The Child Life Profession: A Unique Way to Work with Children

Do you enjoy working with children, or have you entertained the idea of possibly working in a health care setting? I myself had never heard of a Child Life Specialist until just a little while ago, and I was surprised at how closely it aligned with my major as well as other disciplines. I see this particular career path as a great opportunity to combine passions in a number of things – namely, health care, children, and counseling.

Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS) serve as liaisons between young patients and medical professional staff in clinical or hospital settings. They work to create a more welcoming and less intimidating environment for children that find themselves diagnosed with a severe illness, and work directly with these children and their families.

These pediatric healthcare professionals attempt to alleviate emotional responses to these stressful and potentially traumatizing events for children, especially at such crucial stages in their physical, cognitive and socioemotional development.

As a Child Life Specialist you have a number of goals, arguably the most important of which is being able to communicate to children what is happening in a way in which they understand. This open line of communication offers to the child a resource, whether they consciously recognize it or not, to cope with what they’re experiencing. Child Life Specialists also encourage family involvement surrounding the care their children are receiving and they do so by educating and supporting families.

Care received from a CCLS is child-centered. Their healthcare training and work focuses on making the child feel more comfortable, more supported, and more aware of the medical procedures and treatments they are receiving. This involves the introduction of healthy coping strategies, opportunities for active games and stimulating play, and utilizing evidence-based strategies to promote learning and age-appropriate development that allows children in these facilities to progress at a similar rate to the rest of their age cohort.

If this particular career path is intriguing and you are interested in becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist, you can! Here’s how:

■ Start by visiting https://www.childlife.org/the-child-life-profession to explore more about the Child Life profession and see if this program really is for you!

■ Think about your degree – does your current coursework involve studying child development or health science? There are a number of courses offered at UConn in the Human Development and Family Sciences Department (https://catalog.uconn.edu/directory-of-courses/course/HDFS) or the Allied Health Sciences Department (https://catalog.uconn.edu/directory-of-courses/course/AH/) that can get you started, as well as countless others in multiple disciplines. Taking a minor or majoring in these studies, depending on where you are in your college career, can prepare you well for a career in CLS, and this specific coursework is part of the requirement for eligibility.

■ As mentioned, there are certain certification requirements. These are:

■ Minimum of a Bachelor’s degree, obtained before taking the exam

■ Specific coursework, of which details can be found here: https://www.childlife.org/docs/default-source/certification/2019-eligibility-details.pdf

■ Completion of a Child Life Course, taught by a CCLS

■ Establish eligibility through an eligibility assessment, and successfully register for and pass the Child Life Professional Certification Exam

■ Supervised clinical experience, 600 hours of an internship under a CCLS

This process can take anywhere from about 3 months to a few years, depending on whether or not you’ve obtained your degree and completed your coursework prior to taking the certification exam and beginning your clinical experience. The benefit to this is that you can move at your own pace, and often work outside of obtaining your certification.

If you love working with young kids and families and making a direct impact in the lives of children, this may be the right profession for you – and it’s very possible to achieve it! You can reach out to the Association of Child Life Professionals via email to professionals who can answer your individual questions at certification@childlife.org, or call at 571-483-4500.

By Clarice Pennock
Clarice Pennock Career Intern Clarice Pennock