2021 Research Recognition Awards Recipients


Professional Research Recognition Award


Exploration of the Relationship Between a Group Medical Play Intervention and Children's Preoperative Fear and Anxiety

Journal of Pediatric Health Care
Volume 35, Issue 1, January–February 2021, Pages 74-83

Maile T. Jones, MEd, CIMI, Marissa Kirkendall, MS, Leslie Grissim, MA, Sarah Daniels, MS, Jessika Boles, PhD

Abstract: A child’s hospitalization affects the entire family system, with parents/caregivers reporting a myriad of stressors challenging family dynamics and coping efforts. Legacy building interventions employ play- and arts-based techniques to promote collaboration and communication in families of hospitalized children. Although offered in most children’s hospitals, little is known about the impact of these interventions on pediatric patients and families, or the ways in which pediatric healthcare providers, parent/caregivers, and pediatric patients understand and describe the concept of legacy. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the legacy perceptions of parents/caregivers of hospitalized children on acute or critical care units in an academic medical center. Ninety-three parents/caregivers completed a semi-structured, in-depth interview regarding their legacy conceptions. Analysis yielded four themes: (1) legacy is a transgenerational process, (2) legacies can be actions, accomplishments, and experiences, (3) legacy can be a powerful tool for education and change, and (4) a “good” legacy can be left in different ways. Thus, parent/caregivers of hospitalized children define legacy as an enduring representation of the self – its qualities, experiences, effects, and relationships – built and bestowed across generations. Whether concrete or intangible, intentional or serendipitous, legacies are avenues of connection, education, inspiration, or transformation. Multidisciplinary healthcare providers should recognize the variability and value of legacy conceptions and experiences across the populations they serve while providing the tools and supports needed for parent/caregivers and their children to make meaning of their healthcare experiences.

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Maile T. Jones, MEd, CIMI

Maile Jones picture

Maile received her Master of Education degree in Applied Child Studies from Vanderbilt University and currently works as Lab Manager in Vanderbilt’s Stress and Coping Lab. After obtaining her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Health and Wellness from Tulane University, Maile spent a year in Australia working for the Starlight Children’s Foundation to expand her knowledge in international child life practice. The diversity of her experiences both locally and internationally have shaped her research interests in understanding how children, adolescents, and caregivers cope with stress and adversity in their lives. Maile has published and presented on a wide range of topics including the importance of play in healthcare settings, the ways in which children’s anxiety level and self-reported fear are influenced by medical play interventions, and pediatric patient and caregiver perceptions of legacy. This published research was from a study she worked on while obtaining her master’s degree. Maile was also involved in the recent publication of the Child Life Value Proposition Statement that details the evidence-based outcomes associated with child life intervention. After completing her child life internship, Maile is pursuing certification while continuing her involvement in research. In her free time, Maile enjoys spending time with friends and family, hiking, and playing tennis. 

Marissa Kirkendall, MD, CCLS

Marissa Kirkendall photo

Marissa is a Michigan native who currently resides and works in Nashville, TN. After completing her undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University, Marissa completed her child life internship at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor in 2013. She was hired on as a Sibling Program Coordinator immediately following and joined the child life team at Mott shortly after. Marissa gained experience working as a Child Life Specialist in radiology and the inpatient cardiology unit before moving to Tennessee in September of 2017 and serving in a PRN position at East Tennessee Children's Hospital.  Since March 2018, Marissa has been a member of the child life staff at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, where she has specialized in peri-operative services. Since assuming this role, she has also completed her graduate coursework in Organizational Leadership and Administration at Concordia University Wisconsin, served on and led various departmental committees and workgroups, and began her research line as a new way to contribute to the field of child life. Her research thus far has focused on evaluating traditional play-based interventions such as medical play in high stress settings such as perioperative services, as a means of demonstrating the value of play for children coping with healthcare encounters.  Her expertise in developmentally-appropriate play and preparation has made her a resource for the colleagues, students, and interdisciplinary professionals with whom she works, and she is passionate about continuing to develop and refine her child life skillset to optimize the care patients and families receive in the hospital setting. In her free time, Marissa enjoys running, a good cup of coffee, football and spending time with her husband and 17-month-old son.

Leslie Contreras Grissim, MA, CCLS 

Leslie Grissom photo

is a Certified Child Life Specialist. She currently is in the role of Facility Dog Coordinator at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. She brings with her nearly 30 years of experience as a Certified Child Life Specialist.

Leslie was born and raised in Southern California. Learned about Child Life while an undergraduate at the University of California at Davis, and received her Masters in Child Life and Early Childhood Education from Mills College in Oakland California.   Following an internship at University of California San Francisco, Children’s Hospital of Oakland and the University of California at Davis teaching hospitals, she accepted her first professional role as the coordinator for a one-person program at Kaiser Permanente in West Los Angeles, California in 1990.

Seeking growth in a larger program, Leslie moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1992 and began her service as a Child Life Specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), where she continued to develop clinical expertise in both the inpatient and outpatient arenas. Her previous experiences have been in the areas of infant toddlers, inpatient surgery, cardiology and orthopedics. While juggling her time in the inpatient areas, Leslie stepped in to lead the pilot program for the pediatric orthopedic clinic in 1996.

In 2000 Leslie was invited to implement child life programming in the diabetes outpatient clinics where she would remain for the next 17 years. During that time, she was a member of the multidisciplinary planning team to co-chair the annual educational Diabetes Family Day for several years.

In 2017 Leslie changed course to move into the perioperative area preparing children and teens for surgery. Medical play was utilized on a daily basis in a variety of ways to meet the fast pace needs in the perioperative areas. Group medical play became the vehicle to begin the play engagement for children to explore, familiarize and express their thoughts and feelings prior to their surgery. It was during that time; Leslie and her colleagues implemented the medical play study.

In February 2020, Leslie assumed a new role as the Facility Dog Coordinator, a new position for the Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Her new role, supported by Mars Petcare company-- Better Cities for Pets, includes a Canine Companion for Independence two and a half year old black Labrador, Squid. Leslie provides services to the inpatient units to children, teens, and their families in high medical situations. She will be planning and implementing programming to motivate and inspire patients and families through the presence and interactions of this facility dog.

Leslie has been an active member of ACLP since 1989. She has been a member of the archive’s management group for several years and most recently served as the chair 2018-2020.

 Leslie resides in Brentwood, Tennessee with her two adult boys, one in his first year of medical school and the other a junior at Ole Miss. Leslie enjoys an active life outside of work, spending time with her dogs, distance running, hiking and volunteers in her community on the Historic Board Committee. 

Sarah Daniels MS, CCLS

Sarah Daniels photo

Sarah is a Certified Child Life Specialist and research specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and an adjunct professor in the Child Life Program at Bank Street College. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Memphis, a member of the Journal Review Board for the Journal of Child Life: Psychosocial Theory and Practice, and leads institutional efforts to establish best practices, care coordination, and psychosocial programming for adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients with cancer. She has experience conducting quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods studies, with interests in the evaluation of child life services in the healthcare setting, the role of social media and technology in youth development, and AYA coping and development throughout treatment for cancer. 


Jessika Boles, PhD, CCLS

Jessika Boles photo

Jessika is a Certified Child Life Specialist and team lead at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.  She is currently Chief Fellow of the Association of Child Life Professionals, is a former member of the board of directors, and regularly contributes her time to institutional initiatives for improving bereavement care, increasing patient mobility, and mitigating trauma and distress in pediatric critical care environments.  


Student Research Recognition Award


Parent/Caregiver Perceptions of Legacy in a Pediatric Hospital: A Qualitative Study

Maile T. Jones, M.Ed, CIMI, Jenna E. Dunbar, M.Ed, CIMI

Abstract: A child’s hospitalization affects the entire family system, with parents/caregivers reporting a myriad of stressors challenging family dynamics and coping efforts. Legacy building interventions employ play- and arts-based techniques to promote collaboration and communication in families of hospitalized children. Although offered in most children’s hospitals, little is known about the impact of these interventions on pediatric patients and families, or the ways in which pediatric healthcare providers, parent/caregivers, and pediatric patients understand and describe the concept of legacy. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore the legacy perceptions of parents/caregivers of hospitalized children on acute or critical care units in an academic medical center. Ninety-three parents/caregivers completed a semi-structured, in-depth interview regarding their legacy conceptions. Analysis yielded four themes: (1) legacy is a transgenerational process, (2) legacies can be actions, accomplishments, and experiences, (3) legacy can be a powerful tool for education and change, and (4) a “good” legacy can be left in different ways. Thus, parent/caregivers of hospitalized children define legacy as an enduring representation of the self – its qualities, experiences, effects, and relationships – built and bestowed across generations. Whether concrete or intangible, intentional or serendipitous, legacies are avenues of connection, education, inspiration, or transformation. Multidisciplinary healthcare providers should recognize the variability and value of legacy conceptions and experiences across the populations they serve while providing the tools and supports needed for parent/caregivers and their children to make meaning of their healthcare experiences.

Maile T. Jones, MEd, CIMI

Maile Jones picture
Maile is currently a full-time research lab manager for the Stress and Coping Lab at Vanderbilt University where their research focuses on understanding the psychological, biological, and interpersonal processes in stress and coping among children and families facing healthcare adversities. After obtaining her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Health and Wellness from Tulane University, Maile spent a year in Australia working for the Starlight Children’s Foundation to expand her knowledge in international child life practice. She then moved to Nashville to pursue her graduate degree at Vanderbilt University. 

During her time in graduate school, Maile published and presented on a wide range of topics including the importance of play in healthcare settings, the ways in which children’s anxiety level and self-reported fear are influenced by medical play interventions, and pediatric patient and caregiver perceptions of legacy. Maile was also involved in the publication of the Child Life Value Proposition Statement that details the evidence-based outcomes associated with child life intervention. After completing her child life internship at Children’s Mercy Hospital and returning back to Nashville, Maile is excited to start her professional career as a Certified Child Life Specialist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt! In her free time, Maile enjoys spending time with friends and family, hiking, and playing tennis.

Jenna Dunbar, MEd, CCLS, CIMI

Jenna Dunbar photo

Jenna is a Certified Child Life Specialist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, MD and a recent graduate of the Applied Child Studies master’s program at Vanderbilt University. During graduate study, Jenna pursued specializations in pediatric healthcare and poverty and intervention, designing a unique intersection of research and application on which to focus her child life scholarship. Outside of her academic experience, Jenna was a graduate student worker in both clinical and research capacities with a quality improvement group at Vanderbilt University Medical Center called Team HOPE – an interdisciplinary team dedicated to the family-centered care of mother-infant dyads who are opioid exposed. She was also a key member of the team of authors who conceptualized, researched, composed, and published the Child Life Value Proposition Statement, “The Value of Certified Child Life Specialists: Direct and Downstream Optimization of Pediatric Patient and Family Outcomes,” on behalf of the ACLP. Jenna completed her child life practicum at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN and her clinical internship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA.

Still involved today, Jenna began studying conceptions of legacy in pediatric healthcare environments during her graduate study, elucidating and analyzing the ways in which staff, parents/caregivers, and pediatric patients perceive the term and its related interventions, as well as bereaved family members. Jenna has presented this research in academic, clinical, and regional child life conference settings and is actively preparing a manuscript for publication regarding the ways in which pediatric patients conceptualize legacy.

Before embarking on her journey into child life, Jenna spent years working in journalism and advertising where she learned quickly how to do the typical atypically. Her experience using impactful communication and creative problem-solving contribute greatly to her clinical work and serve as cornerstones of her child life philosophy.

When she’s not working, Jenna enjoys international travel, exploring and learning through food, and making the perfect Spotify playlist.

Certification