particular, reducing children’s fear of and pain experienced with needle insertions. Japan has allowed the use of the EMLA cream and patch since June 2015, and Kana continues to raise awareness of the product among pediatric doctors and nurses.  

She is also in the process of founding a pediatric healthcare children’s advisory board in Tokyo, whose mission is to give children a voice in order to improve pediatric medical experiences in Japan. Another dream is to establish a child life degree at universities in Japan and possibly an exchange program so Japanese child life students can learn from their American counterparts. The ultimate goal is to have child life recognized as a nationally licensed profession and established career path so more hospitals will hire child life specialists and more Japanese families can benefit from their care.

Child Life Profession