Video: Child Life Specialists

When a child becomes ill or injured, these normal activities and relationships are disrupted, often resulting in increased fear and stress. Child Life staff provides many opportunities to engage children in normal day-to-day activities, support their development and enhance their ability to cope with the hospital experience.


Child Life Specialists

Sara Dellavolpe, BA, CCLS, CIMT: Child Life Specialists helps patients and families to cope with being in the hospital. We help to reduce the trauma that happens here during medical experiences. Overall, we just help to make it easier on families and patients while they’re here in the hospital.

Andrea McGinnis, BA, CCLS: Here at CHOP, we’re one of the largest Child Life Programs in the country with just over 75. You can pretty much find a Child Life Specialist anywhere that you would go, especially at our main campus from the emergency department to every inpatient unit. I personally cover outpatient clinics in the Buerger Center and we even have some that are covering our satellite locations.

Ashleigh Schopen, MA, CCLS: The type of schooling that you need to become a Child Life Specialist is a minimum of an undergraduate degree with a Child Life Internship. Some of us have master’s degrees as well.

Andrea McGinnis, BA, CCLS: As Child Life Specialists, we help to support both patients and their families for hospital procedures and we do this by helping a child to understand what’s happening to them and around them in a way that they should understand. So, if I’m meeting with a three-year-old, I’m gonna talk with language that a three-year-old should understand, a 10-year-old, a little bit higher level. We also help to develop coping plans. So, we figure out how can we make this as easy as possible for you at the hospital and walk away with a smile.

Sara Dellavolpe, BA, CCLS, CIMT: So, working in the NICU, procedural support looks a little bit different. I actually work with the infants during even the simplest procedure, like changing a diaper. I may be providing some facilitated tucking, like tucking their arms and legs into their body to help to support them, to help keep them calm during those things. For our children here at the hospital, they may come into the hospital not having any sort of medical experience previous to this visit, so if they know what’s gonna be happening, it makes that visit easier for them.

Ashleigh Schopen, MA, CCLS: Research studies show that anticipatory stress is far better than unexpected stress and so we know if we provide kids with developmentally appropriate education before an experience, not only are they going to be far more compliant with their medical care, but they’re also going to have a much greater level of trust among their caregivers while they’re here and that is absolutely critical for children.

Andrea McGinnis, BA, CCLS: As Child Life Specialists, we really look at our roll as what will help the entire family cope, so not just the patient and that, many times, includes the brothers and sisters as well. We’re gonna help to normalize the hospital experience for them, so that may be taking them down to the studio to play bingo, doing a project with just them and not the patient, because that gives them that special one on one time that they need.

Ashleigh Schopen, MA, CCLS: When we think about helping to prepare kids transitioning to home or to school, we approach it in very similar ways as we might prepping them for procedures and for the hospital experience.

Sara Dellavolpe, BA, CCLS, CIMT: Their family and friends may be asking questions about why they’re in the hospital, so we help to prepare them to answer those questions, so we may do some role play with them to get them thinking about questions that people in the community may ask them.

Andrea McGinnis, BA, CCLS: We really try to not just focus on what happens here at the hospital, but how are they gonna transition into life and still be normal kids with these new treatment or medicines they have to take after they leave the hospital. A lot of times the medical team will say that they feel like Child Life comes in with their magical wand, is able to wave it, and then the child is able to cope well with the procedure.  And it’s not that we have a magical wand, but we really just use simple, honest information to explain to the child what to expect in a way they should understand and then help to give them tools to make the experience easier for them.

Ashleigh Schopen, MA, CCLS: There truly is a theoretical foundation for everything that we do.

Sara Dellavolpe, BA, CCLS, CIMT: You may see us playing. You may see us laughing and being silly, but we are a vital part of your child’s care team by helping them to cope with being here at the hospital, by teaching them why they’re here, and preparing them for anything that they’re gonna be going through, while we also are supporting you as the family.

Related Centers and Programs: Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy