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Child-life Program at the UCI Medical Center Reaches New Heights

Child-life: An Expanding Field, Med Times Copyright, All Rights Reserved, 2004-2005


Children who are hospitalized at an early age due to disease or physical trauma often have difficulty coping with the situation at hand, adjusting to the hospital environment, or releasing some of their emotional distress. How do these children learn to effectively channel their emotions, abandon their fears, and reach an understanding of their situation? Do hospitals transcend their roles as medical providers to address the psychosocial needs of their younger patients? The answer is Yes.

. The UCI Medical Center has a Child-life Program under its pediatrics department that is managed by an exceptional group of child-life specialists and volunteers devoted to addressing the psychosocial, emotional, and developmental needs of children. The program is geared towards minimizing child trauma, maximizing the coping abilities of the child and family, and establishing a sense of normalcy within the child’s life. To accomplish this, the hospital staff tries to educate the child, at the appropriate age level, about the type of disease he/she has, familiarize the child with medical instruments used in treatment, and define some basic medical terminology. The objective here is to keep the child out of the dark and away from fear.

Child-life specialists work to bridge the gap between the children and doctors by informing the patients about their condition and accompanying them to medical procedures. They interact and bond with children on a more intimate level and provide personal attention. Child-life specialists work exclusively on developing a strong relationship with the patients and their families by helping them cope with the stress of the situation. Most child-life specialists are required to have a Masters Degree in Child-life or Child Development and at least five-hundred hours of internship at a hospital.

A major aspect of the Child-life Program is the "medical playroom" which is used to simulate a "normal" environment within the hospital for child-child interactions and some serious fun. The playroom is supervised by child-life specialists and volunteers who have just as much fun reading stories, painting, and playing Nintendo (woo-hoo!) with the kids. The children get to run their own show and decide what activities to do. They regain a bit of their independence because there are no doctors or nurses in the playroom and no one to tell them what to do. The playroom establishes a sense of normalcy in the child’s life by promoting playful interactions with other patients, as well as normal growth and development.

So where is the field of child-life headed as we approach the Millenium? Eileen Andrade, director of the Child-life Program, believes that this field is becoming a more highly regarded profession and that medical experts are now viewing it with greater openness. Child-life programs have gradually become more recognized as important aspects in hospitals and have in fact been made mandatory by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). The truth is, children require not only medical attention, but also personal attention. The Child-life Program is here to do just that.


Eileen and Leslie would like to thank ALL for the volunteers and UCI students for helping the program reach new heights. For more information about volunteer opportunities, contact Eileen Andrade at (714) 456-8391 or send her an e-mail at

-Cindy Duong