Fort Worth, Texas,
21
January
2020
|
04:10 PM
America/Chicago

'Entering Someone Else's Story.' What It Means to be a Child Life Specialist

Why these trained pros are more than bringing iPads and playing games

For 10 years I’ve been walking into hospital rooms and entering someone else’s story. For 10 years, I’ve made eye contact with the precious kiddo on the bed and told them that I was there to make sure they understood everything that was happening to and around them and to help them while it happens.

For 10 years, I have played UNO, Barbies, created art, blown countless bubbles, provided toys, got colors, given prizes, celebrated birthdays, sang songs, read books, attended programs, got popsicles, found the perfect stuffed animal, spied all the things in a room, learned all the favorites, celebrated kids doing really hard things well and the lady bringing the iPad.

And while all of those things are sacred and a precious part of my job, for 10 years I have also held mom’s and dad’s hands, wiped kiddos’ tears away, answered hard ‘what if’ questions, sat on the floor with scared patients and weeping family members, attended funerals (and weddings), pulled back hair, explained new diagnoses, helped kids plan their last wishes, told countless siblings that their brother or sister died, cried in the bathroom in the middle of a shift, checked to make sure my own kids were breathing at night, sat with kids as they tell their mom’s and dad’s goodbye and go to a new family or leave with a stranger, made handprints and footprints and cut locks of hair, and been totally humbled that I had the honor and privilege to undeservingly enter into the story of these precious patients and families.

I am a child life specialist. And after 10 years, it is still sometimes difficult to explain all the things that we get to do. It really is the best job, but contrary to the popular belief and cliché that we hold iPads and give prizes, there is a deep alliance between us and patients and families. Sometimes the alliance happens in seconds, and other times it takes multiple attempts at breaking the ice. But in the end, we are people there to be a patient’s and families’ ally and advocate no matter what.

I’ve worked inpatient on a floor with chronically ill children and now work in the Emergency Department with many different patients and families. I began my career in child life as an activity coordinator, who are vital people that make the logistics of the inpatient floors happen all the while providing play and normalizing patients’ environments. I have seen all the ways that child life is utilized across our health care system. Our main goal is to teach children how to positively cope in the stressful environment of the hospital. We do this primarily through preparation, support, education and normalizing the environment through developmentally appropriate play. However, there are many things that we provide that often are not as obvious.

Every day I leave work feeling somewhat overwhelmed, yet deeply grateful. All health care professionals understand this feeling. In one shift I’ve most likely been in rooms where I held back tears or been in rooms where I had to pull out my “mom voice” pretty quickly. But every shift I have helped ease a patient’s fear, laughed with patients and families, seen another patient do something very hard very well, and helped patients and families understand their health care experience. My hope is that I’ve always made my coworkers' jobs a little easier, and provided a great deal of comfort and peace to the patients and families I meet. I know I’m biased, but I can’t imagine the hospital without child life.

Get to know Ashley Pagenkopf

Ashley Pagenkopf is a Child Life Specialist in the Emergency Department at Cook Children's Medical Center. The Child Life program at Cook Children's offers a variety of services, all designed to make your experience at Cook Children's the best it can be. Our services include educating, preparing and supporting your child through tests and procedures, as well as coping with any life challenges you and your child may face. Child Life specialists work with kids and families to make their visit to the medical center easier and more comfortable. We offer your child and your family an opportunity to express and work through any fears and concerns you may have. We'll also provide an explanation about what's going to happen during your visit and work with parents, brothers and sisters and other family members who may be involved in your child's daily care.

 

 

Comments 1 - 20 (30)
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Ann gunter
27
March
2019
As a proud volunteer supervised by a child life specialist, I often get questions about what exactly child life does. This article will greatly help me share the details and have the knowledge of what my supervisor does when I am not present and how they specifically help patients and families. Thanks for the great article and keep up the good work Ashley!
Georganne Millen
27
March
2019
What does it take to become a Child Life Specialist?
Bill C.
28
March
2019
As a Wound Care Technician (Boo Boo Fixer) in the Emergency Department we are so lucky to have Ashley and her cohorts in Child Life. Their participation goes a long way into minimizing the trauma to the kiddoes we care for. Their active participation in coming up with and enacting a plan to repair lacerations and wounds is invaluable. It is because of them we are able to repair from the very simple to the very complex wounds. Thank you ED Child Life!!!
Vanessa
08
April
2019
I’ve been in the field for 12 years and just couldn’t love this article more! It’s perfectly written & the sentiment is so poignant! I worked in oncology for 8 years and in the NICU since!
Melodee Moltman
09
April
2019
Absolutely beautifully stated. As a retired CCLS and professor of CL your article brought tears to my eyes. I hope this article will be used by many to help others understand what child Life specialists do.Thank you so much.
Kristi Riggins
10
April
2019
Hands down....the BEST description of Child Life I’ve heard in the 26 years I’ve been doing it. Thanks, Ashley! I can’t wait to share this. ♥️
Ken Tryon
19
April
2019
My wife has been a CLS for over 25 years (and I’ve supported GetWellNetwork at the same hospital for the last ten). I enjoy kids, but am constantly amazed at how she can immediately zero in on what a child or their family needs and deliver it. Child Life Specialists still suffer from the perception that they are just play ladies (as if play wasn’t important), but families love them and staff are learning to respect them. :)
Terrence Mullen
22
November
2019
My daughters is a child life specialist and it amazes me how she handles the situations in the hospital where she works. She works with terminally ill children and knows their outcomes. She is able to maintain her feelings while being with the families of the children. Truly an amazing job they all perform
Ellen Good
22
November
2019
I am impressed with the eloquent ability you have to capture so well what and who we are....certified child life specialists. After having spent 30+ years in the field, it is the best job in the world!!
Thank you.
Nancy Bane
22
November
2019
Takes a special person to do your job. Thank you.
Linda Jacobs
22
November
2019
My niece Lisa has been a Child Life Specialist at CHOC in Mission Viejo and is also in charge of the Pet Therapy program there..so darn proud of her
Brenda S
22
November
2019
~OUTSTANDING ARTICLE! I am a CCLS/CTRS and am now the Founder of a nonprofit, raising funds for what we do... it ain’t so important that the public knows the toys are our tools to help pediatric patients cope with the emotions you described! I appreciate you!~
Susan Gowans
23
November
2019
My granddaughter is a Child Life Professional and I have been blessed when she shares experiences,without any names or details that could possible identify the child. There heart aches and heart breaks, where she must hold her own emotions and tears inside herself. And thankfully there are joys of connecting with a child that is in a crisis or undergoing many scary procedures or having a long stay in the hospital. This is the most accurate explanation I have ever read or heard. Thank You for the Excellent Explanation. Hopefully it will be read by many folks.
Sandra Roman
23
November
2019
I would like to say, u girls have a big heart to be helping these kids understand what is happening to them
May God bless u. Keep up the good work.
Monica brant
23
November
2019
Hi Ashley,

How did you get into this field and what kind of educational background do you need for a job like thsi
Peggy Taite
24
November
2019
Good work Mandi.What an amazing job you are doing.We salute you.
Joyce Fessler
24
November
2019
My grandson, Ryan Fessler is a Child Life Specialist !!! I couldn't be more proud of him !!!!
Bruce Beal
24
November
2019
Great post!
Mike Boston
24
November
2019
My wife read this article about Child Life and shared it with me. Our oldest daughter is entering the field and recevied her acceptance to her 600 hour internship. She applied last spring 2019 and this fall 2019. After applying to over 60 hospitals, she received 6 call backs and 3 in person interviews around the country, one came through. She is very excited about being accepted and did all of this on her own with the will power of a professional athlete to succeed. We are very proud of her and this article helps us both better understand the field she has chosen, the work involved and the heart it takes! Thank you to all of the Child Life Specialist in the field. Your journey to get your license and the determination you show to work in a field you have a calling for will make you strong enough to handle the rigors of being a child life specialist. You are a gift to the families you serve! Thank you Ashley for helping our family and other know the important work you do!
Ann Fogel
24
November
2019
Beautifully written! Thank you for honoring our profession!