GBMC's Child Life Program Explained
Child Life Specialists (CLS) are part of a multidisciplinary team that strive to help families and children cope with hospitalization. They are active in GBMC's Pediatric Inpatient Unit and Emergency Department as well as the Pediatric SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination) Program.
When a CLS enters the room with a patient, he or she immediately begins a rapport to gauge the child’s physical and emotional state. An individual coping plan is then created, which almost always involves some kind of play. "Play is the foundation of the Child Life Program. It's the universal language for children," says Jennifer. This can involve anything from blowing bubbles to calm breathing to going on scavenger hunts throughout the unit to help a child practice walking. The CLS also plays a critical role in preparing children for any procedures (like x-rays, blood drawing, or stitches) that need to be done — the goal is to have no surprises.
One of the ways they achieve this is through the use of plain cloth dolls, which they call “hospital buddies.” When explaining how a procedure is going to go, the CLS will show the child what will happen to them on one of these dolls. If appropriate, the child can help to perform the mock procedure on the doll. This allows them to familiarize themselves with the medical equipment and gives them back a sense of control.
Many times, a trip to the emergency room is a child's first experience with healthcare. GBMC’s CLS team does everything it can to make sure that it is a good experience. "We want kids to know that the hospital is somewhere they go to feel better," Jennifer explains. When they have a good experience early on, parents and children are more likely to utilize healthcare throughout their lives.