Child life specialists are skilled professionals who assist children and their families with hospitalization and healthcare-related challenges. These experts use their background in child and family development to provide their clients with guidance and emotional support. Many use play and self-expression activities to help children cope with the difficulties surrounding hospital visits and medical procedures.
Child life specialists also offer guidance and education to parents, siblings and family members of children undergoing hospitalization or long-term care. They may also work with healthcare personnel and in-home caregivers to understand the emotional needs of children requiring intensive medical treatment.
Child life specialists may work in a variety of professional settings, including:
Child life specialists should have expert knowledge of child and family development. They should also be well-versed in the terminology and practices of pediatric medicine and care. Exceptional communication and interpersonal skills as well as patience and a desire to work with children and families are keys to succeeding in this field.
A growing number of accredited colleges and universities are offering Child life programs awarding bachelor’s degrees. Child life specialists may also benefit from courses in child and family psychology, music and art therapy, and related disciplines. A number of educational hospitals also offer internships for prospective child life specialists.
In addition to having a bachelor’s degree, a child life specialist may also consider becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS). This industry-standard credential is offered by the Child Life Council, and requires the successful completion of the Child Life Professional Certification Examination.
The salary for a child life specialist often varies depending on his or her location and employer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, counselors employed at medical or surgical hospitals earned mean annual wage of $47,700 in May 2010. The median hourly wage for these professionals was $22.93 for this same period.
The job outlook is considered favorable for all counselors is considered extremely favorable, with 18 percent growth expected through 2018.