Certified Child Life Specialists
Amy Movius, MD
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Medical care is always changing, and not just scientifically. There is a growing appreciation for the “ripple effect” of illness and hospitalization as we understand more about mind and body connection, as well as the havoc being sick can wreak on one's life. Perhaps this is most obvious when children are the patients.
Providing medical care requires a medical team. Amid the focus on treatment and procedures that surround a child’s illness, the single most important team member to the child, is often the child life specialist (CLS). Most hospitals that provide pediatric care now have a Child Life Program. In the words of the certified CLS I work with daily, her job is to “do everything I can to make (the child) happy and feel better." This involves more than “getting along with kids” or “liking kids." Make no mistake, child life specialists are not fancy playmates; they are consummate professionals who undergo rigorous study and training. This training focuses on the psychosocial needs of children of all ages. They often use therapeutic play to help them cope with and even conquer some of the challenges of being sick or receiving medical treatment that might otherwise be overwhelming. Children process information and experiences differently than adults and so have different needs to help manage difficult circumstances. Even the adults who love these children the most and have only good intentions may not understand or perceive how separate their child’s experience and needs are from their own; much less, how to explain what is happening while coping with their own stress surrounding their child’s condition.
The services a child life specialist provides are many; a few examples of areas of expertise are below:
- Ease a child’s fear and anxiety with play.
- Foster an child friendly environment.
- Provide medical preparation and support for children.
- Advocate family involvement/presence.
- Consider needs of siblings or other children affected by the illness.
- Support family with grief/bereavement.
Feedback surveys leave no doubt as to the high value patients place on Child Life Services. However, it is not only the right thing to do, it is also good medicine. Research suggests using child life services helps to contain medical costs by reducing hospital length of stay for children and decreasing the need for pain medicine. Lastly, the healthy coping skills developed during such an experience can be built upon for a lifetime.
- Child Life Services. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Child Life Council Committee on Hospital Care, 2006
- Child Life Council, Inc. www.childlife.org