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Child Life Specialist Could Help Beyond Hospital Walls

March 12, 2009

Kansas City, MO - Child Life is a new vocation that is growing across the country. In the hospital setting, Child Life specialists help ease the confusion and stress of a hospital stay for children and their families. Outside the institution, they might assist families dealing with disaster or financial troubles. March is Child Life Month.

Psychologists note that the nation's economic struggles are significantly affecting families, in a manner similar to the dramatic effects of natural disasters or life-threatening situations. At such times - or through any traumatic experience - a child could use a bit of hand-holding, they say.

That's the job of a Child Life specialist, but these professionals rarely are found beyond hospital walls. Currently only 4,000 Child Life specialists practice in the United States.

A large team of these specialists practices at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, a comprehensive pediatric medical center serving the Kansas City area. Stacey Koenig, the Director of Child Life at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, says the Child Life profession is broadening its scope in order to be able to come to the rescue in disaster situations. But practitioners also can help with day-to-day stressors in communities, she adds.

"Going through school is really tough on kids. In lots of different situations that arise, Child Life specialists can help."

Being a Child Life specialist is not child's play. The practitioners must have a four-year degree in an area of child studies and complete a 14-week internship within a Child Life department.

Koenig points out that caregivers can help children - as specialists would - by simply being truthful. She adds that honesty applies to most other life situations, too.

"If they're going to the pediatrician's office for immunizations and they know the child will get shots, the caregiver needs to be as honest as they can about those situations."

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MO