Child life is a unique field that helps connect with children at a whole new level. Here’s how to become a specialist in this field, and understand and help children who are under immense physical and emotional trauma.
A child life specialist is someone who helps a child deal with the emotional trauma associated with physical illness. As someone who works in a hospital or a health care facility, the specialist will help a child cope with the stress of undergoing surgery, or any other complicated medical procedure. She/he may also have to work to convince a child to get a blood test done. These specialists are also communicators between the family and the health care professionals involved in child care. As we take a look at how you can pursue this career, we will also help you decide whether or not this is the career for you.
Before we take a look at the educational requirements, you should know about certain personal abilities and skills you ought to possess when considering child life as a career. For one, you have to simply love children to do this job. And this doesn’t just mean loving kids’ cute qualities. It means dealing with their tantrums, their fears, and their general impatience, without losing your patience. It also involves dealing with the families of children undergoing treatment. Sometimes, you may have to watch children who are terminally ill come in, and perhaps watch them pass before your eyes. For this, you must have a strong heart. As you are one of the members of the health care team who will be closest to the child, it is likely that you will get attached to her/him. Moving on despite this attachment is absolutely essential. Certain leadership and management skills are also essential to advance to higher positions in the field. You will need to complete the following educational requirements to pursue this profession:
- Bachelor’s Degree: Training starts at the undergraduate level itself. While you may be able to come across a specific degree in few colleges, getting a degree in the field of child psychology, counseling (that includes grief counseling), family studies, child care, education, child development, or early childhood education. All these fields will help you gain a better understanding of dealing with children and their needs in the health care setting. You will also be taught appropriate professional and medical ethics during your course. In any case, choosing a degree that is as close to the field of child life is always going to be more beneficial.
- Certificate Program in Child Life: While it is not always necessary, obtaining a masters in the field of child life or the aforementioned associated fields will definitely improve, not only your understanding of the field, but also increase your chances of employment in this field. Also, a post-baccalaureate program in child life, or a certificate program in this field is available to those who have completed their bachelor’s in the above mentioned fields. The program lasts for a year, and gaining entry to it may require you to provide your GRE scores, a statement of purpose, and several letters of recommendation. In the course of this program, you will also be give an internship opportunity that will prepare you for the real job.
- Internship in Child Life: It is ideal that in the course of your education, or after your bachelor’s, you take up jobs that will introduce you to the field of child life and care. These jobs include volunteer programs, camps, and health care facilities. You must complete at least 480 hours of an internship, and gain clinical experience under the guidance of a certified specialist, to be able to qualify for certification in the field. Working in a hospital setting, specifically in the pediatrics department, is perhaps the best option to get you introduced to this field.
- Certification: The next step is to apply for the child life specialist certification that is issued by the Child Life Council. It is an examination that you have to get through to be able to start practicing as a qualified professional in the field. You should also have completed 10 college level courses related to the field of child life, or in child life itself, and the appropriate internship duration, when you apply for licensure. This exam is conducted twice a year, and is a rigorous exam that tests for the best in the field. In fact, it is always a good idea to go through the exact eligibility requirements for certification, so that you follow the appropriate path in the course of your education.
A certified child life specialist’s salary, as stated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is at an average of $40,000 per year. These figures will of course change based on your experience and the quality of your work. To get the best jobs and maintain them, it is important that you continue educating yourself in this field, and make yourself more aware of newer techniques to cope with the demands of this field.