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Child Life Specialists

History

At one time physicians and nurses were the only adults responsible for the care of children in hospitals. Parents left their children in hospitals, frequently for long periods of time, for treatment of their illnesses. But many parents felt that their children's emotional needs were not being met. Children were often not told about what tests, treatments, or procedures they were to undergo, and as a result their hospital experience was frequently traumatic. In addition, social workers who were part of the health care team sometimes were not specially trained to work with children and could not provide them with support.

During the early 20th century attempts were made to improve health care workers' understanding of children's needs and to make hospital stays less emotionally difficult for children. C. S. Mott Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, created the nation's first child life department, focusing on child development, in 1922. Gradually, during the 1940s and 1950s, "play programs" were developed at various care facilities across the country. In these settings children were allowed to relax, play, and feel safe. As professional interest in and understanding of child development grew, the play programs began to be seen not only as a play time but also as a therapeutic part of children's care during hospital stays. During the 1960s and 1970s the field of child life grew dramatically as it gained increasing acceptance.

The profession of child life specialists was formally recognized in 1974, when the Association for the Care of Children's Health formed a committee for child life and activity specialists. The committee, which became the independent organization Child Life Council in 1982, had as its goals to promote the profession of child life specialist as well as to strengthen these specialists' professional identity. The committee's members recognized that the interruption of a hospitalization or even an ambulatory procedure can have negative consequences for children's growth and development. Today, child life specialists are recognized as an integral part of a child's health care team.

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