Child Life Specialist: Education Requirements and Career Information

Child life specialists require significant formal education. Learn about the degree, job duties and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

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Aspiring child life specialists must complete a bachelor's degree program in a relevant field, such as child psychology. After earning a bachelor's degree, child life specialists typically need to obtain CCLS certification from the Child Life Council. This certification involves at least 480 hours of fieldwork and passing an exam.

Essential Information

Child life specialists work with children and their families to foster growth and development in a setting that reduces anxiety about hospitalization and treatment. Most employers require a minimum of a bachelor's degree, though a master's degree may make someone a more desirable candidate. In addition, almost all positions in this field require the applicant to hold a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) accreditation from the Child Life Council (CLC). People who enjoy working with children might consider this as a career field.

Required Education Four-year degree in child psychology or a related field
Other Requirements CCLS certification from the Child Life Council
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all child, family and school social workers
Median Salary (2016)** $49,107

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

Education Requirements for Child Life Specialists

Most employers require child life specialists to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Some colleges and universities offer programs in child life, but other acceptable majors include child and family studies, psychology, child development, recreational therapy and early childhood education. Undergraduate coursework focuses on child psychology and prepares students for clinical work, post-baccalaureate work and certification. Internships and volunteer opportunities often are included as part of the curriculum. Common classes include:

  • Child and adolescent development
  • Family psychology
  • Loss and grief
  • Human anatomy and physiology

A graduate program in child life, such as a Master of Science in Child Life or a Master of Science in Family and Child Studies, can further prepare an individual for a career as a child life specialist. Studies typically include advanced coursework in medical issues and coping strategies, as well as supervised internships. Those with a graduate degree also might find work as researchers or teachers.

Certification Information

Employers vary in their requirements, but nearly all positions require that applicants hold the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) accreditation from the Child Life Council (CLC). The CCLS credential currently is the only one in the field. In order to obtain it, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree, take coursework in child life or a related topic, complete 480 hours of clinical work and pass an exam.

Child Life Specialist Career Information

A majority of facilities that provide pediatric care have child life programs. Child life specialists help children and their families cope and adjust during a child's hospitalization and healthcare treatment. The child's well-being is the primary concern, along with the continued development and growth of the child. Most child life specialists work in inpatient facilities, but an increasing number find employment with outpatient locations, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Salary.com reported in October 2016 that the median annual salary for a child life specialist was $49,107.

Child life specialists use creative play and educational materials about procedures and treatments to help alleviate children's stress and address psychological concerns. They also might facilitate interaction between patients and staff and coordinate special events. Child life specialists also work closely with a child's family, including parents and siblings, to educate them about the healthcare process. This may be in the form of providing information about surgeries and other procedures, giving hospital tours or assisting in communication between the family and healthcare providers.

A child life specialist commonly works in a healthcare facility, where they provide counseling and related services for both children and families who are dealing with the hospitalization of a child. In school, these professionals typically study loss and grief, child development, and family psychology.

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