Child Life Through the Ages

Child Life Month has kicked off, and child life specialists around the country are celebrating, educating, and promoting play! This amazing profession has gotten tons of recognition lately, from exciting sponsorships to worldwide events. But where did it all begin? What are the roots of this small, yet monumental department within children’s hospitals?

Francis Miller—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Francis Miller—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Child life found its place in hospitals as early as the 1920s, with techniques and practices being established in hospitals around the country. Pediatric caretakers found that, through play and education, they were able to quell worries about painful or scary procedures. Early child life programs were started in a handful of hospitals such as C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital.

In the late 1930s, a woman named Emma Plank emigrated to San Francisco from Europe and established a reputation for herself through Montessori-influenced child care techniques. Later, in 1955, Plank was asked to develop a child wellness program for children with chronic diseases at what is now called the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, OH. After her research and experience, she published Working with Children in Hospitals: A Guide for the Professional Team, the first textbook regarding pediatric patient care techniques. Plank’s book exploded in medical practices across the country and sparked interest in the child life field.

Once the number of advocates for child life programs grew, a group of these women convened in Boston, MA to discuss their techniques, research, and plans for the future. This meeting, in 1965, established The Association for the Well Being of Hospitalized Children and Their Families; a group of medical professionals dedicated to improving hospital stays for kids and parents. A division of this association, the Child Life Study Section, was established to focus on child life professionals.

Over time, the section grew and developed research to help strengthen its techniques and support. In 1982, the Child Life Study Section formally became independent and was renamed as the Child Life Council, which would eventually become today’s Association of Child Life Professionals. They established certification processes, professional development and conferences to help grow the field’s knowledge, support and impact.

Since its small beginnings in hospitals across the country, Child Life has made a big splash in the pediatric medical field and has made major differences in the lives of patients and their families. The research done by pioneers in the field, like Emma Plank, paved the way for the amazing Child Life Specialists today to continue growing the field and find new, incredible ways to bring play and joy into the hospital.

Not sure what Child Life is? Here’s our blog about what child life specialists do and how they help children.

Anna KonsonComment