What Every Parent Should Know About Our Child Life Services

Ask the Experts


Joan Alpers, MPS, CCLS, LCAT
Director, Child Life Services
Stony Brook Children's Hospital

Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital is dedicated to helping children and their families feel comfortable during hospital and outpatient visits. Child Life Services Director Joan Alpers wants parents to know more about Child Life Specialists’ critical role at children’s hospitals.

What does Child Life Services do?
The American Academy of Pediatrics calls Child Life “an essential component of quality pediatric healthcare.” In fact, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital believes that Child Life Services are among the key distinguishing factors of a children’s hospital. The reality is that hospitals, with their unfamiliar environment and potentially scary procedures, can be challenging for children and families. Stony Brook’s Certified Child Life Specialists work to make the child’s hospital visit more comfortable, anxiety-free, child friendly and, in many cases, fun.

Who are Child Life Specialists?
Our specialists are certified healthcare professionals with a strong background in child development and family systems. Each Child Life Specialist typically holds a Master’s Degree with an emphasis on human growth and development, education, psychology or creative arts therapies. We have years of experience in observing how children respond to the many aspects of hospitalization. We are also “on call”to children who may need support because an adult family member is struggling with illness and hospitalization.

When are Child Life Services used?
Child Life Services are most commonly used to familiarize children with the hospital environment and help patients cope with the stress that often accompanies hospitalization. We also do community outreach to help children understand what a stay could be like if they are ever hospitalized.
In the hospital, Child Life Specialists collaborate with the multidisciplinary healthcare team to reduce anxiety and fear of pain. In conjunction with an “ouch-less” approach to care, we prepare children for treatment using age-appropriate education,and introduce many coping techniques including guided imagery, relaxation and diversion. We also incorporate medical play, which lets children use real or toy medical equipment to become familiar with equipment and procedures.

Child Life Specialists work in the inpatient units, the Pediatric Emergency Department, Radiology, Pre-Operative Services and the Stony Brook University Cancer Center. We coordinate special visits from expressive therapists, museum and educational groups, sports figures and community costumed cartoon and movie characters.

Child Life Services also supports our hospital’s nationally recognized School Intervention & Re-Entry program, which helps students with cancer and blood disorders transition back to school. When possible, the Child Life program also provides families with information about tutoring or homework helpers if needed.

Why is play so important for hospitalized children?
Play is children’s “work,” and their means of exploration, discovery and conflict resolution. It is also the primary tool of the Child Life Program and provides a safe outlet for self-expression. “Medical play” lets children use real or toy medical equipment in a play and teaching session in order to become familiar with equipment and procedures. Child Life staff maintains a playroom on the inpatient units for any child who is medically cleared to enter and bedside toys, play and art therapy sessions for children who need to stay in their hospital bed or room. The Child Life Program organizes special events in collaboration with various community organizations and businesses, including visits by entertainers, horticulture therapists and pet therapy dogs, special birthday parties and holiday events.

Stony Brook Children’s recently acquired a special “Kitten Scanner,” a miniature replica of a CAT Scan to enable children to practice and play with a version of a real medical tool they may encounter. Watch a video to see the scanner in action!

A unique light and bubble machine that entertains and calms young patients. Watch a video to learn more.

For more information about Stony Brook Children’s, call (631) 444-KIDS (5437).

All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.