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Child Life Services

Why Choose Ochsner Health for Child Life Services?

Hospital stays, surgeries and tests can be scary for children — and their families. At Ochsner, our Certified Child Life Specialists are here to help children and their family members minimize stress associated with the healthcare experience. We promote family-centered care by helping kids and families understand the plan for treatment and giving them tools to reduce fear and anxiety while supporting their individuality, strengths and mechanisms for coping.

Our Certified Child Life Specialists hold advanced degrees in areas related to child growth and development. They are specially trained to provide age-appropriate information to help children prepare emotionally and increase their ability to cope with all aspects of the medical environment during a hospital stay. Through education and therapeutic play opportunities, we promote resiliency and help normalize an often-intimidating environment.


    At Ochsner, our child life specialists help patients and their families by providing:

    • Age-appropriate diagnosis education

    • Collaboration for optimal patient- and family-centered care

    • Developmentally appropriate preparation for procedures and treatments

    • Grief, bereavement and trauma support

    • Sibling support and education

    • Support to help kids focus on something other than what’s occurring during the procedure

    • Therapeutic medical play opportunities, which include using games, toys, books, role playing and creative arts to help children express their feelings about their illness and become more comfortable with procedures and treatments

Child life specialists work in many areas of the hospital and in outpatient clinic settings, planning individualized interventions for every patient and family. These areas include but are not limited to:

Ochsner Health Center for Children - New Orleans, including its hematology/oncology, orthopedic and cardiology clinics

Hospitalization can cause fear and anxiety in children of all ages. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help make the experience more comfortable for your child.

Infants (birth-12 months):

Infants feel most secure when they are with their primary caregiver.

  • Provide your child with comfort or security items from home, such as pacifiers, blankets, pillows or stuffed animals.

  • Talk to your child in soft, soothing tones.

  • Leave an item of yours, such as a blanket or pillow, with your child when you cannot be there (especially for newborns).

  • Help participate in your child’s basic care needs, including feeding, bathing and dressing.

  • Evaluate stimulation needs for premature infants; sometimes premature babies need less stimulation.

  • Sing and play soothing music for your child.

  • Walk, rock and hold your child often.

  • Keep the hospital room atmosphere a soothing one, with dim lights and low noise.

  • Speak with your Certified Child Life Specialist about using comfort positioning during procedures.

Toddlers (1-3 years) and preschoolers (4-6 years):

Separation anxiety and stranger anxiety are common for toddlers and preschoolers, especially in new, strange environments like hospitals. Many preschoolers fear and are preoccupied with bodily harm, especially an amputation of some kind. They often associate procedures with a form of punishment for a previous wrongdoing.

Support your children ages 1 through 6 with the following tips:

  • Provide your child with comfort items from home, including favorite toys, blankets, books, music and stuffed animals.

  • Read books with your child that are related to hospitalization or their specific illness or surgery.

  • Participate in play with your child with pretend medical equipment or let them draw their interpretation of the healthcare or hospital experience. Make sure you address and clear up any misconceptions they may have.

  • Offer your child realistic choices whenever possible (for example, “Do you want to walk to the treatment room, or do you want me to carry you?”) and avoid stating necessary actions as a choice to your child when they do not actually have a choice (for example, “You need to take your medicine now, OK?”).

  • Although your child is exerting their independence, it is critical for you to set limits for your child and clearly define them to increase their sense of security.

  • Reassure your child that they are not being punished, and never threaten a medical procedure or abandonment if your child is not cooperating effectively (for example, “If you don't take this medicine right now, you are going to get a shot!”).

  • Encourage your child's budding independence by allowing them to take control of situations and participate in their medical care (for example, let them take the pills themselves).

  • Speak with your child life specialist about comfort positioning, procedural preparation and distraction during procedures.

School age (5-11 years):

School-age children continue to assert their independence and want to be in control. They have also developed the ability to worry, as well as to fear bodily harm or loss of bodily function. Some children may still exhibit separation or stranger anxiety; some children who have progressed past these fears may temporarily regress.

  • Participate in medical play with your child with pretend medical equipment; use role reversal with your child, letting them make the decisions and play the role of the doctor or the nurse, caring for a doll or stuffed animal.

  • Offer your child realistic choices concerning their care and let them be involved in their own care.

  • Read books with your child that relate to their illness or feelings.

  • Keep your child informed of events, both at the hospital and at home.

  • Provide comfort items from home, such as favorite games, books and pictures of family and friends.

  • Allow your child to direct familiar procedures when appropriate ( ask them “what comes next?” during a procedure such as a dressing change).

  • Speak with your child life specialist about distraction, procedural preparation and comfort positioning during procedures.

Adolescents (12-19 years):

Adolescents are able to think about the future and better understand medical language and procedures. They often have the misconception that they are invincible, or that nothing bad can happen to them. Therefore, hospitalization and medical experiences can be overwhelming. Adolescents value their privacy and independence, as well as their interactions with peers.

For adolescents, be sure to:

  • Respect your child's need to continue with their normal relationships with their peer group while in the hospital by allowing private time on the telephone and visits from friends, when appropriate.

  • Respect your child's need for privacy and allow them to have time alone.

  • Ask medical staff to speak with your child and not just to you.

  • Allow your child to bring comfort items from home, such as favorite books, music and movies.

  • Encourage your child to participate actively in their care.

  • Help your child identify coping strategies that work best for them, such as watching a procedure or looking away.

  • Encourage your child to express their feelings verbally or through art, writing or music.

  • Speak with your child life specialist about distraction, preparation and coping techniques to use during procedures.

Siblings of hospitalized children experience a variety of emotions. Their lives have also been changed by this event. Be mindful that each child is different and will therefore experience their own individual feelings and express them in their own ways. Caregivers know their child best, and you are the most qualified to identify your child’s needs and concerns.

Behaviors you may note if your child is having a difficult time coping with a sibling’s hospitalization or illness include:

  • Acting out to get attention

  • Having difficulty eating or sleeping

  • Having difficulty in school

  • Regressing to previous behaviors (for example, a potty-trained child may regress to needing diapers again)

Honesty and communication are important. Explain clearly to your child what is happening with their sibling in a language they can understand. When children do not have the information they need, they often worry about what is happening to their sibling or the reasons behind the illness. Let your child visit the hospital to see that their sibling is OK. Be sure to prepare them properly for what they will see, as well as other possible sensory experiences, including hospital noises and lights. Keep the lines of communication open and take the time to really listen to what your child is telling you. Encourage your child to communicate their feelings with you and reassure them that all their feelings are valid.

For younger children who do not have the verbal capacity to express their feelings, pay special attention to their play habits and other ways young children have of expressing themselves; you may even want to engage your child in role play to identify and correct any misconceptions they may have.

Typical feelings of children with a hospitalized brother or sister:

  • Misplaced guilt for causing the sibling to be ill (fantasy)

  • Lack of involvement in the sibling’s care

  • Desertion by parents, family and friends

  • Anger at parents for their inability to protect the sibling

  • Guilt for being the healthy child

  • Fear of “catching” the illness

  • Embarrassment at any visible signs of the sibling’s illness or lack of capacity

  • Anger at the disruption in their own lives

  • Jealousy due to a lack of personal attention

Be sure to inform your children’s teachers of what is happening, so they will be understanding of and observant of any unusual behaviors.

If you feel your child could benefit from a consult with a child life specialist regarding the illness or hospitalization of a sibling, please contact the child life department at 504-842-1223.

The Certified Child Life Specialists at Ochsner have special training in working with critically ill children and their siblings. They can help explain illnesses and concepts such as death in developmentally appropriate language. They can also engage your child in activities that will help communicate feelings they cannot or will not communicate verbally, as well as help siblings gain a feeling of closure upon the death of their brother or sister.

Family or staff from the Adult ICU can also reach out to the child life department to help prepare and support a child during an adult family member’s hospitalization or death.

If you feel your child would benefit from these services, please call the child life department at 504-842-1223.

The Child Life Internship Program at Ochsner Children's Hospital is designed for individuals with the desire and knowledge to become a child life specialist. The internship provides clinical development through a systematic learning experience centered on child life competencies. Students are not required to be enrolled in a university during the internship experience.

The child life internship consists of 15 40-hour weeks, totaling 600 hours. Students will have potential rotations on the general pediatric unit, PICU/CVICU, surgery centers, pediatric clinic, radiology, pediatric emergency department and other areas based on staffing availability. Supervision is provided by Certified Child Life Specialists, who strive to assist students as they apply theory to practice.

Our Out internship application deadlines are consistent with the recommendations from the Association of Child Life Professionals.

If you are interested in applying to our child life internship, complete our application.

Please email completed application to:

childlifeinternship@ochsner.org


If you have questions, please call our child life department at 504-842-2032.

The Child Life Practicum Program at Ochsner Children's Hospital is designed to give students the opportunity to gain insight and exposure to the child life profession and help students understand the unique needs of hospitalized children and their families. Students will have the opportunity to observe child life specialists prepare children for procedures, offer procedural support and distraction, and encourage medical/therapeutic play. Student will have exposure to multiple areas of coverage as well as engage with patients in our play room, teen lounge, and sibling play space. Various assignments and projects will be due throughout the practicum experience.

Our practicum is a 8- to 14-week, 120-hour program scheduled according to individual needs. Students are not required to be enrolled in a university during the practicum experience. Application deadlines are as follows:

  • Spring (starts in January): Oct. 31

  • Summer (starts in June): March 31

  • Fall (starts in September): June 30

If you are interested in applying, fill out an application and email it to:
childlifepracticum@ochsner.org


If you have questions, please call our child life department at 504-842-2032.

FAQs

We accept donations of certain items for our patients from infants to adolescents. Please read our donation guidelines.

Volunteering with the child life department involves direct patient care, in which you will serve at the bedside and in our playrooms. Volunteers implement and engage in age-appropriate play as well as recreational and supportive activities for children and their families. To become a volunteer, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent

  • Be willing and able to lift up to 15 pounds, engage in moderate activity and sanitize pediatric toys

  • Have previous experience with children

After interviewing with a child life assistant and being accepted, you will be required to attend a volunteer orientation and training session. Topics covered include developmental stages, appropriate open-ended play, developmentally appropriate play options, patient confidentiality and infection control.

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Map of Ochsner-affiliated facilities that provide services related to Child Life Services

Child Life Services Locations

Ochsner Children's Hospital
1514 Jefferson Highway
New Orleans, LA 70121
  • Open 24/7