Child Life Services

Children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) may have chronic conditions or health care needs that require them to be hospitalized. Some children may be in the hospital often, or, for a long time. Being admitted to the hospital, needing a surgery, or coping with chronic conditions can be very stressful for children and their families. Child life services aims to help children and families with this stress.

What Is Child Life Services?

Children in health care settings can be faced with many challenges, ranging from an unfamiliar setting to invasive and sometimes painful procedures. They often feel as if they have very little control over their own environment. This can be stressful.

A child life specialist works to lower stress and anxiety for children in the hospital. A trained child life specialist can help children work through everything from pre-surgery education, to getting blood drawn, missing home, or coping with a diagnosis of a serious illness. They give children a way to express themselves through play. A child life specialist often has training in social work.

What Do Child Life Specialists Do?

The activities that child life services offer differ depending on the needs of the child. Before surgeries, child life specialists often have activities or classes to show children the hospital, operating room, and medical equipment in a non-threatening and playful way that allows them to see things ahead of time and reduce fears of the unknown. During hospital stays, the child life specialists may have a scheduled play time for arts and crafts activities where children can meet each other and have fun for a while. The child life department or volunteer office may offer books, toys, or videos or games to give children and teens something to do that will ease their anxiety and boredom in the hospital. If the child has brothers or sisters that are worried about their sibling being in the hospital or having surgery, child life specialists can even work with them to help them understand what is happening and ease their fears. Most children's hospitals offer child life services.

Where Do Child Life Specialists Work?

Child life specialists usually work in hospital settings such as inpatient units and areas like the emergency department, surgical department, intensive care, and outpatient clinics. More and more, child life services are being offered in community settings, such as medical and dental offices, special needs programs, and family court.

How Can I Contact Child Life Services?

Before having your child admitted to the hospital, you can call the hospital to see if they offer child life services. To ask about these services, call the hospital's main number and ask for the family support department or social work department. Once your child is in the hospital, you can locate child life services by calling the hospital operator or by asking the child's nurse


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Meet the Professional: What Does a Child Life Specialist Do?
A discussion with a child life specialist who shares details about what she does, how it impacts families, and how families can be involved.

Podcasts: Child Life On Call
Parents of children with an illness or medical condition share their stories of working with a child life specialist.

A Day in the Life: Child Life Specialists in the Operating Room
This site offers a quick, easy-to-read overview of child life services and includes pictures.

Child Life Services
An article on Child Life Services from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: October 2013; last update/revision: October 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhD
Reviewers: Tina Persels
Gina Pola-Money
Authoring history
2013: first version: Tina PerselsR
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer