Child Life has come a long way since the early days of Emma Plank and the start of the Child Life Council in 1982. Light Spinner Quarterly reflects on the history and future of Child Life by sharing an article from our first issue.
“Child Life: The New Generation” by Diane Sharmel, CLS
If you asked the average adult how they feel about hospitals, you’d likely get the same reaction of fear, disgust, or disdain. Ever wonder where that reaction comes from? They were once scared children, hospitalized for a tonsillectomy, broken bone, or other serious aliment. It shouldn’t be a mystery, then, to find that these adults have children with similar fears of medical procedures. What if we supported an entire generation of children through scary medical procedures? What if ever child had a Child Life Specialist to explain why they you are in the hospital, what was about to happen, and then process your emotional and physical state afterwards. My guess is that in 20 years, when those children grew into adults who were asked the same questions about hospitals, their reaction would be far less inclined to the dramatic, and more neutral. We can all think of a time we wish we had a Child Life Specialist at our side.
To understand the Child Life of today, a brief glimpse at its history is prescribed. During the early 20thcentury, in an age where so little was known about the psychological effects of the hospitalization of children, a catalyst of empathy was derived. In 1938, Emma Plank , an Austrian-born educator and former pupil of Anna Freud, relocated to the United States from Vienna. She pursued a Master’s degree in child development at prestigious Mills College before moving to Cleveland, Ohio in 1951. Plank studiously assumed the role of director at the Children’s House of University Hospital, which would later be named Hanna Perkins School.
Meanwhile, Nobel Laureate Dr. Frederick C. Robbins was administering a children’s TB unit at the City Hospital’s Toomey Pavilion in Cleveland. The Toomey Pavilion, a building dedicated to the treatment of contagious disease, was serving dozens of children in need of inpatient and outpatient services. Dr. Robbins took note of the interminable desolation that these hospitalized children were appointed to, and thought it would benefit them to recruit someone that could galvanize their environment. So, in 1955, Dr. Robbins extended an invitation to Emma Plank to City Hospital (now MetroHealth) to participate in the landmark creation of a “Child Life” program. After seeing the success of providing child-friendly developmental, emotional, and psychological support to hospitalized children, Plank’s practices began to spread. During her practices, she authored Working With Children in Hospitals in 1962, and co-founded the Association for the Care of Children’s Health (ACCH) in 1965. Plank continued to lead the Child Life program at City hospital until 1972. Read more by clicking here.
Want to read more Child Life related articles? Subscribe to LSQ!