Child life specialists are experts in child development who promote effective coping through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities. They provide emotional support for families, and encourage optimum development of children facing a broad range of challenging experiences—particularly those related to health care and hospitalization. Understanding that a child’s wellbeing depends on the support of the family, child life specialists provide information, support, and guidance to parents, siblings, and other family members. They also play a vital role in educating caregivers, administrators, and the general public about the needs of children under stress. (Child Life Council)
2017 marks my 31st anniversary in the child life profession. We as child life professionals empower children and families to master challenging events related to health care. My career has included clinical, administrative, and academic experience in Boston, Florida, and New York City. I have held positions on both the Child Life Council and Child Life of Greater New York (CLGNY) Board and committees. In 2002, I received a Lifetime Achievement Award from CLGNY.
Some on my most memorable and rewarding experience were working with the children, youth and adolescents and their families receiving HIV-related services through the Program for Children and Families at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. In was during the early 1990s when times were very different in HIV/AIDS—pediatric and adult. Children and families experienced frequent and often lengthy hospitalizations, at times requiring intensive and critical care. Issues of bereavement were not uncommon. Family support could be minimal at times, and as a child life specialist I developed intense trusted support bonds with many children. Going to the hospital was a reality check every day. I never referred to “going to the hospital” as work because once I found my life’s purpose, it was in no way “work.”
Hospitalized children are so very different than adults in the same situation, in the sense that one of the child’s primary concerns was figuring out how to play while accommodating the IV’s and other medical equipment in their hospital world. I often referred to IV poles to children as “Ivy” your friend, reminding them that the two of you have to always be together while you are in the hospital. It was truly an honor and privilege that many children and families welcomed me into their world and all that changed when I literally I crossed over into the parallel universe of their life as a patient now living with HIV/AIDS.