Much More Than “Play Ladies”

Child Life Services is an integral part of our Children’s Hospital of Greenville Heath System. The blog below was written by Child Life Specialist Taylor Stathes in celebration of 2018 Child Life Month:

My “Introduction to Child Life” professor started class by asking, “What will your elevator speech be?” I pondered this question, not knowing I would need more of an “escalator ride to the 20th floor” speech. Not because it’s impossible to explain what we do as certified child life specialists– it’s just that our profession is fast evolving from what used to be called “play ladies.”

Yes, we hear that term a lot. People often say, “Man, I wish I had your job; you just play with kids all day.” Which brings us back to my elevator speech.

I often respond this way: “You’re absolutely right. I have the best job in the world. I get to connect with children of all ages and play to help normalize their environment. But this play is purposeful. Everything we do from prepping for procedures to blowing bubbles has a specific goal and purpose behind it.”

I get it. It might not look like much from an outsider’s perspective, but our education and training allow us to understand theory and development so that we can connect with children and adolescents in an environment that strips away their control and ability to just be a kid. So let’s start there, with our education and training.

To become a certified child life specialist, you must graduate with a four-year degree in child life or a related field, such as child development, psychology, recreational therapy, family studies, etc. After graduation, students apply for a clinical internship. These internships span 480-600 hours and take place under direct supervision of a child life specialist.

Although not required by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP), some students complete a practicum before their internship. The practicum helps students get their feet wet and, for the majority of them, get their first hospital experience working with children.

After obtaining the hours of experience, we must take a certification exam and recertify every five years. Recertifying is done through continuing education or by retaking the exam. In 2019, requirements will change for undergraduates. Students will need to take more specialized courses or pursue a master’s degree to gain a more comprehensive child life background.

What We Do
Once you have passed the certification exam, you are a certified child life specialist (CCLS). You can find one in just about every department within a children’s hospital and even in non-traditional settings such as schools. In a nutshell, child life specialists provide these services to children:

  1. Play (Goal: Basic mechanism for learning)
    • Therapeutic Play (Goal: Facilitate expression, coping and mastery)
    • Medical Play (Goal: Increase understanding; allow them to share fears, feelings or concerns; clear up misconceptions)
    • Diagnosis Education (Goal: Provide developmentally-appropriate information on why they are in the hospital and what it means for their life)
    • Preparation (Goal: Communicate accurate information before a procedure, formulate a coping plan)
  2. Support
    • Procedural Support (Goal: Provide distraction, sensory information, relaxation, deep breathing, use ONE VOICE)
    • Emotional Support (Goal: Offer an outlet for patient to discuss fears, concerns, etc.)
    • Family Support (Goal: Involve parents and siblings, increase understanding)

As you can see, the services we provide are goal-driven and extend far beyond the goals listed here. They are unique based on our assessment of the patient and family and their specific needs.

Child Life at GHS
At Greenville Health System, we have child life specialists in pediatric inpatient units, outpatient hematology/oncology, radiology, the ER, Patewood Medical Campus, Julie Valentine Center and even a CCLS who works with children of adult patients. When you add in our child life assistants, you have a total of 20 staff in Child Life Services.

Our daily roles and responsibilities vary depending on where you work and with what population. In radiology, I spend most of my time preparing kids for scans or procedures with the pediatric sedation team; stay with them during procedures to provide distraction and encourage deep breathing, positive coping, and validation; and normalize their environment through play, while building rapport and trust.

Our inpatient team performs similar activities, but also works with siblings, offers bereavement support for families, in-depth therapeutic interventions and diagnosis education. Plus, we have three facility dogs! These dogs serve as tools to help us do our job and ultimately provide a more therapeutic and comforting environment for children and families.

I wrote this blog because March is when ACLP recognizes our profession for their great work across the globe. I wanted to take this opportunity to share a little more insight into what we do here day in and day out.

If you have questions about Child Life Services, reach out to the Office of Philanthropy and Partnership to be put in contact with one of us. We would love to speak with you about our role.

Learn more about Child Life by watching these short videos:

Kelli Pellerin – Education
Jane Shaffer – Play
Kym Hoffman – Teaching
Kristen Capps – Family Support
Katelyn Leitner – Procedural Preparation

Support the work of Child Life Services at

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