Child life services

The Montreal Children’s Hospital established one of the first Child Life Departments in North America in 1936.

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Our history

The Montreal Children’s Hospital established one of the first Child Life Departments in North America in 1936. At the time, parents were not allowed to stay with their children in hospitals. The “Play Ladies”, as the first Child Life staff were known, used play as a therapeutic tool to relieve the stress and boredom of long hospital stays. Today, the MCH is the only healthcare institution in Quebec to have Child Life professionals on staff.

Child Life Specialists are trained professionals with backgrounds in child development, education and related fields. In addition to play, they use a variety of educational and creative techniques to help improve the quality of life for children and their families who are dealing with a healthcare experience.

The planning of Child Life care involves an ongoing, dynamic interchange with children, youth, families and members of the healthcare team. Child Life Specialists use their knowledge of child development and coping techniques to assess a child’s vulnerability to stress and provide the following interventions:

  • Reduce children’s anxiety related to medical experiences
  • Prepare children for upcoming medical procedures
  • Support and distract children during treatments
  • Promote effective coping
  • Support the child’s global development
  • Facilitate self-expression
  • Encourage the continuation of normal life experiences while in the hospital

“The growing child cannot afford to interrupt his cycle of living and growth; the hospital has to take on tasks beyond its primary healing function.” –Emma Plank, Child Life pioneer

Our team

Our team consists of 12 child life specialists. Each of these professionals has a university degree and mandatory accredited professional certification from the U.S.-based Child Life Council. A few team members are Certified Infant Massage Instructors, and all are required to continually advance in their practice through participation in educational activities, such as the Conference on Professional Issues provided by the Child Life Council.

Where the care happens

In the hospital, our Child Life Specialists can be found on inpatient units (medical ward, surgical ward, oncology ward, the Intensive Care Unit, the Acute Care Unit and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). 

With a move to shorter hospital stays in recent years, and an increase in ambulatory care, Child Life professionals are also involved in outpatient care. Child Life specialists work in the Emeregency Department, the Pediatric Day Centre which includes Complex CAre Services, Medical Day Hospital, the Hemodialysis Clinic, the Surgical Day Centre including the Operation Room, the recovery room and the preop clinic, the Hematology-Oncology Day Treatment Centre as well as on a consultation basis for other outpatient clinics. 

Innovation

Child Life specialists are continually building educational tools and resources to use with patients and their families. 

With the help of donors and community participants, the Child Life Department has implemented a pet therapy program, the Bravery Heart Beads program, the Dr. Clown program and the Music Therapy Program.

Child Life specialists are also advocates for improved hospital environments. 

Donations in action

Donations from the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation help provide a variety of special programs and activities for children:

  • Cooking Program and Parent Coffee Hours
  • Pet Therapy Program
  • Birthday gifts
  • Arts and craft supplies
  • Bravery Heart Beads program
  • Electronics and gaming 
  • Special events activities and decorations
  • Positive reinforcement treasure box
  • Playroom programs

Please consult our Donation Policy and Wish list before considering a donation to the hospital, as some donations may not be accepted.

Teaching and training

To obtain professional certification from the Child Life Council, an individual must complete a 480-hour professional, full time internship. The MCH offers this internship twice a year in January and September. Tuition for the program is $500 and includes the cost of the internship manual and required texts. 

Interns will learn about the theoretical foundations of Child Life, child development and working with children in hospitals. They will develop their own skills and interventions through clinical work with supervisors during different service rotations.

Requirements for application:

For detailed requirements and for more information on internships and professional certification from the Child Life Council please consult www.childlife.org.

Candidates must hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in fields such as Child Studies, Psychology or related fields with a concentration in Child Development.

  • Bilingual (English and French)
  • Experience working with children (paid or volunteer)

Applying for a Child Life internship:

Please submit your application with all the required documents to:

  • Marie-France Haineault
  • Professional Coordinator, Child Life Services
  • 1001 Décarie blvd, B S1. 2736
  • Montreal, Qc H4A 3J1

Your application should include:

  • A Letter of Intent (including your preference of starting date in September or January)
  • Application form (available at http://www.childlife.org/files/CommonInternshipApplication.pdf)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Official transcripts from educational institutions (college and university)
  • Two reference letters. These should be on official letterhead, in a sealed envelope with a signature on the seal.
  • Letter of attestation of experience with children. This should be on official letterhead from the organization where you worked, explaining your role, duties, responsibilities and the number of hours worked/ volunteered.

Potential candidates may be contacted for an interview.

Programs

Playroom Program

Play is a valuable tool for coping with stressful situations and it is the basis for learning. The playrooms at the Montreal Children’s Hospital offer children and their families a safe and creative atmosphere where children have the opportunity to engage in therapeutic play and recreational activities with their peers. 

Cooking Program

The Child Life cooking program is designed to facilitate the continuation of normal living patterns and to promote heightened self-esteem. This activity can be used as a tool for the reduction of stress associated with hospitalization and to enhance individual patient treatment goals. This activity encourages social connections and interactions, and is open to all.

Pet Therapy

Therapy dogs do what animals do best: they offer unconditional love and friendship. The Montreal Children’s Hospital Pet Therapy Program provides children with an opportunity for social interaction, stress reduction and sensory stimulation. Like some of the other Child Life programs, pet therapy provides a way to normalize the environment and reduce the stress that can be associated with hospitalization.

Please note: Both physician and parental consent are required for patients to participate in this program.

Parent Coffee Hours

Child Life specialists help facilitate the Parent Coffee Hour, an activity that is in keeping with the hospital’s family-centred care approach. The goal is to create an inviting and relaxed environment where parents can enjoy a cup of coffee and freshly-baked cookies. Some families take the opportunity to share and exchange stories and encourage one another, while others may benefit from having a little time to themselves.

Snoezelen

Snoezelen is a sensory stimulation program that promotes mental alertness, calm and comfort. In a non-directed but guided way, patients can explore and experience the soft, soothing lights and functions. Patients experience deep relaxation and are able to relieve tension, anxiety and pain.

Bravery Heart Beads program

The Bravery Beads program is designed to document, honour and recount the journey that children and youth take when they are diagnosed with a chronic illness. It provides children with the ongoing opportunity to tell their story of courage using colorful beads as significant and meaningful symbols of the various challenges that they face.

Special events and celebrations

Child Life specialists support the continuity of essential life experiences by encouraging participation in the celebration of holidays, seasonal parties and special days for individual patients, which can help change a child’s perception of their healthcare experience. The Child Life specialists always take into consideration a patient’s and family’s cultural heritage when suggesting activities.

Infant Massage

Upon referral, a Child Life specialist certified in infant massage instruction can meet with a parent and their baby to teach infant massage. This approach promotes the use of positive touch and encourages the bonds between parent and child. 

Affiliated programs and resources

School services

The English and French school boards offer school services to both elementary and secondary students who are followed at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. A consult is made to School Services at the MCH when a child is hospitalized for more than two weeks or is chronically ill and comes to the hospital often. The teachers see the patients on a daily basis and provide individual support. This service helps children keep up academically with their classmates and also promotes normalization.

Music therapy

Music therapists are available on a consultation basis. These professionals use music to maintain or improve the quality of life for children, adolescents, and their families. Music therapy helps promote adaptation to illness and hospitalization, provides a more normal environment for children, youth and families, and provides multi-sensory stimulation.

Dr. Clown

Dr Clown brightens the lives of the hospital’s inpatients and many day clinic patients with its professional program of therapeutic clowning. Twice a week the clowns visit patients on the units and in clinics to create an atmosphere of imagination and fun for patients and their families. 

Pet therapy

In collaboration with Zoothérapie Québec, patients are offered a special visit with a friendly dog in the hospital. 

Patient Testimonials

“The Child Life Specialist is my daughter’s ray of sunshine in the hospital” – Mother of Amanda, 17 years old

“We were not expecting the support and kindness that Noah received from Child Life. The approach to explaining the surgery to Noah was extremely comprehensive! Noah is quite shy and reserved. For him to open up to someone the way he did speaks volumes about how quickly he became comfortable with the Child Life specialist.

The support my husband and I received was just as wonderful! Sitting us down once Noah was in the operating room, and giving us details of how he was and what he did is what we crave as parents. It was so reassuring! I felt extremely moved by the sincere care for my son and how he was doing during this entire process. I hope all children facing their first surgery, along with their families, have such a wonderfully supportive experience!” – Noah’s parents