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11 things you didn’t know about child life specialists

Every day, child life specialists from CHOC’s Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department work across many areas of CHOC Hospital and CHOC at Mission Hospital, striving to normalize the hospitalize environment for patients and families.

“Normalizing” the hospital experience is the process of making things like medical equipment and procedures feel less strange or foreign. By doing this, patients and their family members can feel more at ease while at the hospital and will be able to focus on what is most important: feeling better.

In honor of Child Life Month, here are eleven things you may not know about child life specialists. You can also follow along for a day in the life of a child life specialist here.

  1. Child life specialists have bachelor’s degrees in child life, child development or a related field of study. They also have at least 600 hours of training in a child life clinical internship under the direct supervision of a certified child life specialist. Certified child life specialists have successfully completed the Child Life Professional Certification Exam.
  2. Child life specialists are embedded in many units and areas of CHOC, including: the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU); the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU); the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); the oncology, neuroscience, medical and multispecialty units; the Cherese Mari Laulhere Mental Health Inpatient Center; pre-operative services; the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Hospital in Orange as well as the pediatric emergency department at CHOC at Mission Hospital ; radiology; and the Thompson Autism Center.
  3. Music therapy is one part of child life. CHOC’s music therapists use music to address physical, emotional, social and cognitive needs of patients of all ages. They can teach patients how to play instruments or even write songs to express themselves or cope with their emotions. Music therapy can help patients manage stress and fear and increase communication.
  4. Child life works with siblings, too. Since a patient’s diagnosis or health journey can impact the whole family, child life specialists can work with siblings to decrease anxiety surrounding diagnosis, treatment or hospitalization by using play and explaining treatment in language appropriate to a sibling’s age and development.
  5. At CHOC, you’ll find child life specialists embedded into virtually every area of the hospital. Outside of CHOC, you could work with a child life specialist in a variety of settings including dental offices, disaster relief, various nonprofits, military services for children, public health, hospice, pediatric summer camps and more.
  6. Child life is an evidence-based profession. This means that child life services – whether they be play-focused or to help a child psychologically prepare for treatment – are backed by research.
  7. Child life is not a billable service. That means that hospitals are not reimbursed for the care and services provided by child life specialists. CHOC recognizes the value child life brings to the patient and family experience and environment of care and funds their crucial work through donor support and other means.
  8. Technology is a key piece of child life’s work. They use virtual reality (VR) headsets, iPads, apps, and CHOC’s in-house radio and broadcasting station Seacrest Studios, to serve patients and families.
  9. Child life offers an abundance of programs for patients, siblings and families. These include everything from medical clowning in partnership with Healthy HumorTurtle Talk an interactive and entertaining show created by The Disneyland Resort; specialized therapeutic programs including music, art and pet therapy; grief support groups and more.
  10. CHOC’s child life team is big! The team is comprised of 50 people across two campuses. This mighty brigade includes child life specialists, music therapists, a special programs coordinator who coordinates visits and events, school teachers, a clinical education coordinator, an AYA program coordinator, activity specialists and a media programs coordinator.
  11. Child life specialists love celebrations. They regularly help patients and families in the hospital celebrate milestones like birthdays, holidays, graduations, prom, last chemo treatments, weddings and more.

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