Choosing this track gives you the opportunity to begin coursework and experiences needed to become a Certified Child Life Specialist

Child Life Specialists (CCLS) are professionals trained in child development who support children, adolescents and their families in hospitals and other healthcare settings. According to the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP), "In both healthcare and community settings, Certified Child Life Specialists help infants, children, youth and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement. They provide evidence-based, developmentally and psychologically appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation for procedures, and education to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain." Becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist requires coursework, experience with children in different settings, and clinical experience through a required child life internship and optional (but recommended) child life practicum. The specific pathway to certification varies, depending on the year the student plans to take the certification exam. For more specific information about certification requirements, see the ACLP Journey to Becoming Certified page

Coursework and Advising

Undergraduates in HDFS can begin completing some of the course requirements for child life certification. In addition to child development courses required for the HDFS major, students interested in child life should consider taking the following specialized courses that count as Group A Major Electives:

  • HDFS 4080: Advanced Child Development
  • HDFS 4810: Hospitalized Child and the Family
  • HDFS 4820: Child Life Interventions for Children and Families in Health Care Settings
  • HDFS 5130: Therapeutic Benefits of Play

Before signing up for courses, be sure to discuss your career plans with your undergraduate advisor. Julie Patterson is the HDFS advisor for all students interested in pursuing child life. You can set up an advising appointment with her by going to the Student Success and Advising Center in 112 Dawson Hall.

Experience with Children

One step in child life certification involves completing a child life internship at a hospital. Child life internships are awarded through a competitive application process. To be competitive for internships, students need to document substantial hours working directly with children. These experiences are divided into 3 categories:

  • Experience with well infants, children, youth, and/or families (e.g., as a nanny, camp counselor, teacher, child care provider, after-school program leader, volunteer, etc.) 
  • Experience with infants, children, youth, and/or families in stressful situations (e.g., camps for children with chronic illnesses such as Camp Twin Lakes or CHOA summer camps; programs for children with special needs such as ESP; advocacy programs, bereavement/hospice experiences such as Kate's Club in Atlanta)
  • Experience with infants, children, youth, and/or families in healthcare settings (e.g., hospital volunteering, formal child life practicum experiences)

All hospitals require substantial experience with children prior to internship. When applying for child life internships at ACLP-accredited hospitals, students must have a minimum of 100 hours with well children and 100 hours with children in stressful situations. Even if you are applying to a hospital that is not ACLP-accredited, having substantial experience with children in these categories is essential. Keep in mind that just being a nanny or babysitter is not usually enough to make you competitive, even with many hours of experience.  The most competitive applicants tend to have a wide range of experience with children of different ages in all three categories. If you are planning a child life career, getting as much experience with children in different settings as you can (as a volunteer, paid staff member, or for course credit) will serve you well. 

Double Dawgs Child Life Program

The Human Development and Family Science Double Dawg program in Child Life allows students to complete coursework and clinical experiences needed to become a Certified Child Life Specialist. Students who successfully complete this Double Dawgs program will earn a B.S.F.C.S in Human Development and Family Science and a M.S. in Human Development and Family Science with Child Life Emphasis. Students apply to the Double Dawgs Child Life pathway in the fall of their third year. Those admitted take graduate-level courses in the spring, spend their fourth year at Children's Hospital of Georgia in Augusta, and return to UGA for their final year of the Master's program. For more information, visit the Double Dawgs Child Life page

Graduate Study in Child Life

Beginning in 2022, all new CCLSs will be required to have a Master's degree in Child Life, or a Master's degree with a concentration in Child Life. Graduate study will prepare aspiring CCLSs for leadership positions within hospitals and will provide additional opportunities for child life coursework and clinical experiences. HDFS offers a M.S. degree with Child Life Emphasis. Many other colleges and universities also offer child life degrees. The ACLP maintains a list of institutions offering child life coursework or degree programs, with links to learn more about the programs. Some institutions offer only undergraduate coursework; others offer graduate-level programs. Be sure to review the specifics of any program before applying.