50 Years of Care in Canada - Through a Child Life Lens

Submitted by:
Chantal LeBlanc, MHS, CCLS; Professional Practice Leader & Coordinator, Child Life Services, IWK.

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Fifty years ago the profession of Child Life did not formally exist as it is known today. In the 1920’s parents were permitted to visit once or twice a week and never to stay overnight with their children. There were no playrooms, teen gathering spaces, or developmentally supportive programs. The underpinnings of the profession began to form as the value of play, self-expression and the need to support infant, child and youth development in hospitals became more and more evident.

Pioneers in the Canadian Child Life field have been involved since the beginning of this important movement supporting the physical and emotional well-being of hospitalized children while partnering with parents and caregivers. They helped in founding the Association for the Care of Children in Hospitals (ACCH) participating in the Activity Specialist Committee formed in 1974. This led to the development of standards of practice, competencies for child life specialists and a separate association.  Canadians were actively involved in the development of the Child Life Council, now called the Association for Child Life Professionals (ACLP). Canadians made up 50% of the first Board of Directors and were integral in the development of academic and clinical training standards. We continue to be strong leaders within the ACLP and the Child Life Certification Commission.

Much has changed in the area of psychosocial support for infants, children, youth and families in Canada in the last 50 years. The philosophy of Patient and Family Centered Care is a core principle in the field of Child Life. This key framework and practice helps shift the focus from health professionals as the only experts on the care of the child, to partnering with patients and families as the authorities on their needs in care. In today’s pediatric health settings, this often includes joining with health professionals and administrators in Family and Youth Advisory Councils. We sit on organizational committees to inform and influence health policies, health service priorities as well as participating in the realm of research.

There has been significant advances in research and in pediatric psychosocial care. The evidence is building on the impact of hospitalization, illness and injury on the emotional and physical traits of the child. Our training and focus holds paramount the need to support through listening to the patient and family and empowering them to communicate their goals, needs and hopes to the teams we work with. The growing body of knowledge around key aspects of child life practice include better outcomes when providing preparation for the unfamiliar and potentially traumatic healthcare experience and minimizing stress and long term effects through interventions targeting the unique needs of the child, youth and siblings. Creating supportive environments, providing information at the child’s level of understanding, and promoting coping strategies are all examples of care that child life specialists continue to provide and advocate for.

The advances in these aspects of care that we have seen in our careers and the careers of the pioneers over the past 50 years is humbling. Reflecting on these valuable lessons solidifies our commitment to collaborate with our colleagues, partner with families and continue to support children and youth in healthcare.