Child Life Specialist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Child life specialists earn a median salary of about $40,000. Is this worth the education and emotional demands of the job? Learn the truth about job duties and see postings from real employers to help you decide if becoming a child life specialist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Child Life Specialist

Child life specialists help both children suffering from major ailments and their families cope while going through medical treatments or other care. Here are some pros and cons to help you consider a career in this unique field.

Pros of Becoming a Child Life Specialist
Satisfaction in helping sick children*
Can get certified to stand out*
Helping children play can be enjoyable*
Allows interaction with a variety of medical professionals**

Cons of Becoming a Child Life Specialist
Working late hours often required*
May work holidays and weekends*
Position may require frequent lifting and standing*
Salaries start-out on the low end***

Sources: *Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, **I Have a Plan Iowa, ***PayScale.com

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

As a child life specialist, you get the opportunity to help young patients and their families cope with medical conditions and the worries of being hospitalized. One of your main goals in this role is to make the daily lives of these patients as normal as possible. To do this, you would engage in mental and recreational play sessions and do activities, such as creating artwork and craft projects.

You may also coordinate playtime with other hospitalized children so they can interact with each other. Helping these patients prepare for medical procedures is also an essential part of your job. You would strive to educate children and family members on procedures in a way that can make them feel as comfortable as possible. Other than interacting with patients and families, you may frequently consult with doctors, nurses, social workers and hospital chaplains.

Salary and Job Outlook

Most jobs in this profession are available at hospitals; however, you may also find employment at outpatient facilities. According to Payscale.com, child life specialists are earning a median salary of over $39,000 in 2015. Similarly, in May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median wage of $40,580 for mental health counselors, of which child life specialists might be considered a specialty. The BLS also indicated that mental health counselors could expect a growth of 29% between 2012 and 2022.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, you need a bachelor's degree in child and family studies, child life, child development or another closely related field to become a child life specialist. Many employers are seeking candidates who have a solid understanding of behavior and crisis management, family dynamics, stress reduction and therapeutic play techniques.

Skills and Aptitude

To provide care and support for children and their families, it can beneficial to have a genuine love for children, be able to relate to their experience and help them understand complex medical terms. To do these tasks effectively and thrive in this position, you must have good communication, interpersonal, leadership, organizational, teaching and time-management skills. You must also be flexible and willing to work late shifts to meet staffing and patient needs.

Certification and Experience

Although not mandatory, some employers require that applicants have a certification relevant to the field. The years of work experience vary depending on the seniority of the position, but at least one year of experience is usually required. Employers may also require that you complete a background check with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to obtain a child abuse clearance.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Below are just a few of the job announcements for child life specialist positions posted by real companies in April 2012:

  • A Philadelphia, PA, children's hospital sought a candidate to help minimize trauma for children and families dealing with illnesses, supervise volunteers and train interns. This candidate must have had a bachelor's degree in child development, child life or a related field, 3-5 years of experience and be a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS). The candidate must have been willing to work a late night shift.
  • A children's hospital in Wilmington, DE, was looking to fill an entry-level position for a child life specialist who had a 4-year degree in a related discipline. The candidate would be responsible for educating children and their families on diagnosis, providing psychological support and assessing medical needs. This candidate must have had or been eligible for the CCLS designation, have had a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification and have been a member of a professional organization, such as the Child Life Council (CLC).
  • An Orlando, FL, children's hospital sought a candidate to conduct assessments and interventions, provide direct care for children and help them cope with medical and emotional challenges. A minimum of one year of experience, a 4-year degree in child life or other relevant field, plus a current basic life support certification was required.
  • A non-profit organization in Camarillo, CA,was looking for a bilingual child and family specialist to provide various services, such as educational, home management, parenting, recreational and transportation support. This candidate would be required to handle a caseload of 5-7 families at a time. A minimum of 1-2 years of relevant work experience and a bachelor's degree in a related field was required.

How to Stand Out

Get Certified

The standard credential for this profession is the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) designation offered by the Child Life Council. The CCLS credential may be preferred by employers, which can put you at an advantage when competing against applicants with only a bachelor's degree. To take this certification exam, you must have a bachelor's degree or be in your senior year of college, complete ten courses in child life or a related discipline at the college-level and 480 hours of supervised clinical work.

Alternate Career Paths

Healthcare or Child and Family Social Worker

Healthcare social workers also help patients cope with medical conditions, but their services are more geared towards adults, according to the BLS. Some child and family social workers also provide emotional and mental health support to children and their families. However, this profession primary deals with children in vulnerable situations and not necessarily children who are hospitalized for medical conditions.

Working in this field usually involves developing treatment plans to help clients deal with challenges and achieve goals, responding to crisis situations, referring clients to community or government agencies and monitoring clients' progress. You need at least a bachelor's degree in social work or other related discipline to work in this field. However, all clinical positions require a master's degree in social work and licensure. The salary potential for these careers is similar to that for child life specialists, at $44,000 for child and family social workers and $51,000 for healthcare social workers, according to the BLS in 2011.

School Counselor

If you desire a career working with children but don't want to work in a medical setting, you can still achieve this goal by becoming a school counselor. In this position, you would help students deal with and overcome issues such as poor behavior, social acceptance and academic performance. You may also educate students on topics like drug abuse, bullying and sex. Helping students, particularly those in high school, plan for college and set career goals may also be a part of your job.

According to the BLS, most states require that you have a master's degree in counseling. In addition, you must be licensed in your state to work in the profession. The BLS also reported that the median salary you can expect to earn in this occupation is $54,000, as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

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    1. Kaplan University

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    2. Johns Hopkins University

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    3. Regent University

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    4. Grand Canyon University

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    5. Central Christian College of Kansas

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    6. Saint Leo University

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    8. Penn Foster High School

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Human Services
  • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
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Which subject are you interested in?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • M.A. in Human Services - Human Services Counseling
  • M.A. in Human Services - Addictions Counseling
  • Bachelor of Science in Business - HR Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders

What is your highest level of education?

Central Christian College of Kansas

  • Associate of Arts

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Liberal Studies
  • AA: Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education completed?

Post University

  • B.S. in Human Services
  • B.S. in Child Studies
  • B.S. in Human Services / Human Services Management

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Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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