A certified child life specialist engaged in medical play with a patient.A certified child life specialist engaged in medical play with a patient.

Discovering child life

A new master’s program features a track focused on child development during medical care

In health care-related environments, children and youth may face stressful or traumatic situations that can negatively impact not only their physical and emotional health but also their development. That’s where certified child life specialists (CCLS) step in. As trained professionals, they promote optimum development and coping through medical preparation and education, play, and therapeutic activities. They advocate for patient- and family-centered care and work in partnership with all members of a patient’s medical team.

Sarah Wiebler, MS, CCLS, child life coordinator in the Institute of Child Development (ICD), answered questions about the child life profession and a new master’s program in ICD.

Sarah Wiebler
Sarah Wiebler

What inspired you to enter the child life field?

As an undergraduate child psychology student in ICD, I developed a passion for working with children as well as a strong interest in the research of how hospitalization can impact a child’s development. I’m grateful to one of my professors, who encouraged me to meet with a child life specialist and pursue a master’s degree in the field. After working as a CCLS for more than 8 years at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, I’m happy to be back where my journey began.

What are trends you see in the child life field?

While pediatric hospitals and clinics still employ most certified child life specialists, we’re seeing more specialists working in settings like pediatric home care and hospice, bereavement programs, camps, nonprofit community support groups, dental settings, and with children of adult patients.

What type of preparation is needed to become a CCLS?

Starting in 2022, the Association of Child Life Professionals, which establishes and maintains professional standards for the field, will require newly credentialed certified child life specialists to have a master’s degree in child life. Last year, ICD launched a master’s in applied child and adolescent development, which offers three tracks: child life, infant and early childhood mental health, and individualized elavilnews.com. The child life track will prepare students to pursue the child life certification.    

What sets ICD’s master’s program apart from other child life graduate programs?

ICD has a long been a leader in the field of developmental science and research. Developmental science helps us understand how best to communicate with and support children of all ages through traumatic or stressful experiences, such as illness, injury, hospitalization, or grief. Our students will graduate with a deep knowledge of how to best serve children and their families during life’s most challenging moments.

Learn more about ICD’s MA in applied child and adolescent development and the Association of Child Life Professionals.

Story by Cassandra Francisco | Photo by Jim Bovin | Winter 2018