Certification requirements in Child Life – do they reflect growth or diversity for the field?

What does it mean to have a diverse professional setting?  By definition (Merriam-Webster, 2019), diversity is the “condition of having or being composed of different elements, especially the inclusion of different types of people, such as people from different races and cultures”.  In theory, this is a focus many professional organizations share.  In reality, the cost of qualifying for jobs to then make diversity a reality in many professional settings feels unattainable.

Immerwahr & Johnson (2009) found that only 29% of people who are qualified to go to college actually have the opportunity to do so, and this number has dropped since the survey was originally conducted in 2000.  So when we think about what is attainable, we must consider the roadblocks that currently exist….

  • Adequate preparation for college throughout K-12 academics
  • Adequate support throughout college for collegiate success
  • And specific to the field of child life:
    • adequate opportunities to receive clinical training within a reasonable distance from home, or
    • adequate financial support to relocate for clinical training; and
    • adequate opportunities for clinical training

Despite students being eligible to attend college, (National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education, n.d.) many students are not ready for post-secondary studies! Remedial courses in both English and mathematics are often required without being awarded academic credit for those courses, and now in California those remedial classes are being eliminated through AB 705 (California Community Colleges, 2018).  Students are encouraged to complete undergraduate degrees in four years, despite not being ready for post-secondary studies or having the support of remedial academic programs. Undergraduate education as a whole is experiencing challenges a we better determine how to support a diverse population of students in successfully completing degree requirements!

The findings from the U.S. Department of Education (2016) suggest that less than half of U.S. students meet state standards for measuring college readiness, and only 1 in 3 high school students succeed in earning a college degree.  Add to this the specific requirements in the field of child life to not only complete an undergraduate degree, but to also complete a 600+ hour unpaid internship (as well as to be competitive for those internship by completing a graduate degree, 100+ hour unpaid practicum, and volunteer experiences in a child life program and related fields prior to becoming certified).  While some students do secure clinical trainings through a single round of applications, many students find the field incredibly competitive, and require multiple rounds of applications for both practicum and internship opportunities. As many students are learning, relocation for practicum and internship opportunities is becoming more and more common, adding to the time and expense of becoming certified in the field….and again, weeding out those who can’t afford the expense or can’t relocate; this eliminates opportunities for diversity.

Academic institutions have risen to the challenge of providing or creating academic programs to meet not only the requirements for certification eligibility, but many have also developed graduate programs to meet proposed changes in requirements for certification eligibility.  While not currently required for certification, graduate degrees are required by some hospitals for clinical internships and jobs, and recommended by many more.  What we haven’t seen at the same rate is the addition of clinical training opportunities or jobs to meet the increasingly demanding requirements of certification eligibility. Academic requirements alone haven’t significantly changed the salaries of entry level positions in the field of child life, and we haven’t seen the progress we’ve hoped for in approving billable Child Life services in the U.S. which would ultimately increase the opportunity for growth of the field of child life.  Students are pursuing certification eligibility without the confidence of knowing that jobs are readily available for newly certified candidates, and while the American Academic of Pediatrics (2014) documents reduced costs associated with child life interventions in medical care, there’s little financial motivation for hospitals to add child life services or increase child life ratios as cost for services aren’t currently billable through through insurance.

Students unable to relocate due to financial necessity or family obligation, which often includes second career seekers who bring invaluable experience with them to the field, are further challenged to meet certification requirements. While distance education has expanded the educational opportunities in most fields, that same need to reach beyond existing physical boundaries still exists for the clinical requirements of child life.  As many students have found, the skill set required of a child life specialist can make an incredible impact of meeting unique needs in a range of settings currently providing supports for children and their families, but the clinical requirements for certification eligibility typically remain in traditional hospital settings.

Governance over high education remains at both the state and institutional levels (Rippner, J.A., 2016), while certification for the field of child life is governed by the Association of Child Life Professionals (2019) focusing on institutional policy.  Policy for certification eligibility has been revisited many times in the past several years since being initiated in 1998, with requirements changing most recently in 2018.  However, policy hasn’t supported the growth of child life skill sets being outside of traditional settings for internship experiences, or the financial or family commitments requiring consideration to relocate for 600+ hour clinical trainings, or to cover the expense of applications for multiple rounds of practicums and internships.  To factor in these concerns and identify options for candidates to secure alternate training experiences would encourage a growth not only in the field, but in the diversity of the field.  Maintaining existing pathways to certification eligibility means primary traditionally successful students (second generation and beyond college educated; upper and middle class, college completed in 4 years right out of high school) will remain the primary candidates for certification.

The availability of diversity scholarships through the ACLP (2019) has been a huge first step, but hopefully only that – a first step.  Finding ways to expand the diversity of the field without compromising what the traditional experiences of a child life internship represent in preparing for a career in the field is equally crucial!  Diversity requires a renewed focus not only on the academic requirements for certification eligibility, but the remaining pathways candidates must consider – volunteer, practicum and internship requirements that may require relocation and loss of wages, remote or other alternative training options to expand the pool of qualified candidates for certification eligibility, and additional scholarships or financial supports to help bring a diverse pool of qualified candidates into the field of child life!

Moving the field of child life forward by not just increasing requirements for certification eligibility, but also making the resources of the child life field more accessible for children and families worldwide means creating access to both academic and clinical training – and this will reflect a more diverse population of child life specialists! Maintaining a relatively small field by not expanding opportunities for training or professional roles means the field will continue to be represented only by traditional college students who have access to resources to pursue an ever-increasingly challenging field to pursue!

AB 705 (2018).  California Community Colleges.  Retrieved from https://assessment.cccco.edu/ab-705-implementation.

Allensworth, E. (2017). We need to change the way high schools are preparing students for college.  EducationPost.  Retrieved from https://educationpost.org/we-need-to-change-the-way-high-schools-are-preparing-students-for-college/.

American Academic of Pediatrics (2014). Child Life Services: Policy Statement. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/133/5/e1471.

Association of Child Life Professionals (2019).  Retrieved from https://childlife.org/

California State University (n.d.).  Graduate Initiative 2025.  Retrieved from https://www2.calstate.edu/csu-system/why-the-csu-matters/graduation-initiative-2025.

Child Life Connection: Student Forum (n.d.).  Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/groups/ChildLifeConnectionStudentForum/.

Diversity. 2019. Retrieved July 11, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diversity

Immerwahr, J. & Johnson, J. (2009). Squeeze play 2009: The public’s views on college costs today.  Retrieved from www.publicagenda.org/pages/squeeze-play-2009.

National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (n.d.). Beyond the rhetoric: Improving College Readiness through Coherent State Policy.  Retrieved from https://www.highereducation.org/reports/college_readiness/gap.shtml

Rippner, J.A. (2016). The American Education Policy Landscape.  Rutledge Publication: New York.

U.S. Department of Education, (2016).  Digest of Education Statistics 2014, 50thedition.  Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016006.pdf.

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