Child Life Month
March is Child Life Month, a chance to celebrate child life specialists, professionals that help kids cope with their hospital experience to prevent long term medical trauma.
But what exactly does a child life specialist do?
Natasha has been working as a child life specialist at the Glenrose Hospital since 2019. Below, she describes the role and explains what the work involves.
Q&A with Natasha, Child Life Specialist, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital
What does a child life specialist do?
Child life specialists provide positive, normalizing play experiences so kids can be kids and they can continue to develop while being in the hospital. The second part, the part that people usually don’t know about my role, is helping kids cope with what I call their “hard jobs”. That includes procedures, therapy, clinic appointments, surgeries, and those kinds of things. I prepare kids for their hard jobs using developmentally appropriate explanations and medical play. We create coping plans for procedures or tests, and I attend all of their procedures, tests and clinic appointments to help support them in carrying out those plans.
How does somebody become a Certified Child Life Specialist?
To become a Certified Child Life Specialist, you must have a degree and complete certain courses. Child life specialists have an educational background in child development, family systems, therapeutic play, psychology, grief and bereavement, and complete a clinical placement. There is a certification exam, and child life specialists must keep up with professional development every five years.
What do you wish people knew about your role?
That it exists! The program has grown a lot since I have been here. I think when people hear about child life specialists, they just think we’re the ones that play and we’re the ones that bring coloring books. I just want families to know that they can ask for us and we are here to help them and to make their child’s experience as good as it can be. A lot of kids have ongoing visits to the Glenrose and many will have medical appointments for the rest of their lives. If we can make the experience as positive as possible from the start, it helps everyone long term.
What is unique about the child life specialist role at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital?
I am the only child life specialist at the Glenrose Hospital. It’s unique because I get to be in every part of rehabilitation. I work primarily on the inpatient unit but I also work in some clinics and in Specialized Rehabilitation Outpatient Programs. I also work with some services on a consult basis.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Sometimes, despite a lot of prep, things just don’t go smoothly for a child. Sometimes by the time I see a kid, they have already had a traumatic medical experience, or they have other things going on that make it hard for them to cope with new situations. It doesn’t feel good to leave knowing that a kid had a bad experience and you couldn’t make it better.
What is the best part of your job?
I would say, by far, when a kid looks at me after a procedure and says, I did it. Because if I’m doing my job, they should not need child life forever. My job is to empower kids and their families to advocate for themselves, teach them what they’re allowed to ask for, and then give them the confidence that they can cope with new situations. When a kid or a family realizes that they can do that on their own, it means that we’ve set them up for success.