Child Life Services in the Emergency Department
Confused. Anxious. Scared.
When a child arrives at the emergency department at UW Hospital, any or all of the above words may be used to describe his or her frame of mind. Thrust into an unfamiliar environment, one that often consists of rapid movement and strange voices and sounds, the child's fear may lead to behavior - crying and fussing and tantrums - that makes proper treatment a difficult task for emergency department personnel.
Which is why the Children's Hospital hired Lisa Peck.
Peck joined the Children's Hospital's as a Child Life specialist in a position created specifically to address the needs of children in the emergency department. Her job is to use her extensive training to make the child's time in the emergency department as stress- and worry-free as possible.
"We all know that the environment in the emergency department isn't very child-friendly," Peck says. "My job is to try to lower anxiety levels of the patient and parents."
She does that in a number of ways. When children are brought to the emergency department (ED), Peck immediately assesses the situation and decides upon a specific course of action. If the ED physicians determine that the patient needs to undergo a procedure, such as an X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan, she may explain to the child what the procedure entails. When children can comprehend their surroundings, their level of fear often decreases, and their resistance subsides.
"I talk to them about what they're going to see and what their job is," Peck says. "The more children understand what is going to happen, the better they do with the procedure."
Diversion also plays a substantial role in helping to reroute the child's attention away from treatment that might be painful. Peck shows movies or offers the patient a GameBoy with which he or she can occupy their minds and fingers.
For children with broken bones, she produces a doll with a removable cast, and demonstrates where the cast will go and what it will look like while making clear the reasons for its necessity. She is also planning on developing a series of preparatory books that she can use in the emergency department to enlighten patients about the certain surgical procedures they may need to endure.
Child Life specialists provide developmentally-appropriate information to assist children in understanding and coping with the hospital environment. Peck graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in therapeutic recreation, but had to complete a 480-hour internship at the school to be eligible for her current position.
The internship is one of the qualifications set forth by the Child Life Council, a national organization of Child Life specialists that determines the profession's certification criteria.
In addition to the internship, Child Life specialists must hold a bachelor's degree and have taken a minimum of 10 courses in child life, child development, child and family studies or closely-related areas. To maintain certification, specialists must pass the Child Life Professional Certification Examination at least once every 10 years.
Mary Kaminski, the Child Life Services manager who hired Peck, believes her integration into the Children's Hospital's concept of care will pay dividends in the arena of patient satisfaction.
"I think we offer something very unique and special for children," Kaminski says. "That psychosocial need that children have when they go through a fearful, stressful event will certainly be addressed, and interventions will be delivered so children can cope with the setting and the experience, and leave with a positive, healthy mindset."
Peck agrees, saying, "I think Child Life is definitely going to grow and succeed. Every emergency department is striving to improve itself and make its patients happier. I think Child Life will help do that."