At ACH, child life specialists are assigned to specific departments. They become conversant with treatment protocol and supply additional patient education after Dr. Buckmiller has met with the family. For chronically ill children or those being treated for cancer, specialists oversee time in the playroom, coordinate with on-site teaching staff and distribute age-appropriate games and gifts. Child life specialists may not round with physicians, but they do chart their observations about a child’s cognitive level or emotional state.
Explore This IssueDecember 2010
At Yale-New Haven, child life specialists are “always spread thin,” Good said. Realistically, she said, it’s not possible for them to see all children and families. Staff generally cover outpatient clinics in the mornings and inpatient areas in the afternoons. Given the demands on specialists’ time, Good said otolaryngologists should approach their hospital’s child life department to determine their priorities and how best to utilize the expertise of their child life specialists, such as for preparation, distraction, teaching or to support parents. Those in private practice should identify what they would like to add to their practice to make it more family centered, such as incorporating age and language-appropriate educational materials or teaching staff additional skills in relating to children. Inservice education can sometimes be arranged through a local children’s hospital child life department, Good said.
Child life services extend beyond the medical setting. The Yale-New Haven program, for instance, responds to requests from school nurses or principals to help staff transition a child back to the classroom after a serious operation or extended hospital stay.
Child life specialists can be especially valuable for children who have just received a diagnosis, said Morgan Miller, MEd, CCLS, who works at the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic in Baton Rouge, La. “This can be an extremely scary time for children,” she said. “Here they are, coming to a new environment, and all these big words are being thrown around, and they have no idea what is happening. I can help them understand what the tubes and wires and words mean. I choose the right words to describe what’s happening. I even tell kids that I’m like a teacher in the hospital.” (Full disclosure: Morgan is the daughter of Robert Miller, MD, MBA, physician editor of ENT Today.)