Lancaster General Hospital recently launched Child Life, a program to help children cope with the stress and uncertainty of illness and hospitalization. While new here, Child Life is an established program at many children’s hospitals—including our partner, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia—with proven benefits to patients, families and medical staff.
Child Life Specialists help prepare children for medical tests and other procedures through therapeutic play and conversations using language they understand. They answer questions and teach coping techniques that kids can use to stay calm.
“I help normalize the hospital environment by offering toys and activities, and I use these tools to help kids share their thoughts and process their experience. During procedures I offer distractions and lend emotional support,” explains Michelle Arnts, LGH Child Life Specialist.
Children who undergo multiple procedures or hospitalizations are at risk for developmental and psychological issues later in life. Child Life Specialists—bachelor’s- or master’s-trained professionals with a certification in Child Life— are trained to recognize the impact that illness and anxiety can have on a child’s development and know how to mitigate those stressors through supportive play and other activities.
For example, during medical play, they may talk about ways to keep the child calm or decrease anxiety—a technique known as planned alternative focus.
“Instead of that child screaming and being held down during a lab draw, he may hold out his arm for the medical staff and focus on talking to me or blowing bubbles. This gives a child a sense of mastery and control over his environment, which can be very empowering,” Arnts says.
Supporting Our Clinical Staff
Child Life also makes it easier for clinical teams to do their jobs. When a child is calm and cooperative, clinicians can focus on the task at hand.
The American Academy of Pediatrics* endorses Child Life programs:
“Child life services improve quality and outcomes in pediatric care as well as the patient and family experience. … there is evidence that child life services help to contain costs by reducing the length of stay and decreasing the need for sedation and analgesics. Patient/family satisfaction data and interdisciplinary team member feedback further confirm the positive effects of child life programs on children, families and staff.”
Child Life programs have been linked to reduced perception of pain and anxiety, and an increase in patient satisfaction ratings. According to the Child Life Council, U.S. News & World Report has recognized that expertise in Child Life is a vital variable in the success of pediatric care and a key quality indicator in hospital rankings.
Expanding Child Life
Child Life is available weekdays to families on the pediatric inpatient unit at Lancaster General Hospital. As the program expands, services can be extended to other pediatric areas as needed. Child Life will be an integral part of our new pediatric inpatient center opening this summer. The program is supported by philanthropic donations and is not a billable medical service.
*May 2014, VOLUME 133 / ISSUE 5, American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement