New Master’s Program Leads the Way for Pediatric Health Care

by University Relations

When children enter the hospital, they need more than medical care, they need whole family care. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way to ensure ideal holistic care is the certified child life specialist (CCLS), who focuses on the optimal development and well-being of infants, children, youth, adolescents, and young adults while promoting coping skills and minimizing the adverse effects of hospitalization. Azusa Pacific’s new Master of Science in Child Life equips graduates to serve this vulnerable population within a Christian framework. It also prepares them to meet the 2022 regulation requiring all those seeking credentialing as a child life specialist to hold a master’s degree with an emphasis in child life.

Program directors Charity Vasquez, CCLS, and Tanya Barclay, CCLS, have begun to establish partnerships with local healthcare institutions to increase awareness of the new program and the way APU graduates can bridge the gap that exists for pediatric patients and their families in many hospitals. Currently, CCLS services are only mandated if a hospital in the state of California has a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), and is California Children’s Services accredited. Though other state and federal regulatory agencies acknowledge the need for quality improvement, including patient- and family-centered care services, they miss the key component of having a CCLS on staff to work with the smallest members of a family in times of stress and crisis. Clearly, a need exists for child life specialists in the PICU for those requiring developmentally appropriate education regarding diagnoses, tests, procedures, and surgery; nonpharmacological pain management; trauma debriefing; other therapeutic interventions to help a child cope; sibling interventions; and grief support. These services also benefit the pediatric patients on other units, as well as children of adult patients.

The APU child life leadership team advocates expanded CCLS service across the healthcare continuum and has begun efforts to take the plan to the state level. The proposal begins by mandating CCLS services for all pediatric patients (birth to age 21) wherever these patients are served, including NICU, PICU, burn units, general pediatrics, emergency departments, specialty units, outpatient clinics, special care centers, perioperative units, hematology-oncology, rehabilitation services/facilities, subacute care settings, hospice/palliative care services, and adolescent units. The proposal further calls for full-time services seven days a week and a low CCLS-patient ratio, among other provisions. Efforts to move this proposal ahead begin at the local level, but the team hopes to see legislative change at the state level.

If successful, this change in the healthcare landscape stands to benefit countless patients and their families. Evidence shows that child life interventions reduce medical expenses, minimize length of stay, contribute to a culture of patient- and family-centered care and customer satisfaction, and bridge the gap between patients’ medical and psychosocial health. This proposal aligns with that of the American Academy of Pediatrics—the medical care of every child should be accessible, family centered, continuous, comprehensive, coordinated, compassionate, and culturally competent, and children who are more likely to have preventive measures are less likely to have unnecessary healthcare encounters.