Child Life Services at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Child Life Specialists

At Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, Child Life Specialists recognize that hospitalization can be a traumatic disruption in a child's development and the functioning of a family, and they strive to reduce the negative impact of this stressful life event. They value play as an essential, natural part of childhood – important in its own right. Play facilitates healing, coping, mastery, self-expression, creativity, achievement and learning, and is vital to a child's optimal growth and development. Play is an integral aspect in the practice of Child Life.

At Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, specially trained Child Life Specialists make up part of the multidisciplinary team that makes a children's hospital unique. The Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital Child Life Specialists,  Music Therapist, and Academic Coordinator work together to provide services at our 259-bed inpatient facility, the emergency room and our Tampa Specialty clinic. Each of these trained specialists is knowledgeable in the application of theories of child development, play, stress and coping, and the family systems that make up the basis of our work with children. Each of the specialists is bachelors or masters prepared and has completed a semester long internship to prepare them for the work they do with sick children. In addition, the Child Life Specialists, Music Therapist, and Academic Coordinator working at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital have passed rigorous certification exams.

The Child Life program at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital is committed to excellence in its efforts to provide effective psychosocial support to its patients. The Child Life Program provides developmentally appropriate play, informative and reassuring psychological preparation before and during procedures, and helps children plan and rehearse coping skills. It is part of the interdisciplinary and family-centered model of care, collaborating with the health care team to develop a plan of care with families. The Child Life team develops a plan of care that is based on a child's perception and understanding of the anticipated experience with the goal of enhancing their ability to cope. They teach children coping strategies for adjusting to life-changing injury, offer non-pharmacologic pain-management techniques, and communicate the child's developmental and individual needs to the care team.

On an average day, a Child Life Specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital might work with a child, helping them to swallow pills so they can be discharged, or they may engage in medical play and teaching, to help a child who has been newly diagnosed with a serious illness to cope and understand. They might work with the siblings of a child who died, helping them to understand and to say good-bye. Some days they will see patients to support and prepare them for the procedures and experience in the Emergency Room. Every day, they offer opportunities for children to play, to work through their emotions, to master challenging and traumatic life events, to express emotions and to reduce anxiety produced by the stress of hospitalization.

Child Life Specialists also work to support families, to help them to cope with the challenges of parenting their sick child, and the siblings who are often scared or lonely as they too try to understand and cope. They work as part of the multidisciplinary team to bring understanding and perspective. Child Life specialists are an essential part of what makes a children's hospital unique.


The Child Life profession got its roots in the early 1900's, when play and recreation therapists and schoolteachers were hired to organize activities, provide schooling and psychosocial support for listless, bored children who often were hospitalized for long periods of time for chronic illnesses. In 1965, the Association for the Care of Children in Hospitals (later named Association for the Care of Children's Health ) was formed. The goal of the organization was to create child and family friendly hospital environments. From this organization, the Child Life Council was formed. In the 1970's, the theoretical basis for child life work, the essential elements of the professional practice and the goals of educational programs to prepare students were defined.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the provision of Child Life Services is a quality benchmark of an integrated child health delivery system, and an indicator of excellence in pediatric care. Child Life programs and the kind of services they provide are an essential component of family-centered care.