At Children's Hospital Colorado, we understand how overwhelming healthcare and hospitalization can be, especially for kids. We're dedicated to improving that experience by engaging and empowering pediatric patients in their own medical care. Here, nearly 50 child life specialists partner with physicians, nurses and other medical professionals to support our patients throughout their visit.
Trained in the use of therapeutic play, recreation and educational techniques, our child life specialists guide children and teens throughout their treatment. These services are available to patients at Children's Colorado at no extra charge.
As one of the largest and most innovative child life programs in the country, our Child Life Department is leading the way in improving the healthcare experience for kids through therapeutic play, connection, creativity, animal-assisted therapy, gaming and more. Learn more about these programs and resources below.
What is a child life specialist?
Child life specialists are specially-trained and educated healthcare professionals who help children and families deal with the stress and fear that may come along with a diagnosis or hospital or clinic visit.
Each child life specialist has earned a bachelor's or master's degree in child development, education, psychology, child life or a related field. They've also completed a rigorous internship and they maintain certification from the Child Life Certification Commission. It's the goal of our child life specialists to give kids a sense of mastery that will help them throughout their lives and in spite of any health challenges.
How can child life specialists help kids in the hospital?
Medical preparation and pre-surgery teaching
Undergoing a medical procedure or surgery can be scary for anyone—especially a child. When a child or adolescent is scheduled for a medical test, procedure or surgery, a child life specialist can be by their side to help prepare them, develop a coping plan and ease their worries.
By giving just the right amount of information based on the child's age or developmental level, our child life specialists work to decrease a child's fears and teach them strategies to help them get through the experience. These services can also help parents become more familiar with hospital procedures and information.
Support during a child's procedures
Child life specialists help children and teens better manage any distress, pain or anxiety related to medical procedures. The child life specialist acts as your child's coach and advocate, supporting your child through their procedure using various distraction techniques and relaxation exercises. Child life specialists can also prepare parents to assist their child during medical procedures.
Medical and therapeutic play
A hands-on medical play experience uses real or pretend medical equipment and supplies to help children become more familiar with and comfortable in the hospital setting. This opportunity allows children to express their feelings and fears about their healthcare experience, as well as become calmer and more confident. Medical play can also help assess what your child does and does not understand about their hospitalization or treatment. Our child life specialists are specially qualified in this type of therapeutic play.
Specialists also provide therapeutic play activities to help decrease pain, meet treatment goals, express feelings, learn new skills and meet developmental milestones. Your child life specialist will facilitate therapeutic play activities at your child’s bedside or in an activity room.
Support for brothers and sisters
We understand that brothers and sisters are also affected by their sibling's illness and injury. They may need help understanding what is happening and how to work through their feelings and concerns about their sibling. Our child life specialists are available to give support and provide answers to brothers and sisters of our patients.
Parent education and support
For many parents, a child's diagnosis and healthcare needs can be overwhelming and, at times, confusing. Our child life specialists provide support and information to parents so they can best support their child.
Emotional support for patients
For patients of any age, a new diagnosis or hospital stay can be intimidating. That's why our child life specialists provide emotional support to children and teens to help them process their experiences and feelings. This support can be given individually or in a group setting.
Child life programs and resources
In addition to the more typical child life services, Children's Colorado's Child Life Department hosts a robust number of child life programs, including:
Adaptive Care Program
The Adaptive Care Program is designed to support children with developmental, sensory and behavioral challenges throughout their healthcare experiences. Our experts support families and children who have a hard time coping and cooperating in a healthcare setting, and help improve their experience so they can be successful in the clinical environment.
Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program
The Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program uses the arts to help children express, create and heal in an open and supportive environment. Art, music, dance, movement and yoga are offered to patients to improve communication, moving and healing.
Medical Dog Program
Through the Medical Dog Program, child life specialists and other clinical staff partner with highly-trained therapy dogs to provide animal-assisted therapies for our patients. Ralph, our first full-time medical dog, helps motivate patients to meet their goals, softens the clinical environment and helps bring joy to kids and teens.
Extended Reality Program
Children's Colorado is the leader among pediatric hospitals in linking extended reality technologies with patient care to improve outcomes and patient experience. Extended reality, which encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality and other emerging gaming technologies, can help reduce pain and anxiety while enabling patients to control their own experiences, play and socialize during their hospitalization. Here, our Extended Reality Program leverages gaming and technology to amplify the already incredible impact of our larger child life team. We even have a dedicated gaming technology specialist who partners with child life specialists in direct patient care, bringing gaming to patients throughout the hospital.
Learn how we're using extended reality in pediatric care.
Seacrest Studios is a state-of-the-art, multimedia studio that broadcasts to a closed-circuit TV system to provide a fun escape for the patients, families and visitors of Children's Colorado on Anschutz Medical Campus.
The Patricia Crown Family T(w)een Zone is a space just for tweens and teens (kids 10 years and older) at Children's Colorado's location on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Patients and their siblings can enjoy this state-of-the-art, 3,000-square-foot lounge that offers a variety of activities.
Child life assistants
Along with certified child life specialists, our team of child life assistants is available to provide additional play, normalization and socialization opportunities around Children’s Colorado. You’ll find these caring team members in activity rooms, the procedure center and the T(w)een Zone to help meet the needs of our patients and their families.
Youth Advisory Council
Our child life team also partners with the hospital's Youth Advisory Council, a group of teens who have been patients or are siblings of patients at Children's Colorado. The Council helps create a better environment for pediatric patients and provides the opportunity for the patients and siblings to have a voice in decisions for the hospital.
Contact the Child Life Department at 720-777-6979.