Jessica is a Certified Child Life Specialist

When a child is hospitalized, it can be a traumatic experience for the entire family. Child life specialists are trained professionals with expertise in helping children and their families overcome challenging experiences, and a strong background in child development and the impact of stress and hospitalization on development. Child life specialists help children to cope effectively with stressful events through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities. Additionally, they provide information, support and advocacy to family members and play a vital role in educating caregivers, administrators, and the public about the needs of children under stress.

Jessica is a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) working with children and their families in General Thoracic Surgery, Orthopaedic Surgery and Oral Surgery at the IWK Health Centre. She works with a multidisciplinary team that includes a core group of registered nurses, physicians, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, teachers and psychologists.

Jessica started in the child life field as a summer student worker in the playgarden. Later she completed a child life practicum placement, and eventually was promoted to the position of the summer Playgarden Coordinator.

Within the centre, the child life workers run the daily programming for children in the playrooms. The Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS) generally work with children in clinics and inpatient units, providing interventions and support to help them cope with their medical experiences. In order to become certified, Jessica graduated with a Child and Youth degree, completed a 14-week internship and finally, completed the Child Life Council certification exam.

One of the biggest challenges for Jessica is that sometimes other professionals may not be fully aware of the role of the child life specialist and scope of child life practice. Therefore, allied professionals may not utilize her services for children and families to the fullest extent. She explains that often children are very anxious about their health care experiences and require appropriate support to understand and cope with these experiences.

“You prepare children for medical procedures using developmentally appropriate language, introducing coping strategies and helping them create a coping plan for their procedure,” Jessica explains. “Sometimes it goes really well and kids are surprised to know that the procedure is over. But, when kids tell you it was really hard, you focus on what they did well, and what could make it easier next time. Assessment, distraction and quick rapport building skills are essential.”

Jessica loves her work and recommends that Child and Youth Study students try to experience diverse practica.“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Jessica urges. “It’s important to get your feet wet with different organizations because you gain so much knowledge that will help you in choosing and excelling in your career.”