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What is the Child Life Council? Caring for Children in Hospitals

Updated on September 4, 2013

Early Play Program for Children

Back in the 1920’s, two children’s hospitals developed what they called "early play programs" for kids; Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan and Babies & Children’s Hospital of Columbia Presbyterian in New York.

The concern was that children who are very sick in the hospital are often confused, frightened, depressed and under a severe amount of stress. The early play program was designed to help encourage the children to express their thoughts and feelings resulting in increased cooperation and less fear of their medical treatments.

By 1950, there were at least nine functioning early play programs at hospitals in North America and also one in Quebec at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

In 1955, Dr. Frederick C. Robbins (1916-2003), Director of the Department of Pediatrics and Contagious Diseases at City Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio (now Metrohealth Medical Center), pushed the need to address the social, psychological and educational needs of children who were receiving long-term care.

Dr. Robbins was also the Professor of Pediatrics at the Western Reserve University School of Medicine (now Case Western Reserve University) where he met Emma Nuschi Plank (1905-1990), an Associate Professor of Child Development. Robbins asked Plank to build a program that would address the needs of the children at City Hospital.

Emma Plank took the opportunity to create the now internationally renowned “child life” program, serving as the director of the Child Life and Education Division of City Hospital until 1972.

Emma Nuschi Plank ~ Video Interview About the Child Life Program

Interesting Facts About Emma Nuschi Plank

  • Her friends called her “Nuschi.”
  • Emma married Robert Plank in 1932.
  • After her husband died in 1983, she returned to her hometown of Vienna, Austria where she was born.
  • Ironically, she never had any children.
  • Her book “Working with Children in Hospitals,” published in 1962, has been translated into several languages.

The hospital or doctor's office can be extremely frightening for children.
The hospital or doctor's office can be extremely frightening for children. | Source

History of the Child Life Movement

In the mid 1960’s, a committee was put together to discuss the creation of an organization for the care of children in a hospital environment. The outcome was the 1966 establishment of The Association for the Well-Being of Hospitalized Children and Their Families. In 1967, it was renamed the Association for the Care of Children in Hospitals (ACCH).

In the early to mid 1970’s, the ACCH sponsored workshops for the skills development of child life therapists. In 1974, a committee was formed under the ACCH for Child Life Activity Specialists. In 1975, this became a specific course of study in higher education.

Throughout the 1970’s, many new programs were started. In the late 1970’s, a Child Life Task Force was formed to create staff accreditation and professional standards.

Formation of the Child Life Council

The Child Life Council (CLC) was formed In 1982. Within one year, membership grew to 235 members. A method of credentialing for professional certification was established in 1986. By 1988, membership in the CLC was over 800.

During the 1990’s, many exciting changes took place including the publication of the Operating Principles for Child Life Specialists. The Child Life Profession strategic plan was carried out, and the professional certification methods were established. At this point, the CLC membership reached 1,500. Annual conferences for Child Life professionals began in 1998 and continue today.

By 2001, there were approximately 400 child life programs in existence. The CLC consisted of more than 2,000 members as they celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2002. The publication “Child Life Beyond the Hospital” was released in 2008 by the CLC dedicated to practicing child life in alternative settings.

The Child Life Council membership and child life programs continue to grow.

The Child Life Profession

Specialists in Child Life work directly with children and their families in hospitals and other healthcare settings helping them cope with the challenges of illness, disability and hospitalization.

Some examples of support include: self-expression activities, coping strategies, pain management, play, preparation for medical procedures and support/ guidance for parents, siblings and other family members as well.

Check out my article Child Life Specialist: Job Description and Outlook for more information.

Members in the Child Life Council include professionals such as:

  • Child Life Specialists
  • Child Life Assistants
  • Hospital Administrators
  • Hospital Staff
  • University Educators
  • University Students
  • School Teachers
  • Therapeutic Recreation Specialists
  • Plus others from related fields of study

Does my local hospital or healthcare facility have a Child Life Program?

Most hospitals that have adopted the Child Life Program will usually have a special section on their website. You may also find Child Life information under subheadings such as “Family-Centered Care,” “Child Services,” or “Patient and Family Services.”

Child Life Council Today

Membership in the Child Life Council is nearly 5,000 members (2012) representing more than 600 organizations worldwide. Professional development programs and extensive resources continue to be taught and further developed.

Child Life programs have become customary in many pediatric centers including hospitals, outpatient facilities and emergency rooms. Child Life Specialists can now be found in settings such as courtrooms, bereavement groups, private practice and hospice programs as they continue to address the psychosocial needs of children.

This is Sharyn’s Slant


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    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Pamela ~ I agree, I have great respect for those that do this type of work as well. Glad you enjoyed this!


    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is such a wonderful program for children and new to me. When I was in nursing school and did my pediatrics rotation, I was so touched by the children that were sick, yet wanted to play and just act like a normal child. Being a Child Life Specialist takes a special, compassion person and I have great respect for anyone who does this type of work. Awesome hub!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Cyndi ~ yes, Nuschi was an amazing woman. Thanks so much for voting and sharing.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Kelley ~ I am thrilled to hear that you worked with Child Life Specialists when you were in graduate school. That is awesome. The history is interesting, isn't it. Thanks for your votes and shares!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi CJ ~ I'm not sure exactly where you are in Ohio but MetroHealth Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation both have Child Life specialties in place. From my research, it appears that if a hospital offers these services, you can easily find out by visiting their website. And of course, it may be beneficial to simply make a phone call to inquire. I wish you the best with your son. That has got to be so difficult having to spend so much time in the hospital annually.

      I am learning more and more about what Child Life Specialists actually do since one of my sisters recently began working at Metro. It is fascinating to me.

      I just posted some photos on Facebook today that shows a window washer dressed up as Spiderman when washing windows at a hospital in Delaware, courtesy of the CLC. It was an extremely special surprise for the kids at the hospital.

      Thank you for stopping by. Best wishes to you and your family!


    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      Great hub and resource. Thank you for sharing. What a great person Nuschi was! Many votes and shares!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What a fantastic resource Sharyn! I worked with child life specialists during my graduate studies in child development but I didn't know about the history of the movement until now. Thanks for sharing this important information. Voted up, useful, and shared! Kelley

    • CJ Andrews profile image

      Chris Andrews 

      8 years ago from Norwalk, Ohio

      I have never heard of this at all. May have to look into it - with my son we spend roughly a month a year in the hospital. It can be wearing on everyone.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Martie ~ so great to see you. Thank you for such kind feedback. The Child Life Council is really an awesome program. I wish I was younger. I'd go to school to become a CL specialist. I know, I still could, but I wish I knew about this program many years ago. I appreciate you stopping by.


    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      What an interesting and informative hub about play programs for children in hospitals and the history of Child Life Council! Sharon, as always I am in awe of your writing and the way you share your knowledge. Voted up, awesome, interesting and useful :)

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Tammy ~ Thank you so much for stopping by here. It seems like not many people have heard of the Child Life Council. Their purpose and the work they do is simply awesome. You mentioned parents having to decide about working vs. sitting in a hospital. That is a great point. Child Life Specialists will sit with children in hospitals, read to them, play with them, help prepare them for surgeries and so much more to help diminish all the fear that goes into being there. I very much appreciate your feedback.


    • tammyswallow profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      I never heard of this agency, but it sounds wonderful. A sick child makes such a difficult for the family, especially when the parents have to decide between going to work for income or sitting with their sick child. It is so sad. This is a fabulous article and agency!

    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Maria ~ it really is a great philosophy. I'm surprised how many are not familiar with the Child Life Council. I hope to change that in my own little way. I always appreciate you stopping by. Thank you so much for your feedback.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Carol ~ I had never heard of it either until recently when my sister got a new job at MetroHealth Medical Center here in Cleveland. It's an awesome job and I am so proud of her. It is really hard to accept that some kids are very sick and possibly will not live long in some cases. But they deserve the most compassion possible, and the family too. That's where the Child Life Specialists come in. They do all kinds of amazing things to help the child and family going through such difficult times. Thank you so much for your comments.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Smith 

      8 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Brenda ~ My hope is that people do learn a lot by reading this, as you did. It's a really important program that exists in many hospitals. And I don't think most people know about it. I hope to write another hub that explains what Child Life specialists do on a daily basis for children and their families, to give people even a better understanding of the awesome work of the CLC. Thank you so much for stopping by.


    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      8 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Sharon,

      This is a wonderful philosophy embracing the holistic biopsychosocial aspects of our children when hospitalized. Family- Centered Care is crucial to deal with all issues.

      Excellent awareness building... voted UP & UABI. Hugs, Maria

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Never heard of this. This is amazing and certainly know little sick kids deserve all they can get. I always have difficulty accepting very ill children. To me it is almost unfair.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      8 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      This is an enlightening Hub Sharyn. I learned so much. Every community and hospital needs a program like this. Thank you so much for this information.


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