As a Certified Child Life Specialist since 1999, I have seen so many changes in our field – from those huge carts with tube monitors and attached to video gaming system that barely fit through the doors of our pediatric rooms to what is now small enough to be mounted on a single pole with wheels…. and I recall completing many general education courses by watching 30 minute programs on PBS and then attending the occasional lecture and exam in person! Fast forward to 2019, where I am now working on my doctoral degree as a distance education student, having already completed my second masters degree online…. technology has come so far both in the hospital and in distance education! When I taught my first online course in Child Life back in 2013, distance education via online learning had been around for a few years, but was still in the early stages and hadn’t quite caught on yet for many students. Since creating UCSB Extension’s program that year, I’ve seen a field that was once grounded in on-campus options truly explode into a field that has expanded beyond any geographic barriers and found an incredibly diverse audience through distance education. The field of child life still has quite a ways to go to cross boundaries into a more diverse population of Certified Child Life Specialists, but we’re making progress…..and seeing growth not only across North America, but around the globe into so many new territories where pediatric patients are able to experience the impact of child life supports.
You may ask what child life is, as I still (after 20+ years) get asked quite frequently! The Association of Child Life Professionals defines child life as the focus on “psychosocial care and the emotional safety of children, youth, and families impacted by healthcare and significant life experiences”. While many child life specialists work primarily in traditional pediatric settings, many more are beginning to venture out into the world to explore where children are in greatest need of those same psychosocial supports to overcome so many of life’s challenges, and we’re seeing child life specialists utilizing their skills through an incredible range of professional roles – including hospice and palliative care, pediatric medical clinics, adult/community medical programs, advocacy centers, academic programs, refuge programs, camps supporting both grief/loss and medical needs, adoption/foster care, private practice, and the list continues to grow as students and professionals from the field of child life continue identifying new settings where the unique skill set of child life can impact children and families in need.
As an online academic lecture, I see many students pursuing certification without the support of an academic program specializing in Child Life…..non-traditional students represent an increasing percentage of future child life specialists. The more we break the existing barriers to certification (academic, clinical, professional and geographical), the stronger our role will be around the globe in impacting children coping with a range of challenges. The focus of this blog will be to explore those non-traditional pathways to certification, and the overall expansion of the field of child life. I look forward to sharing this journey with you…..