What Does a Child Life Specialist Do?

Interviewed by Erika Goyer, Hand to Hold Family Support Navigator

Babies who have spent time in the NICU have higher rates of rehospitalization than other infants. Even if your child was only discharged from the NICU a few days or weeks before needing to return to the hospital you will most likely find yourself in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit instead of the familiar NICU. Fortunately there are professionals there who can help you with the transition. Each month Hand to Hold talks to a different therapist, specialist or provider to learn more about them and what they do. This month we talked to Anne Claire Hickman, CCLS, CIMI, Child Life Specialist, at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas


What is your title and what was your program of study?

I am a Certified Child Life Specialist. I studied Human Development and Family Sciences.

Anne Claire at work

What sort of licensing and certification do practitioners in your field go through?  What professional associations are you a member of?

The requirements for becoming a Child Life Specialist are to complete a 600 hour internship which then makes you eligible to sit for the national certification exam. Our national professional association is the Child Life Council.

What Does a Child Life Specialist Do?

Research confirms the traumatic effects of hospitalization on children. Using our training in child development Child Life Specialists provide psychosocial support to children and families in the health care setting. The goal is to help each family cope more effectively.

Some of the things I help parents with are:

I help young patients and their siblings by:

Please visit Hand to Hold’s Sibling Support Page to find out more ways to help your children cope.

Since I am specific to the PICU and palliative care team my focus is often:

  • Supporting families through the most difficult and intense times in their child’s health care history.
  • Helping siblings cope with traumatic events and their immediate and long term effects.
  • Preparing for the end of their child’s life.
  • Making memories and building a legacy for their children.

Find out about the Complex Chronic Illness Parent Advisory Group (CChIPAG) at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

Photo credit: Anne Claire Hickman

When would a family come and see you?

A family would see me or another child life specialist when visiting the hospital on any unit, whether in patient, out-patient, or the Emergency Room. I am specifically located in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and also work with the Palliative Care Team with children with complex chronic illnesses.

What roles do the parents need to play?

When it comes to helping children cope, we believe that the parents are key. They are the real experts when it comes to their children. We depend on them for information and insights to help with our assessments and planning. We also believe in empowering parents – since we know that the parents are the child’s first and best advocates. We want to give families the tools to be strong voices for their children. Ultimately, parents become the experts – providing advocacy in the health care setting, improving their child’s experience, and promoting therapeutic play to help with positive coping.

What resources would you recommend for parents who want to find out more about your field?

Photo credit: Anne Claire Hickman

I recommend visiting www.childlife.org

Read More about what the Child Life Council says about the need for Child Life Services.

And looking at these books:

The Handbook of Child Life: A Guide for Pediatric Psychosocial Care, Ed. by Richard H. Thompson

Child Life in Hospitals: Theory and Practice by Richard H Thompson and Gene Stanford

Psychosocial Care of Children in Hospitals: A Clinical Practice Manual by Laura Gaynard, et all.

Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship by Garry L. Landreth

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.


Erika Goyer is the mother of three boys and a family support navigator with Hand to Hold. Her oldest son Carrick Michael was born at 27 weeks gestation and weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces. Carrick died soon after his birth due to complications of prematurity. Erika went on to have two more high-risk pregnancies and two healthy sons.



  1. I have been considering making this my career choice and would love to get more information about child life specialists. Is there anyone I could contact to make this happen?

  2. cynthia Barbarello says:

    I have a Masters Degree in Special Education. I am interested in seeking a position as a Child Life Specialist. How would I go about acquiring the information to apply for the position? I recently attended a ceremony where my company donated toy bears to the pediatric unit at Stony Brook University, Pediatric Unit. I . can be reached at (631) 721-3372. Thank You in advance, Cindy Barbarello

  3. Hi Cindy – I recommend getting in touch with the Child Life Council to learn more about this profession and their credentialling program. Here’s a link we hope will be of help. http://www.childlife.org/The%20Child%20Life%20Profession/ An informational interview with one of your hospital’s child life specialists might also be a logical next step on your journey, too!

    Amy C.

  4. maryclare says:

    hi Cindy – I am currently in college right now, but i am interested in persuing this career what would i have to major in. Right now i am only a freshman at a Community college, but I had to take some time off because I had surgery. I was thinking you would major in psychology. Also do you have to go to nursing school or anything? sorry i’m really new at this. thankyou for writting this post it was very helpful .

  5. Hi Maryclare,
    I recommend getting in touch with the Child Life Council or even in your local children’s hospital to inquire about how best to go about being in the profession. Here’s a link I hope will help: http://www.childlife.org/Certification/


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