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 strongly recommended) child life practicum. For more specific information about certification requirements, see the ACLP Becoming Certified page.
Child Life 101
Get started learning about child life at UGA by watching this short video.
To learn more about child life, watch the Helping Children Cope in the Hospital video that Dr. Leigh mentions in the Child Life 101 video. It was created by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and gives a good introduction to child life.
Have questions? We hold a Child Life Q&A Session once per semester. Contact Julie Patterson for more information about upcoming sessions.
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 4810: Hospitalized Child and the Family
- HDFS 4820: Child Life Interventions for Children and Families in Health Care Settings
- HDFS 4830: Death & Dying
- 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.
Child Life Joint Program with Augusta University
The Child Life Joint Program is a partnership between UGA and Augusta University. Students accepted to the Child Life Joint Program will spend their fourth academic year in Augusta, where they will complete specialized coursework and extensive clinical experiences at Children’s Hospital of Georgia that are required for certification. At the completion of the year in Augusta, students will have completed their Child Life internship. Students who successfully complete this program will earn a B.S. in Human Development and Family Science, and will complete the requirements for the child life certification exam.
Graduate Study in Child Life
Graduate study prepares 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 in Child Life. 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.