Child Life Series: An Insider’s Look at Child Life Month

By Steven Levy

In honor of Child Life Month ending just a few days ago, we’ve got a very special post from guest blogger Emily Beauchemin – a current Child Life Specialist at Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Connect-123 Cape Town intern. Emily wrote this post for us to outline “Play, Advocacy, and Educating Others on the Critical Role of a Child Life Specialist.”

When people hear the phrase, child life specialist, they are often confused by the ambiguity of the term, or simply have never heard of the career. So what exactly is a child life specialist, and what all does their job entail? A Child Life Specialist is a trained professional with a strong educational background in child development and family systems, and works with children and their families in order to reduce the negative impact that hospitalization brings. They work closely with the multidisciplinary team in order to provide a holistic approach and to best meet the emotional and psychological needs of the child, and their families. Child life specialists use a range of modalities in order to meet these needs, and implement therapeutic activities that promote self-healing, self-expression and play. Through these various modalities, child life specialists are able to instill a sense of mastery, and allow children to better cope with their hospitalization.

During the month of March, Child Life Specialists have the privilege of celebrating their profession through advocacy, and educating others on the critical psychosocial needs that the profession entails. Not only are they able to advocate for the profession, but also they are also able to empower others to use certain skills in order to better work with children and families undergoing stress and trauma.

At the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, four Child Life Specialists have had several opportunities throughout the month of March to advocate and educate others on the critical inventions that Child Life Specialists are able to provide. Throughout the month, the Child Life Specialists were able to give several presentations to postgraduate nursing students, as well as one group of 6th year medical students on the topic of “tips to communicate with children.” After the presentation to the medical students, Doctor Roux Martinez, a doctor on the burns unit, stated that the students were, “beyond excited that they could now use these skills in their future careers.”

Moments such as these, reiterate not only the importance of child life advocacy and education, but the fact that child life is able to collaborate with other medical personnel in order to reach the common goal of meeting children and families essential needs when hospitalized. During the month, we were also able to create posters with children’s handprints on them in the various wards. The posters gave a short explanation of Child Life, and the purpose of celebrating the profession in March.

Although March has come to an end, Child Life continues to advocate and educate others on a daily basis. As you are reading this, you may be questioning, what exactly does the day in a Child Life Specialist look like? Here is a common example of what all the day entails at RCWMCH:

7:30-Arrive at the hospital, and complete daily tasks including but not limited to: putting away toys, gathering items for the day, and reviewing referrals of patients from the pain team.

8:00-11:00- Implementing critical therapeutic interventions including but not limited to: providing procedural preparation to reduce children’s stress and anxiety, providing procedural support and distraction, instilling and developing coping skills, educating parents on common child development and bonding with their child, implementing therapeutic play interventions to provide normalcy for the child, providing group activities to foster peer interactions, educating and teaching families when newly diagnosed, celebrating and recognizing milestones including birthdays, development, and holidays, and becoming the child’s voice if they are unable to advocate for themselves.

11:00-11:30- Tea break

11:30-1:30- Continue to implement therapeutic interventions

1:30-2:30- Collect and clean toys and any materials used throughout the day. Debrief about patients with other Child Life Specialist colleagues, and chart on significant interactions.

Child Life Specialists are able to have the privilege to work with children and families during one of the most critical and stressful times they may ever encounter. Although it can be challenging at times, it is beyond rewarding. As Child Life Specialists, we hope that you could also celebrate the career, and help to educate others about the critical role that is provided in the hospital! HAPPY CHILD LIFE MONTH!

Emily graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development Family Consumer Science and subsequently completed her Child Life internship in November 2011. She will be leaving Cape Town at the end of this month, knowing that she has made a significant impact on the lives of many children at the hospital.


Steven Levy

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