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Child Life internship program among first in the nation to achieve accreditation

Child Life internship story

They are the child development experts who realize children need play even when they’re sick, help little ones understand that “changing your dressings” is about bandages, not a new outfit, and provide distractions to calm kids’ fears during medical procedures.

They are Children’s Mercy’s Child Life Specialists, critical partners in patient care with expertise in child-friendly language and developmentally appropriate support. And now, they are also nationally recognized for excellence in preparing students for careers in the psychosocial care of children, as the Children’s Mercy Child Life internship program has been awarded full accreditation by the Child Life Council.

The Children's Mercy internship is among the first in the nation, and one of only five such programs in the country, to be so designated, according to Caroline McIntire, MA, CCLS, who as Child Life Education and Resource Manager coordinates the program.

“This recognition speaks to our clinical excellence in teaching and our depth of professional practice,” said Caroline. “It’s especially exciting as it establishes a new national standard, and we are one of the first ever to be awarded this prestigious designation.

“It will be a benchmark that defines high quality, experiential clinical programs in the psychosocial and allied health career fields.”

Today, Child Life specialists must have a bachelor’s degree in human development, psychology or other relevant discipline, child development coursework within the degree, and a clinical internship, to sit for the certification exam.

Two years ago, as part of a larger effort to advance the professional standards of the field, the Child Life Council announced that by 2022, certification would require a Master’s degree and established the clinical internship accreditation process to support that change. Twenty existing internship programs, Children's Mercy’s among them, had the opportunity to apply for first-ever accreditation status.

“We had a year to review the standards, 98 percent of which we already met, address any standards we didn’t yet meet, and submit a lengthy, detailed application documenting how we achieve and exceed those standards,” Caroline said. Only five of the 20 invited programs – UCLA, Maria Fareri, Arnold Palmer and St. Louis Children’s Hospital in addition to Children's Mercy – were granted full accreditation in the inaugural year.

It’s no surprise that Children's Mercy’s program, developed more than 20 years ago as one of the first in the Midwest, stands out.

Learning modules specific to psychosocial topics, from trauma and palliative care to medical terminology, were pioneered here, and ultimately became the model for the Child Life Council’s national expectation for internship programming.

Children's Mercy’s 15-week internships are highly competitive, too, attracting as many as 70 applicants for the three or four slots available each semester.

Children's Mercy’s 47 certified Child Life Specialists on staff – 15 of them former Child Life interns – are actively involved in the program, teaching the modules, incorporating the latest research and medical information, and providing day in, day out support.

“We have long been ahead of the game, thanks to visionary leaders who advocate for the psychosocial support of patients, and to the commitment of our Child Life staff,” Caroline said.

“Our Child Life internship program is well established, has deep roots and a solid foundation.”

It also has impact beyond national borders. One current participant, Lauren Pech, is completing her internship at the Red Cross Children’s War Memorial Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s an American play therapist eager to promote the concept of psychosocial care for children in a part of the world that doesn’t yet fully recognize its importance.

Caroline’s team adapted learning modules for digital access, and a former Children's Mercy Child Life Specialist currently teaching at Missouri State University provides on-the-ground supervision in South Africa. Skype enables the connection with Child Life staff in Kansas City – all of whom have enthusiastically committed to the extra work that will make a difference half a world away.

“No Child Life program has ever supported the clinical experience of an intern in another country through their existing framework,” Caroline said. “Bottom line, we not only provide excellent teaching and professional training here at Children’s Mercy, but through the creative approach to support for this intern in Cape Town, we’re impacting advocacy for psychosocial support programs in sub-Saharan Africa. So exciting!”

Caroline has no doubt that the Children's Mercy Child Life team’s expertise and attitude were keys to achieving accreditation.

“The commitment and excellence of the Child Life staff is a testament to being awarded this distinction,” she concluded. “It’s a team victory, and I am incredibly proud of our department for their ongoing dedication to invest in students and the Child Life Specialists of tomorrow.”


Learn more about the Child Life Department at Children's Mercy.