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How Child Life Specialists are Enhancing Pediatric Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness and promoting mental well-being. It's time to shine a light on an overlooked provider of mental health care: Child Life Services. Let's shine a spotlight on Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS), diving into why Child Life Services are not just valuable, but a crucial mental health service beyond the hospital!


Picture this: a child is facing a daunting medical procedure or grappling with a mental health challenge. Who steps in to ease their fears, normalize their experiences, explain what’s happening, and provide crucial emotional support? That's right, Certified Child Life Specialists. These heroes are the backbone of pediatric mental health care in the hospital setting, yet they fly under the radar. Their expertise and knowledge supporting children and teens during complex medical challenges can also be applied to various common life challenges outside of medical experiences that can impact mental health like divorce, academic struggles, social stressors, grief and loss, and more!

child life specialist doing therapeutic play

Certified Child Life Specialists do so much more than "play with kids". They're trained professionals who understand the unique needs of children and adolescents facing medical or mental health challenges. Through a mix of therapeutic interventions including play, art, music, and conversations, they help children navigate their emotions and cope with their current circumstances, past traumas, or future worries.


One of the key roles of CCLS is emotional regulation and awareness. Children facing medical or mental health issues often struggle to identify, express, and manage their feelings. Sometimes, children and adolescents don’t even know exactly what they are feeling. This is where CCLS provide use therapeutic interventions to create a safe space for children to open up and process these emotions and create coping plans in response to them, so children have tools to decrease anxiety, stress, and trauma.


But it's not just about the child. It's about the whole family. Certified Child Life Specialists also advocate for family-centered care, recognizing the crucial role parents and siblings play in a child's healing journey. By engaging families in the therapeutic process and providing support and resources, they create a supportive network that extends beyond the hospital walls. And let's not forget about the power of play. Through play-based interventions, CCLS help children develop coping skills, express themselves, and navigate their experiences through a modality that feels safe and comfortable for them. Research has shown the therapeutic benefits of play in improving emotional expression, increasing coping skills, decreasing fears, and enhancing social interactions among children and adolescents.


With all of this expertise and experience, why aren't Child Life Services viewed and utilized more widely as mental health providers outside of the hospital? It's time to change that narrative. By recognizing the invaluable role of Certified Child Life Specialists in pediatric mental health care, we can ensure that every child receives the holistic support they need to thrive in and outside of the hospital setting.


As we recognize this important month, let’s highlight the invaluable contributions of Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS) in pediatric mental health care. Together, we can ensure that every child gets the support they deserve. Let's celebrate the dedication and compassion of CCLS and recognize their vital role in elevating pediatric mental health care.


Curious to learn the research behind child life services and the evidence supporting how child life services can be utilized as a mental health service for a range of mental health challenges in and outside of the hospital, with and without medical stressors involved. Check out our white paper, Enhancing Pediatric Mental Health: The Integral Role of Certified Child Life Specialists, for a quick dive into the research.


Are you interested in learning more about how child life services can be implemented as a mental health service within your practice or organization? Learn more about our HC Support Program, offering mental health services 7 days a week, with no waitlist, and at no cost to the family or provider! Learn more here!

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