March 1, 2023

UW Health Kids celebrates 30 years of Child Life program

March is National Child Life Month

Madison, Wis. – It started in 1993 with three employees and one goal: To help pediatric patients and their families cope with the challenges of coming to or staying in the hospital.

Thirty years later, the Child Life program at American Family Children’s Hospital has 28 employees and robust services in place to help children, teens and families cope with the fear and anxiety associated with hospitalizations.

March is National Child Life Month, when hospitals across the country celebrate the Child Life profession.

Child Life specialists are medically trained professionals who help patients and families navigate and understand complex medical information during a stay at the hospital through play, creative activities and other learning opportunities, according to Katie Glass, child life education specialist, UW Health Kids.

“We explain medical procedures and diagnoses in appropriate ways for each child to understand for their age and development,” she said. “We use play and other distractions to make the experience as positive as possible.”

The program has grown tremendously in the last 30 years and now includes a music therapist, cosmetologist and patient-family liaisons, in addition to dozens of child life specialists who help patients and families with a variety of daily hospital tasks such as blood draws, scans and other medical appointments, Glass said.

“The growth of our program has allowed us to help more families deal with the stress and uncertainty of their time in the hospital,” she said. “This is a rewarding profession and anniversary celebrations and awareness months help shine a light on the important work we do for patients and families.”

Some key examples of UW Health Kids Child Life services include a playroom for kids of all ages, a music therapy program, a Positive Image Center for kids with appearance-altering conditions and special visitors and interactive experiences such as Santa’s visit to the hospital in December, Badger athlete visits on Fridays during the school year or other hospital-approved safe holiday celebrations.

There are also two Child Life programs that enable patients and families to interact with dogs.

The first is Canine Health And Medical Pals (CHAMPS), a program that currently includes two trained facility dogs, each working with a child life specialist to provide customized interventions with a coping plan for patients. There is also Caring Canines, a program for volunteers and their dogs to make beside visits to patients.

Child Life is funded solely through philanthropic efforts, Glass said.

“We appreciate the support from the community to help our program grow the last 30 years,” she said. “We look forward to what the next 30 years will bring.”