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How to Become a Child Life Specialist [Step-By-Step]

Unfortunately, there are times when children are hospitalized because of a certain illness or injury. They’re often scared, anxious, and unsure of what to expect.

This is when a child life specialist can offer some comfort and relief. As a result, they can improve the quality of life for the children and their families.

Learning how to become a child life specialist can help you decide if this career path is for you.

This article will discuss the duties and responsibilities of a child life specialist and the skills required for this role.

An Overview of Child Life Specialist: A Primer

A child life specialist is one of the all-time most rewarding professions in the healthcare industry.

The primary role of a child life specialist is to work with children who are suffering from various health conditions and illnesses and provide them with emotional support.

They’re usually there with the child during a procedure, offering comfort and distraction to keep the child calm and ease their discomfort.

They also provide much-needed emotional care for the children’s parents and siblings during a time of stress and worry.

In addition, they provide them with the tools and information needed to access health care.

One of a child life specialist’s roles is designing fun activities to help children cope with the anxiety of being hospitalized. These activities also work to foster academic development.

How Much Do Child Life Specialists Make?

The average base salary for a child life specialist is between $52,000 and $65,000, depending on their experience level and state.

Hourly wages are around $22 for a beginner specialist with 1–4 years’ experience, and about $24 for those with 5–9 years’ experience.

If you have over 10 years of experience, you can expect to make between $28 and $34 per hour.

According to Payscale, child life specialists also receive a yearly bonus that starts at $150 and goes up to $7,000.

What You’ll Need to Become a Child Life Specialist [& Associated Costs]

To become a child life professional, you need to be clinically trained in how an injury or illness can impact a child’s development.

You also need to have some basic knowledge of psychology, behavioral, or health sciences to be able to assist children of all ages, from babies to teenagers, as well as their families.

We made a list of the things you’ll need to enter this profession

  • Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like child psychology or early childhood education: the average cost of tuition can range from $30,000 to $40,000.
  • Certified Life Specialist (CCLS) credential: To be eligible for this certification issued by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP), you need to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and have completed 600 hours of child life internship.
  • Eligibility Assessment: Must be completed prior to registering for the child life certification exam and costs $80
  • Certification exam: The fees are $300 for ACLP members and $450 for non-members
  • Certification maintenance fees: $48 per year for ACLP members and $68 per year for non-members
  • Recertification fees: If you reapply via PDUs, the fees are $120 for ACLP members and $220 for non-members. If you reapply by retaking the certification exam, then the fees are $300 for ACLP members and $450 for non-members

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Child Life Specialist?

As you can see, the process of becoming a child life specialist is pretty straightforward.

You only budget in tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree. You also need to factor in the cost of the CCLS certification and its yearly renewal fees.

So, the total average sum of what it costs to enter this profession will range between $31,000 and $42,000.

Keep in mind that this amount depends on whether you’re an ACLP member or not. It also depends on how you choose to complete your recertification process.

Is It Hard to Become a Child Life Specialist?

Working with children, especially ones suffering from any illness or injury, isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a certain degree of empathy, compassion, and patience.

Child life specialists also need to use language the child can understand to ease their discomfort.

These skills can be taught. Yet, it can be hard to continue on this career path if your heart isn’t fully invested in helping children and their families.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Child Life Specialist

After finishing a 4-year bachelor’s program, you’ll need to complete 480–600 hours of a supervised internship to qualify for applying to the CCLS certification.

The application process should take one or two months to submit all the necessary paperwork and make the testing arrangements.

The actual certification exam takes about four hours to complete. Once you’ve finished the exam, you’ll receive your preliminary results before leaving the testing center.

Then, the final results will be sent in the mail within six weeks after the exam date.

Taking all that into consideration, you can expect to become a fully qualified child life specialist in about 5 years.

How to Become a Child Life Specialist in 4 Simple Steps

Working in the child life profession requires a mastery of child development theories.

It also requires having a unique set of interpersonal skills you can acquire with the help of this step-by-step guide.

Take a look.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Childcare specialists must complete a bachelor’s program in a related field like family studies or human development.

Many of these programs also offer classes in social sciences, family law, and critical thinking.

It also helps to supplement these studies with additional classes in:

  • Medicine
  • Nursing
  • Counseling
  • Child psychology
  • Child and family science

Step 2: Obtain a Fellowship or Internship

Gaining hands-on experience in the healthcare industry, and it applies to this field as well.

Look for volunteer opportunities in a variety of settings, such as clinics, schools, camps, and hospitals.

Whether it’s an internship program or fellowship, the main goal is to develop your skills under the guidance of a supervisor.

Employers are more likely to hire potential candidates who have pursued an internship where they’ve been trained and managed by a certified child life specialist or a professional in a related field.

Step 3: Become Certified

Having a bachelor’s degree and completing 600 hours of child life clinical internship makes you eligible to apply for a child life specialist certification.

The only credential you need for this job is the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credential.

This certification is valid for five years and is issued by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP), the leading non-profit organization for child life specialists in North America.

To become certified, you’ll need to complete an Eligibility Assessment. Then, if you’re approved, you can register for the exam.

Once you become certified, you’ll need to pay an annual maintenance fee for the first four years.

Then, in the fifth year, you can apply for recertification. You can do this by earning a minimum number of Professional Development Units (PDUs) throughout the five-year cycle.

Another way is to retake the certification exam.

Step 4: Apply for a Full-Time Job

After you’ve completed the education requirements for this career path, it’s time to search for suitable job opportunities.

Your first instinct will be to look for jobs in hospitals and clinics. There are also many other facilities constantly on the hunt for certified child life specialists with practical experience.

Some of these include:

  • Health care facilities
  • Pediatric inpatient and outpatient facilities
  • Birth centers
  • Mental health and addiction treatment centers

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Child Life Specialist

Many people don’t consider being a child life specialist to be your typical laid-back stress-free job.

However, it does come with many perks, including the following:

  • A variety of job settings: Even though most child life specialists work in hospitals, you can find work in various other locations as well.
  • Being part of a team: You get the chance to be a member of the medical team, which can be extremely fulfilling.
  • A variety of job duties: Depending on where you work, you can have a variety of tasks to do each day, which makes the job more fun and exciting.
  • Apply your learned skills: After learning all the rules and techniques in theory, you can apply what you’ve learned and gain hands-on experience to help patients.
  • Become a respected member of the medical field: Having colleagues and mentors value your role and contribution within the medical field can be immensely gratifying on a personal and professional level.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Do Child Life Specialists Make the Most Money?

Based on recent salary estimates, the highest-paid child life specialists are in San Francisco where their annual salary averages about $77,000. That’s nearly 44% higher than the national average.

New Mexico and Nevada are a close second and third, with annual salaries of $$68,000 and $$66,000 respectively.

What Is the Best Degree for a Child Life Specialist?

The most suitable degree to pursue would be a bachelor’s degree in child life studies. This program is designed to prepare students to work in the medical field specifically as a child life specialist.

It mainly focuses on: child and family studies, developmental learning and therapeutic play, child and adolescent psychology, legal and ethical issues in counseling.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

The medical health industry offers a wide variety of job opportunities similar to that of being a child life specialist.

Here are a few more to consider:

How to Become a Caregiver

Being a caregiver means you assist seniors with basic daily duties like bathing and dressing. You can also cook, manage their medications, and do their grocery shopping.

To become a certified caregiver, you need a high school diploma or its equivalent, complete a caregiver training program, and pass the exam.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

To qualify for this role, you need a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in nursing. You also need to become licensed, which you can do by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam.

How to Become a Doula

To become a doula, it’s recommended that you take labor support training, childbirth, and postpartum courses. You should also go through supervised doula training to gain more hands-on experience.

Although it’s not required, many doulas choose to become certified by organizations like CAPPA Worldwide or DONA International.

Wrapping Up

Knowing all there is about how to become a child life specialist is the first step in figuring out whether this is the job of your dreams.

While it’s undeniable that it comes with lots of dedication and hard work, it can also be highly rewarding and fulfilling.

If you have the compassion and nurture needed to serve young patients, then maybe you’re meant to become a child life specialist.

Tell us what you think in the comments below and don’t forget to share!

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