Below is our first guest post from my wonderful cousin, Samantha Metzger, who is finishing up graduate school to join the healthcare world as a Child Life Specialist. I asked her to share some information on her career choice, as I know child life services and support can be extremely helpful to hospitalized individuals, as well as their families.
Thank you, Samantha, for what you do.
In celebration of March being Child Life Month, please allow me to take a moment to introduce what a CLS is and the services they provide for those of you who may not be familiar with it.
CLSs are members of the healthcare team who act as a liaison as well as an advocate for families navigating the healthcare system. By focusing on family-centered care, CLSs provide children and their families with emotional support as they face treatments and procedures. CLSs also help children and families cope with the stresses of hospitalization by providing medical education, play opportunities, procedural support, and other developmentally appropriate therapeutic activities. CLSs are trained in child development, play theory, research, family systems, and bereavement.
There are an abundant amount of services available to patients and families going through similar experiences to what Izzy and her family had to go through. One option to provide relief for infants like Izzy involves infant massage. Infant massage not only provides newborns with a sense of comfort and assists in promoting healthy development, but it can also be a great opportunity for parents to bond with their newborn. Parents feeling a sense of helplessness when their newborn is in the NICU or PICU is not uncommon, and by allowing them to play a role in this practice, it can help to offer them a sense of purpose, control, and satisfaction.
Another important intervention a CLS can provide is sibling support, as hospitalization can have significant effects on the siblings of an ill patient. Employing developmentally appropriate methods to keep the healthy siblings aware of what is happening with their ill sibling can prevent the potential of them feeling excluded or “left out” regarding what is happening in their family dynamic as well as help to increase their understanding and decrease their fears. There are numerous resources CLSs and parents can utilize in these scenarios such as books, expressive art projects, and diagnosis education.
In all cases, the primary focus of a CLS is to provide children and their families with as much emotional support, control, and normalization as possible in an otherwise demanding and very often overwhelming hospital environment.