How to Become a Child Life Specialist in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a child life specialist. Learn about the education, training, job outlook and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Child Care Services degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Child Life Specialist?

Child life specialists help infants, children and adolescents cope with staying in hospitals. These professionals offer support to children in hospitals by accompanying them during medical procedures and helping them and their families understand what is going on. When applicable they use play therapy to relieve stress and teach coping mechanisms to help children cope with illnesses and injuries. Often they are also part of the team that makes treatment plans for children. The following table provides detailed information for this career:

Degree Required Bachelor's or master's degree and internship
Education Field of Study Education, psychology, human growth and development
Key Responsibilities Elevate quality of life for hospitalized children, provide support for families and caregivers
Certification Certified Child Life Specialist
Job Growth (2014-24) 6% for all child, family and school social workers*
Median Salary (2016) $40,441**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Step 1: Research Child Life Specialists Duties and Education Requirements

Child life specialists work with hospitalized children and their families. In this position, you use play and self-expression activities to help children cope with challenges and provide both emotional and informational support to family members. You also work to educate caregivers, hospital administrators and the public about the needs of sick children. Understanding the demands that you need to undertake and being sure you're capable of working in such conditions is important before you embark on your education and training in this field.

Step 2: Earn Your Degree

According to the Child Life Council (CLC), child life specialists generally earn a bachelor's or master's degree in education, psychology or human growth and development (www.childlife.org). You may choose to complete a 4-year bachelor's degree program or a 5-year dual degree program in child life, human development, social work, child development or similar majors. The dual-degree program results in both a bachelor's and master's degree.

Step 3: Complete an Internship

Many hospitals offer internships working with children. These can provide valuable opportunities for hands-on experience. As an intern, you may assist an experienced child life specialist with assessing patient needs and preparing patients for hospital procedures. Internship application requirements may include current enrollment or completion of a related degree program. You may also need to satisfy specific coursework required to take the Child Life Specialist certification exam.

Step 4: Consider Certification

The only certification available in this field is the Certified Child Life Specialist credential offered by the CLC. Obtaining this credential can have many significant benefits such as validating your knowledge and skills as a child life specialist, preparing you for career advancement and increasing your salary potential. Application requirements include completion of a bachelor's degree program, ten college-level courses in child life or a related subject, 480 hours of clinical experience in child life and passing a certification exam.

Step 5: Find a Job

According to the Mayo School of Health Sciences, child life jobs are becoming more prevalent. Almost all children's hospitals in the U.S. have a child life department and staff (www.mayo.edu). In 2016, PayScale.com reported child life specialists made a median annual salary of $40,441.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in helping children and families cope with significant life changes may also want to consider a career as a mental health counselor. In addition to treating and diagnosing mental and emotional disorders, these clinical counselors can also teach coping mechanisms that reduce stress and improve a person's ability to adapt to life changes. Rehabilitation counselors are also related because they often teach coping techniques to help patients overcome disabilities, and work with patients' families. Outside of the medical field, school counselors teach coping and social skills to students to help them improve their academic success and school life.

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