Child Life Services Celebrates 75 Years at The Montreal Children’s Hospital

When it was first introduced seventy five years ago, it was the first of its kind. Child Life Services has been identified by many other names, but was introduced at the MCH in 1936, pioneering the way for many other pediatric hospitals across North America.
Established under Miss Alice Burkhardt, the earliest approaches to Child Life Services followed a concept that is still used by Child Life Specialists today: that play can be used as a tool for socialization, preparation, expression of feelings, normalization and learning.

“The needs of a child growing up in the 1940s were very much like those of a child growing up today.” Professional Coordinator and Certified Child Life Specialist, Marie-France Haineault says, we have continued to use play as a meaningful tool to help relieve stress, discomfort and to promote a positive outlet for our patients.” 

As outlined by the Child Life Council in 1997, play is an essential, natural part of childhood, important in its own right. Play facilitates coping, mastery, self-expression, creativity, achievement and learning, and is vital to a child’s optimal growth and development. Play is an integral aspect of the child life practice with infants, children and youth of all ages.
When asked about the biggest changes her department has experienced over the past three quarters of a century, Haineault underlines the professionalization of Child Life. This includes the establishment of the Child life council in 1982, along with a method of professional certification which assured a standard of child life specialist practice.
“With a strong focus on family-centered care, the child and his or her family are at the heart of all child life interventions” Haineault. Child Life specialists work in partnership with patients families and professionals in order to improve the quality of their healthcare experience.
Today, the Child Life Services department boasts 14 active employees, working both full-time and part-time schedules throughout the hospital, and Haineault hopes to see the department continue to evolve and adapt to the changing needs and environments of the patients they serve.