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Child Life Specialists Honored in March

New York (Mar 21, 2011)

Child Life Month.

This month, Child Life professionals worldwide are observing Child Life Month, the time of year dedicated to honoring Child Life Specialists and increasing awareness about their important work.

At the NewYork-Presbyterian Phyllis and David Komansky Center for Children's Health, 11 Certified Child Life Specialists employ a mix of education, play, therapeutic, and self-expression activities to help children cope with their hospitalization and illness. They also provide information and support to families and advocate for family-centered care and the needs of the hospitalized child. Ongoing Child Life Programs include music therapy, pet therapy, creative writing, arts and crafts, and a school program that provides two teachers certified through the New York City Department of Education for hospitalized children in grades K through 12.

The Komansky Center's Child Life Specialists, who are assigned to all inpatient units, as well as the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Pediatric Emergency Department, use age-appropriate educational materials so that young patients can see, feel, hear, and touch things with which they will come in contact during a procedure, test, or their hospital stay in order to reduce their fears. A variety of activities for older children and teenagers are available, as well, to normalize their hospital experience.

During March, Child Life Specialists at the Komansky Center are celebrating their profession with a number of special events in addition to their already busy program, including "Child Life Jeopardy" played with residents and nurses to help orient them to the Child Life program. They are also conducting a special "kids clinic" in which young hospitalized patients pretend to be the doctors as they treat their "patients," who happen to be teddy bears. Engaging children in such play helps them to verbalize fears or concerns and eases anxieties.

"An important part of our job is medical education where we can help children understand a variety of procedures, diagnoses, the hospital setting and environment," says Amie Riepl, MS, CCLS, who joined the Komansky Center Child Life staff last year after receiving her master's degree. Child Life specialists hold a minimum of a bachelor's or master's degree, and many have undergone the rigorous professional child life certification process, administered by the Child Life Council, to earn their Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credential.

Ms. Riepl had volunteered at the Komansky Center during college and that experience helped her to decide on her career path. "I love working here," she says. "There is something about the innocence of children, especially when they are in the hospital. It is so important to normalize their experience and to continue to foster play and other things that are natural to them outside of the hospital."

"My Child Life Specialist Helps Me Be Myself Here"

And what do children think of their Child Life Specialists?

One six-year-old on the sixth floor of the Komansky Center notes, "My Child Life Specialist is the girl who makes the hospital fun and helps me realize the importance for coming here. She also talks to me so I don't freak out when they have to give me my IV or poke me for blood."

"My Child Life Specialist helped me know I can still use this arm with the hose in it to give me my medicine, especially when I'm trying to play with my favorite toys in the playroom," says a four-year-old.

A 13-year-old says, "My Child Life Specialist helps me be myself here in the hospital. She spends time with me that I miss without my friends. We listen to music and look at magazines and talk about what is going on with me in school and at the hospital."

"My Child Life Specialist was here to explain my new diagnosis to me," says a 19-year-old. "I was told I had this kind of cancer I can't even pronounce and she told me what kind of cancer it was so that I knew what the doctor was trying to tell me. She has been a good friend here for me and I couldn't be happier to have her."

"Heroes in Pediatrics"

Understanding that the well being of children depends on their social environment, Child Life Specialists strive to assist the entire family throughout the hospital experience, providing information, resources, and insight, as well as supporting the entire health care team.

"Child Life is a crucial part of the pediatric care team," notes Deirdre Dittrich, RN, 6 North. "Their presence on the team appears humble, but it is powerful and incalculable. They are heroes in pediatrics. Their expertise, enthusiasm, and dedication show daily, as they provide support to the patients and families that is immeasurable. Day to day, they assist patients during their good times and bad times, whether it is comforting, educating, or just listening. Child Life provides a safe haven for children, which allows the patients to also be children. They psychologically guide them during times of despair, discomfort, and fear. They share and rejoice in the patients' triumphs and happiness. Their good works have a positive effect on a patient that radiates to their parents and the rest of the health care team. We want to extend a thank you to our Child Life Specialists, who provide endless tender loving care on the units every day! You truly make all of our days brighter."

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