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Requirements to Become a Certified Child Life Specialist

Child life specialists work in hospitals and other help young children and families deal with disabilities, illness and the stresses associated with such conditions. Read on to learn about child life specialist requirements, education, certification, and more.

How to Become a Child Life Specialist

Child life specialists are healthcare professionals who strive to help children and their families with the difficulties associated with undergoing intensive medical care at young ages. They work with children who are suffering from illnesses to help them cope with pain, handle the trauma of procedures they can't fully understand, and continue their psychological development as smoothly as possible given the circumstances. To work as a child life specialist, a bachelor's degree is often the minimum requirement. Child life specialists can become certified through the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP).

Child Life Specialist Requirements

Working as a child life specialist can be a very emotionally draining job, as they primarily deal with extremely sick children, so anyone considering this career should take that fact into consideration. Child life specialists need to have compassion and understanding when interacting with these children. Previous experience working with children is highly recommended, as many of the lessons learned will be applicable in these situations, as well. While child life specialists predominantly work a normal 40 hour schedule, weekend and holiday work may occasionally be required in extreme situations, and visits to the homes of patients may occur from time to time, as well. Unlike other professionals who deal with children, such as social workers, child life specialists often are limited to short term interactions, lasting only as long as a child's hospital stay, and so they should be wary of forming attachments.

Child Life Specialist Degrees

A number of degrees could lead to a career as a child life specialist, such as psychology or social work. Child life specialist majors do exist as both bachelor's and master's degrees, and degrees in other areas, such as family science, may have child life specializations. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement, but if your degree is not closely related to the field, a master's degree in child life may be recommended. While the ACLP does not require any particular degree in order to become certified, this organization does require that certain courses are completed, such as:

  • Child development
  • Family systems
  • Loss and bereavement
  • Importance of play
  • Research-based courses

Additionally, at least one course taught by a certified child life specialist is required. Post-bachelor's certificate programs are an option if the above courses were not part of a degree program. The best child life specialist programs are likely to be those endorsed by the ACLP, as they most closely match the requirements for certification. Many child life degree programs include internships or a practicum as part of the curriculum. Some may require volunteer hours at hospitals or with children to be admitted to the program. Child life specialist education is also sometimes available as a minor, which can complement degrees in other areas. There are even online degree programs relevant to child life which may help you get started.

Child Life Specialist Certification

To achieve certification, one must apply for the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credential from the ACLP. To apply, a candidate must hold a bachelor's degree in any field, complete the 10 required courses related to child life, complete a relevant 600-hour clinical internship, and finally pass the certification exam. After obtaining the CCLS credential, an individual will need to pay yearly maintenance fees and renew certification every five years. Renewal can be accomplished via professional development units, or by taking the certification exam again. While it's not legally required to work as a child life specialist, certification is highly encouraged, as many employers may have that requirement.