When a child is admitted into the hospital there is a whole team of professionals working constantly to help them get better—doctors, nurses, therapists, and many times, child life specialists. While all of these roles are vital to the health of the child, it’s the child life specialists that support children and their families in a way that is vastly different, and less well known, than the others.
That’s why there is an entire month dedicated to the incredible work that child life specialists do on a daily basis. March is Child Life Month and each year enCourage Kids celebrates these pediatric superheroes that help us make hospitals a better place to get better.
So what exactly is Child Life?
“Child Life means using creativity and therapeutic play to help children and families cope when they are facing adverse situations where learning and development could potentially be placed at risk,” explained Vanessa Andrews, Director of Child Life, Recreation & Volunteers at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center.
According to Vanessa, Child Life is helping sick children and their families build and leave a legacy as they grow and experience life. Child life specialists help each child and family reach their greatest potential amidst challenges, while providing interventions that reduce pain, anxiety and fear.
A child life specialist is a pediatric patient’s biggest supporter while in the hospital. They help patients cope with anxiety and fear due to procedures and the unfamiliar hospital environment through play and creative therapies. They also help to normalize the hospital for the child in a variety of ways.
That is why enCourage Kids works hand in hand with child life specialists across the country to help spread smiles to as many sick children as possible. From themed hospital parties, to clowns and entertainers visit, providing tablets and teddy bears for both comfort and distraction, to funding hospital programs through our Pediatric Hospital Support Program – each of these programs helps make the hospital less scary for the patient while also assisting child life specialists in their day to day.
Often times child life specialists spend their days jumping around the hospital where they may be comforting parents in the NICU, intervening in the ER, or traveling to another unit to help ease the qualms of an adult patient’s child.
Katie Franklund, a Certified Child Life Specialists at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, shared her story of a young patient in the ER who needed stitches removed. According to Katie, the patient was inconsolable and not responding to verbal communication, which made the doctors’ jobs harder. Katie stepped in and used her enCourage Kids Tablet as a form of distraction therapy.
“At mom’s request, I laid next to the patient on the stretcher and we played on the tablet while the team removed the stitches. By the end she was giggling and playful, and we successfully finished the procedure without any escalating interventions,” Katie shared.
“Her mom tearfully thanked us and as the patient was carried around the corner I heard her squeaky little voice call out, ‘I had fun with you! I wish you were my babysitter!’ That made me laugh, but it also made my heart swell knowing I helped flip a completely traumatic and terrifying experience into such a positive outcome.”
Similar to Katie, many child life specialists across the country have experienced, and are grateful for, the positive impact that enCourage Kids programs have in pediatric units. According to Peyton Katz, Pediatric Patient and Family Care Coordinator at Hospital for Special Surgery, “Anytime we find ourselves with an idea of how we might make a child or family’s experience better, whether while they’re admitted to the hospital or once they’re sent home, enCourage Kids either already has a program to fit the need or is willing to work with us to figure out what we might need to do to make it happen.”
We are proud to help these amazing professionals spread more smiles in the hospitals and we are so grateful for all of the child life specialists who are making hospitals a better place to get better for pediatric patients and their families.