the profession

Child life specialists – a growing career

Shannon Hooper

The field of Child and Youth Care has developed immensely over the past several decades. From its origination in the 1800’s the field has captured the interest and curiosity of many. Once labelled as “group home workers” or “babysitters”, Child and Youth Care professionals are now understood to be mental health practitioners, in a career where options are endless. Child and Youth Care professionals are found in several agencies to date including: shelters, hospitals, classrooms and crisis centres. It has become more apparent to employers that Child and Youth Care professionals have the education and understanding that is required to aid in the child's psychological and social well-being.

As stated earlier, Child and Youth Care professionals have several career options. With further education and hands on experience Child and Youth Care professionals can become a Child Life Specialist. Child Life Specialists are generally found within hospitals, however more recently they are found within doctors' offices and dental clinics as well as day treatment centres. The main goal of the Child Life Specialist field is very similar to the Child and Youth Care profession “the overall psychological and social well-being of the child.

Child Life Specialists are non-medical members of a health care team. Being a "non-medical" member indicates that one cannot diagnosis, prescribe or treat a child, however, one can interact and build a therapeutic relationship with the patient. A Child Life Specialist can observe a patient’s behaviour and listen to a child's concerns. With this information the Child Life Specialist can address the health care team, consisting of doctors, physicians, nurses, etc., and bring forth the child's concerns. Through this information the team can create the proper treatment plan for the child.

Child Life Specialists talk to the child on an age-appropriate level about what types of medical procedures the child is going to go through. Child Life Specialists help reduce the fear and anxiety a child may have when staying at a hospital. Providing the child with lots of play experiences does this. Play has been proven to be the link for a child to the "outside world." Most units in a hospital have a playroom that is available for the children to go to and interact with each other.

In conclusion, it is proven that through play children will have reduced fear and anxiety regarding their illness. Child Life Specialists make it possible for children to remain "kids" while they undergo, sometimes, the hardest and most painful procedures. Since Child Life Specialists are part of the medical team it is important for those interested in this career to further their education so they can be properly trained to best help the child through their ordeals.

For further information, here are some links of interest:

Registered Non-Profit and Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (031-323-NPO, PBO 930015296)

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa  /  207 L'ile de Belair, Rosemere, Quebec, J7A 1A8, Canada

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