Empowering Children in Hospital Settings

In the often chaotic, stressful environment of the hospital, it is important for children and their families to feel supported, educated and empowered. A Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) is a trained professional with a background in child development and expertise in helping children and families overcome the stressors associated with hospitalization and chronic illness. A CCLS provides a range of services to patients and their families to promote effective coping and provide emotional support. A CCLS understands that each child must be treated individually to provide them with opportunities for success and mastery in the hospital environment.

SUNKISSED FAMILIES contributor Teresa McGinley utilizes case studies from her work completed with patients and families as a CCLS, as well as developmental theory, to break down the hospital experience and provide your family with the information you need to feel prepared for any experience you may have in the hospital setting.


Jeannine Marie Lenehan,

Founder & Principal

SUNKISSED FAMILIES and the Center for Social & Emotional Health


Cancer Doesn’t Stop for COVID: Supporting Families Throughout the Pandemic

Teresa McGinley, Certified Child Life Specialist

As a child life specialist, my job is to reduce the fear and stress of the hospital for children and families. In the wake of COVID-19 that job has grown more important than ever. While children still fear the typical hospital “unknowns,” for example, what having surgery means of if something is going to hurt, their worries can grow on a exponentially. They are sure of germs, people, and masks; and the hospital is full of these things. Fear and stress are palpable with each and every family I meet.

Instinctively, I reach out to hold the hand of my school-aged patient and hesitate. I pull back. I’ve just explained to them that their blood is sick; it’s something called leukemia. Her mother fidgets Read More

Understanding CHIP Children’s Health Insurance Plan

Jeannine Marie Lenehan


The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides low cost health coverage to children in families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In certain states CHIP covers women who are pregnant. Each state offers CHIP coverage and works closely with its state Medicaid program. Sadly, parents and other childcare givers who earn enough to provide the essentials for for their children, but not enough for expensive healthcare services, such as surgeries, have been left out in the cold. On Sept 30 Federal CHIP funding expired. The Program became a bargaining chip in larger negotiations over the federal budget and immigration. This placed states in a serious dilemma.Read more

The Role of a Certified Child Life Specialist

Teresa McGinley

Your child needs to be taken to the hospital. As a parent or caregiver, this is one of the scariest moments of your life. The environment itself is overwhelming; bright fluorescent lights shine down into the room and your thoughts are constantly interrupted by the beeping of machines and monitors. Doctors, nurses, and other professionals you haven’t been able to identify yet have been coming in and out of the room, asking questions and using words you don’t understand. Suddenly, remembering simple things, your child’s date of birth or the medications they have been taking seems challenging, even impossible. The doctors tell you [Read More]


Developmental Reactions to Hospitalization:
What to Expect from Children at Different Ages

Teresa McGinley

When you are with your child in the hospital, it may be difficult to know what to expect from him or her. Is it normal for my child to cry? Why are some parts of this so much harder than others? How do I know if my child is reacting the way that they are supposed to? And what do I do to help? What is important to remember is that the hospital is a brand new environment, full of novel and potentially frightening experiences for your child. There is no right [Read More]


“Is It Going to Hurt?” The Importance of Telling the Truth

Teresa McGinley

A common challenge experienced by many child life specialists (CCLS) occurs if a family does not want their child to receive information regarding their hospitalization. Whether it be a blood draw, a surgery, or any other type of medical experience, it is very common for families to want to shy away from telling their child what is coming up next. This desire to protect your child from any potentially frightening information is entirely natural and one that any CCLS will understand. However, our experience leads us to [Read More]


The Death of a Child. Bereavement Support through Legacy Building.

Teresa McGinley

While the hope is that no child or family will face the possibility of confronting end of life during hospitalization, it is an unfortunate, devastating and heartbreaking reality for many families. Navigating this experience, particularly with your child or children, is painful and can seem daunting, overwhelming or even impossible. Bereavement support is a crucial piece of the role of a Certified Child Life Specialist [CCLS], which takes many forms in the hospital setting. A CCLS has the [Read More]


Is my mom going to be okay?
The importance of embracing life’s ordinary pleasures.

Jeannine Marie Lenehan & Teresa McGinley

During and after both of my pregnancies I made sure to carve out plenty of time to connect with each child. It could be a long walk, a swim together, or reading a book. Whatever the activity, it’s quite natural to seek out unfettered moments with your child. It allows the child to experience the necessary comfort and care by the parent, and is essential to fostering that healthy sense of trust in the parental relationship as a whole. While these are vital to the [Read More]


Why Play for Children is Never Just Play

Teresa McGinley

When discussing my Child Life profession with others, a common reaction is “Wow, you get to just play with kids all day- what a fun job!” The reality is the job requires very careful thought and execution. It’s a Child Life Specialist’s job to construct a list of other tasks that are prioritized before plan can occur. These can include [Read More]



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