By Kaleigh Rainwater
Child life specialists are pediatric healthcare workers who assist children and families in coping with hospitalizations, illnesses, and disability. Although it is a small and growing field, the impact of child life specialists is significant. While they may not be present in every hospital, they are heroes, akin to other medical professionals.
A crucial aspect of their role is supporting children's mental health. Hospitalizations, illnesses, procedures, and loss are traumatic events for children, causing emotional and social distress. Child life specialists intervene to help children feel heard, prepared, normal, and supported. They achieve this through teaching coping strategies, providing age-appropriate information, engaging in medical play, and facilitating socialization. Collaborating with the medical team, they educate them on the most effective ways to assist the child. Furthermore, child life specialists organize volunteers and incorporate enjoyable activities like animal therapy, art, music, celebrations, and partnerships with nonprofits serving children.
In addition to supporting children, child life specialists extend their care to families. Recognizing that supporting the family's mental health ultimately benefits the children, they acknowledge the various challenges families face. Parents may experience added stress due to caring for siblings, pets, work, financial issues, language barriers, transportation, and mistrust of the healthcare system. Child life specialists provide support and advocacy for families, ensuring a focus on family-centered care. This includes assisting with transportation, housing, personal care items, and navigating medical jargon to alleviate stress. They also involve siblings in family activities, educate them on procedures, locate resources, and offer support during the loss of a child.
Child life specialists understand the significance of mental and emotional well-being in the healing process, viewing it as equally important as physical health. Their efforts contribute to making a difficult situation more manageable. While this field may not be widely known, the profound impact of child life specialists on the lives they touch cannot be overstated.