I get many e-mails from people interested in the Child Life profession asking me how and where to start. I created this roadmap to help out fellow child life-ers on their journey. Please keep in mind, everyone’s adventure in child life is different and the road is not always smooth – that’s all part of the fun!
**Click the following link for an official “roadmap” from the Child Life Council, http://www.childlife.org/docs/default-source/certification/candidate-manual.pdf **
- A genuine desire to work with children. You’re going to be with working with children at their best and at their worst. If the sound of a child crying makes your skin crawl, this may not be for you.
- A strong love for all things child development – at the end of this you’ll be able to recite Erikson’s stages of development in your sleep.
- The ability to be able to handle seeing bodily fluids & medical procedures (cuts, vomit, blood, shots, etc.) – I feel that during your adventure you become accustomed to handling more and more, however, if the thought alone of blood makes you queasy, you may need to start becoming mentally prepared to work in a hospital environment – the doctors you work with aren’t going to want two patients! (You don’t always HAVE to watch medical procedures being done to a patient (I’ve sometimes hidden behind an iPad myself when providing distraction when things get too hard to watch) but seeing blood and other bodily fluids as a child life specialist is very common – be prepared.)
- Understanding that this is a long adventure with lots of twists and turns – after I completed my Bachelor’s degree, it took me about a year and a half to become a working certified child life specialist.
- Join the Child Life Council – it’s not required, but it’s a great resource to network with fellow child life students and professionals.
First stop: Bachelors Degree
The beginning of my journey with Child Life began in college so this is where I will start the road map. Some colleges offer a Child Life major, but there are many that do not. My university did not offer a Child Life major so I majored in Child Development and Spanish. I know some Child Life Specialists that majored in something unrelated and minored in Child development or psychology or education… you do not need your degree to be a Child Life degree. What you need are at least 10 courses relating to Child life (child development, psychology, education, etc). After you’ve completed your Bachelor’s degree, you may begin the Child Life Council’s Eligibility Assessment: http://www.childlife.org/Certification/Getting%20Certified/CourseWorkReview.cfm – this part can be a little confusing since the Child Life Council is in the middle of changing its system for this part of the journey.
**Changes like these are common throughout your adventure – Child Life is a relatively new career and the Child Life Council may change rules/requirements to help the profession grow**
If you’re confused about the transition between the old and new system, read my post on Course Work Review to Eligibility Assessment: https://adventuresinchildlife.com/2014/05/14/course-work-review-eligibility-assessment-service/
Another thing to keep in mind during your college career is your “Intro to Child Life” course taught by a Certified Child Life Specialist. This is a requirement for all applicants entering the field. Many universities do not offer this course so you many need to take it online. I took this course online at the University of New Hampshire – do your research and see if maybe a university in your state offers this course, if not, out of state tuition it is!
Now your adventure becomes your own:
Here is where you come to a fork in the road, you can either:
- Move straight into grad school and complete your master’s degree – by the year 2022 it will be a requirement of the Child Life Council to have your masters degree – http://www.childlife.org/files/AcademicTFRecommendations-Website.pdf
- Volunteer with a Child Life department- It is so important to volunteer and really get a feel for working with children in hospitals – it’s not for everyone, and you can learn a lot about yourself and your desire to become a Child Life Specialist by volunteering. Volunteering is not a requirement but when applying to practicums/internships, you’ll be able to show that you have experience which will set you ahead of the competition.
- Apply for your practicum – a practicum is like a mini-internship. You do a lot of observing and really get to know what Child Life is all about in a hospital setting. A practicum is not a requirement, but it truly does prepare you for your internship in so many ways. Also, it’s something else that can set you ahead of the competition when applying for internships. I strongly encourage Child Life students to complete a practicum – this is your chance to observe and understand what to do in certain situations. During your internship, you’ll be doing more hands on work and if you haven’t had any previous experience, it can be very overwhelming and terrifying! I remember thinking to myself so many times during my internship “Thank goodness I did a practicum before this!”
- Apply for an internship – some internship programs require you to be affiliated with a university (master’s programs tend to require internships to be done during the time you’re getting our degree), some require you to have completed a practicum, and some only require your course work review/eligibility assessment. Do your research and find out what the programs you’re interested in require. The completion of your internship is your “golden ticket” for the next stop in your adventure…
Time to bring back all of your Child Development and Child Life textbooks from the beginning of your adventure! Now that you have completed your internship, you are at the point in your adventure where you are eligible to sit for the certification exam. There will be lots of reading, coffee, and post-its on this stop. Be prepared! Click the following link for information on the exam: http://www.childlife.org/certification/the-exam/exam-content-outline
It is possible to be hired as a Child Life Specialist without having completed/passed your certification exam. Some hospitals give you a one year window to receive certification.
One of the things that I love most about this career is that there is no ending point! You have many opportunities to continue growing and learning.
…& your adventure continues
Here are some examples of ways your Adventure In Child Life continues:
- Maintaining certification – you must acquire a certain number of Professional Development Units (PDU’s) every 5 years to maintain your certification. http://www.childlife.org/certification/recertification/professional-development-units
- Attending the Annual Child Life Conference http://www.childlife.org/professional-development/conference
- Switching to another unit in the hospital – always fun and exciting!
- Moving up the clinical ladder
- Being able to teach/supervise students – passing on your wisdom.
- & of course, being the best at the most magnificent, fulfilling, & beautiful career out there.
Happy travels, fellow Child Life-ers!
** This roadmap is intended to assist in providing a clear view of the steps involved in becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist. There are non-traditional Child Life roles that have not been mentioned in this post. For official rules and requirements, visit http://www.ChildLife.Org **