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Helping kids be kids, even in the hospital

March is National Child Life Month so we sat down with our Director of Child Life Services, Andrea Colliton to learn more about child life and why our specialists at Tufts Medical Center for Chidlren are so special. 

What is the purpose of Child Life Specialists?

Child Life Specialists help support the child and family through illness and hospitalization on a social and emotional level. Our role is to help children who are in the hospital navigate tough situations emotionally and make it a little more fun, if we can. There are 18 certified child life specialists at Tufts Medical Center.

What do Child Life Specialists do?

We support children and their families through new chronic and/or challenging diagnoses. And we do this through therapeutic, developmentally-appropriate play interventions. Additionally, we prepare patients and their families for medical interventions and difficult medical concepts using child-friendly language – and we help children and their families cope with certain procedures through distraction or engagement. We consider ourselves true advocates both for our patients and for family-centered care here at Tufts Medical Center.

As a Child Life Specialist, we also help kids be kids here at Tufts Medical Center – so an important part of our work is organizing special events and guest visitors including pet therapy like Lily the miniature horse, music therapy, therapeutic art and other varying groups.

Where within the hospital do Child Life Specialists work?

We are everywhere! We work within the pediatric inpatient units, operating rooms, blood lab (phlebotomy), pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric sedation unit, MRI and pediatric emergency department. In fact, we have more child life specialists in our pediatric emergency department than any other hospital in New England. And we are always on-call for pediatric outpatient clinic needs and at times meet with children of our adult patients who would benefit from a visit from us. 

What is special about the Child Life Specialists at Tufts Medical Center?

I think it starts with what is so special about Tufts Medical Center, in general. Everyone here cares so much about their patients and the specific needs of children – that’s why our department is so valued. The hospital has cultivated this, it’s a need that has been recognized and addressed – in order to be a successful children’s hospital you have to treat the whole child on a medical, social, emotional level. Everyone works very hard and is committed to the work we do.

As far as Child Life Specialists; we are a really solid team – we communicate well among us – from the moment a patient comes through our hospital emergency department, to being admitted, to going to the OR – our team is working together to provide what’s best for our patients from a social and emotional perspective. We are always treating the whole child, no matter the illness, no matter the injury.

So while the medical team is communicating about the treatment plan, we are serving as the “voice of the child.” If a child is having a very hard time, we are sharing that with the entire care team. What’s even more special about Tufts Medical Center, is that our smaller size allows us to know everybody and everybody knows us – we are an integral part of a child’s care team.

What made you want to be a child life specialist?

I love children and I loved the idea of having a career that allowed me to work with children. I heard about child life specialists while in college and it was a great combination of my interests. I am so proud to help children have a voice in a situation where they often have so little control.   

Thank you Andrea and to all our amazing child life specialists! If anyone is interested in learning more about becoming a child life specialist, please visit The Association of Child Life Professionals –