How to Become a Child Life Specialist
The journey to become a child life specialist takes several steps – and several years. Completing the list of requirements, including a 600 hour internship, can be overwhelming, but a career as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) can be rewarding for those with the dedication to follow the path.
Child life specialists are trained to help children navigate the challenges of treatment for medical illnesses and injuries. While you are researching how to become a child life specialist, the Association of Childlife Professionals (ACLP) will be your guide to answer questions and submit documentation.
To help make the journey less daunting, we broke down the process of how to become a child life specialist into five steps.
1. Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree.
If you don’t get your degree from a college with an ACLP-endorsed child life program, you will have to take 10 child life courses approved by the ACLP, so it is best to major in a child life related field such as psychology (add our concentration in child life) or education.
2. Get Experience for Your Resume.
In preparation for your application, you will need to create a resume. The more experience you have in child life related fields, the better. There are three categories that will each require around 50-100 hours of volunteer work: working with children in healthcare settings, working with children in stressful situations (i.e. grief centers or shelters for kids), and working with healthy children. Practicums where you observe a CCLS, though not required, are strongly recommended to help you gain insight into child life and increase your chances of getting an internship. Your volunteer work could be the deciding factor on whether or not you are considered for practicums and internships, so make sure you are starting early.
3. Start Your Eligibility Assessment.
In order to register for the exam and to apply for internships, you will need to submit an eligibility assessment that shows you meet all of the requirements. Following the previous steps like earning your bachelor’s degree and documenting your child life courses can help ensure that you are eligible to continue the certification process.
4. Complete an Internship.
Another requirement for your exam is to complete a 600 hour clinical internship that is supervised by a CCLS. Because internships are highly competitive, your volunteer and practicum experience can help you stand out among other candidates. Make sure to follow all the directions on the application for a higher chance of being accepted. Internships are typically unpaid, and you should be prepared to move to wherever you are accepted.
5. Take the Certification Exam.
Your last step in figuring out how to become a child life specialist is to take the certification exam. You will have four hours to complete 150 multiple choice questions. Once your eligibility requirements are approved, you can register for one of three testing dates throughout the year (March, August, and November). The ACLP website has study material to help you prepare. Once you pass this exam, you will officially be a CCLS!
When you become a child life specialist, you will have the unique opportunity to walk with children and their families through the challenges of disappointing diagnoses, painful treatments, and long-term stays in the hospital. As long as you are equipped with the love of God, you will be able to shine a light and bring hope to these children in their darkest moments.
For more information on becoming a child life specialist, check out our psychology degree with a child life specialist concentration and hear from a Grace alumna on her journey to becoming a CCLS.