Child Life Services

Children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) may have chronic conditions or health care needs that require them to be hospitalized. Some children may be in the hospital often or for long periods of time. Being admitted to the hospital, requiring a surgery, or coping with chronic conditions can be very stressful for children and their families.
Children in health care settings are faced with many different challenges, ranging from an unfamiliar environment to invasive and sometimes painful procedures. They often feel as if they have very little control over their own environment.
A child life specialist works to reduce stress and anxiety for kids in the hospital. A trained child life specialist can help kids deal with everything from pre-surgery education, to getting blood drawn to missing home, or coping with a diagnosis of a serious illness. They give children a way to express themselves through play. A child life specialist often has training in social work.
The activities that child life services offer vary depending on the needs of the child. Before surgeries, child life specialists often have activities or classes to show children the hospital, operating room, and medical equipment in a non-threatening and playful way. During hospital stays, the child life specialists may have a scheduled play time for arts and crafts activities where children can meet each other and have fun for a while. The child life department or volunteer office may offer books, toys, or videos or games to give children and teens something to do that will ease their anxiety and boredom in the hospital. If the child has brothers or sisters that are worried about their sibling being in the hospital or having surgery, Child Life can even work with them to help them understand what is happening and ease their fears. Most children's hospitals offer Child Life services. To inquire about these services, call the hospital's Family Support Department or Social Work Department.
Child life specialists usually work in hospital settings such as inpatient units and areas like the emergency department, surgical, intensive care, and outpatient clinics. More and more, Child Life services are being offered in community settings, such as medical and dental practices, special needs programs, and family court.
Before having your child admitted to the hospital, you can call the hospital to see if they offer Child Life services. Once the child is in the hospital, parents can locate Child Life Services by calling the hospital administration or by asking the child's nurse.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Child Life Services
An article on Child Life Services from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal.

Child Life Council
A nonprofit organization representing a group of trained professionals with expertise in helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events. Members include child life specialists, child life assistants, university educators and students, hospital administrators and staff, school teachers, therapeutic recreation specialists, and others in related fields.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: December 2013; last update/revision: March 2014
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhD
Reviewers: Tina Persels
Gina Pola-Money