A Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) works in healthcare settings and focuses on the emotional and developmental needs of children and families. Using play and other forms of communication, this professional member of the healthcare team seeks to reduce the stress associated with healthcare experiences, while enabling children and their family members to cope in a positive manner. Child Life is a fast-paced field that requires Child Life Specialists to be smart, flexible, calm, and prepared to work with children and families under stress. In addition, they must collaborate with other healthcare professionals.
Students can find out more about Child Life by visiting the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP) website. The Association of Child Life Professionals is the professional organization of Child Life Specialists. Their website contains information about the profession and field, membership in the ACLP, requirements for certification, publications, research, and resources on Child Life. The ACLP website is an invaluable source of information, and students interested in this profession should visit the site to stay abreast of current news, topics of interest, and research in the field.
Students pursuing a Master of Science in Human Development and Family Science (HDFS) with an Emphasis in Child Life come from a variety of undergraduate studies. Many students have a baccalaureate degree in Human Development and Family Science, Child Development, Psychology, Social Work, or Education. Students with baccalaureate degrees other than Human Development and Family Science may be accepted into the program based upon their knowledge and experience with children and families. All students in Child Life need a strong academic background in child development, including at least two child development courses. Many of our strongest applicants have extensive child development background and experience working with children in health care settings (including hospital volunteering, working at camps for children with medical issues, etc.). If students admitted to the program lack a strong child development background, they may be required to complete supplemental coursework in this area.
Students interested in this program should have previous experience working with children. These experiences could be on a volunteer or paid basis and could be with children with health conditions, children under stress, and/or children who are well. Upon applying to the program, students will be responsible for providing documentation of their past experience with children. Students pursuing graduate studies in Child Life are stongly encouraged to be knowledgeable about the profession before applying to the program. Volunteering in a children’s hospital or on a pediatric unit is recommended in order to become acquainted with the hospital setting and learn about Child Life. It would also be beneficial to interview, shadow, or speak with Certified Child Life Specialists and ask them questions regarding their job, experiences, and role in the healthcare team.
Because the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP) is the primary organization for Child Life professionals, students enrolled in this program are required to join the Association of Child Life Professionals at the beginning of their program, and to maintain membership throughout their enrollment in the program. Membership in the ACLP may provide helpful information and support for students considering applying to the program, but is not required prior to admission.
Students in the Child Life Emphasis program will participate in a semester of practicum as a part of their required coursework. This practicum experience will take place at one of several pediatric hospitals within driving distance of Athens, or during the summer at any location where the student can secure a practicum placement. Practicum requirements will include shadowing a Child Life Specialist as well as completing weekly assignments. Each student obtains approximately 120 hours of practicum during the semester. The student is responsible for securing an appropriate practicum placement, with help and support from the Child Life Director and Child Life Coordinator.
Students in this Master’s program are eligible to participate in an internship program after they have completed their program of study course work, usually after two years of classes. An internship is a full-time commitment; students cannot complete UGA coursework or assistantship responsibilities while on internship. During their internship, students are enrolled at the University of Georgia and register for internship hours. Students maintain regular contact with the Child Life Director at the University of Georgia and complete various assignments while participating in a hospital internship. The University of Georgia does not endorse specific Child Life internship programs. Students apply to programs and hospitals which best fit their needs or interests. Acceptance into an internship program is not automatic. Students must apply, interview, and be extended an offer from the program to be formally accepted into an internship. The Association of Child Life Professionals has a free searchable online guide that lists Child Life programs and internships. Individual hospitals post specific information about their internships on their websites.
Most Child Life internships are not paid, and only a select few offer reduced housing or meals for interns. Many hospitals require an application fee, and some require an additional program fee to participate in an internship. Every hospital has different policies regarding student internships. Students should research possible internship sites online to determine their specific guidelines and policies for Child Life interns.
Before completing a Child Life internship program, students will need to find and apply to programs, interview with hospital staff, and be extended a formal offer into the internship program. Students will research various Child Life internship programs in order to determine which programs and hospitals best suit their needs and interests. In order to apply, students complete and submit the common Child Life internship application, along with any supplemental application materials individual hospitals require. Once the completed application has been received, hospital staff will screen applicants and contact some students for interviews. Interviews typically take place on the hospital campus, although a few hospitals offer interviews via Skype and other technologies. After the interview process is complete, hospital staff extend offers to selected applicants on a standard offer date. Students have the option to accept or decline each hospital that has offered them an internship position. We recommend that students visit and tour the hospitals to which they apply; however, this is not required.
Because the certification requirements are changing, we strongly recommend that students visit the Association of Child Life Professionals certification pages to find the most current and accurate information on certification. Beginning in January 2019, prerequisites to sit for the CLCC exam require that the student have completed a) 10 college-level courses in specific content areas related Child Life, and b) at least 600 hours of a Child Life clinical internship under a qualified Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS). A student must receive a passing score on the certification exam to become a Certified Child Life Specialist. Requirements will change again beginning in 2022, and again in 2025.