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Child Life Services

Child Life Specialists are health professionals who assist children and adolescents and their families as they prepare for and cope with pediatric medical and emotional experiences such as surgery, hospitalization, tests and procedures. We’ve discovered that when children understand what is happening to them, they cope more effectively and experience less psychological trauma and anxiety. Our Child Life Specialists are trained in child development, child life, education and psychology.

Child Life Specialists assist pediatric patients and families at Cleveland Clinic’s Main Campus, Fairview Hospital and Hillcrest Hospital.

Child Life Services Details

Child Life Specialists use a variety of techniques to help young patients understand and cope with their medical experiences. Our services are provided at no charge to pediatric patients and their families. During your child's stay, you and your child have access to a wide range of activities.

Pediatric patients and parents may seek our Child Life Specialists to provide guidance for some of the following medical experiences:

  • Behavioral modification programs to encourage success with a new medical regimen
  • Chronic Illness
  • Emotional support provided during your child’s medical procedure(s)
  • Preparing your child for surgery, specific tests or procedures
  • Providing education for a new diagnosis tailored to your child’s developmental age/level
  • Providing support to siblings and other family members
  • Traumatic accident

The Child Life Department recognizes that hospitalization and illness can be a stressful and scary time for both pediatric patients and their families. Child Life Specialists work alongside the medical staff to help children and families understand and manage healthcare experiences.

Child Life Specialists are highly trained, skilled professionals.

  • Each has a bachelor’s or master’s degree, with an educational emphasis on human growth and development, education, psychology, or a related field of study.
  • All Certified Child Life Specialists must complete a supervised 480-hour clinical internship, pass an examination, and adhere to a minimum standard for continued professional development.
  • They adhere to a code of ethics and standards established by the Child Life Council, a national organization which administers the process for obtaining the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credential.

Pediatric Tools For Coping

Child Life Specialists help infants, children, and teens cope with stress and anxiety associated with a healthcare experience. We ease fears and concerns by providing opportunities for developmentally appropriate play and interaction, therapeutic play, and psychological preparation in the following clinical areas.

  • Emergency Department (Hillcrest & Fairview hospitals only)
  • Inpatient Units
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs)
  • Outpatient Clinics (select clinics - main campus only)
  • Radiology
  • Surgery

Children’s Playroom

The Playroom is a designated “safe” area for pediatric patients and families where they can play, learn, socialize, and forget about the worries of hospital life.

The Playroom is a “medical free” zone: no medical procedures or discussions are allowed to take place without the child’s permission.

The Playroom has toys, books, art and craft materials, movies and video games for patients and families use. If pediatric patients are unable to visit the playroom, these items are available for use at bedside.

Child Life interventions are determined on an individual basis and may include:

  • Pediatric Medical Preparation and Pre-Surgery Teaching. Provide age appropriate medical and pre-surgery teaching to help alleviate a child’s fears, anxiety or misconceptions.
  • Support During Procedures. Help reduce pain and anxiety during medical procedures by using techniques such as distraction, guided imagery and relaxation exercises.
  • Therapeutic Play Activities. Specialists provide therapeutic play activities to help normalize the hospital environment. Therapeutic play activities can occur at bedside or in the playroom.
  • Medical Play. Medical play is provided to help children become more comfortable with medical equipment and the hospital.
  • Diversional Activities. Toys, art and craft activities, board games, reading books, movies and video games are available for use in the playroom or at bedside.
  • Expressive therapies. Art Therapists and Music Therapists are on staff to help your child “work through” their hospital experience.
  • Support for Brothers and Sisters. Specialists are available to help siblings understand what is happening and how to work through their feelings and concerns regarding their brother or sister.
  • Pet Therapy. During your stay at the Children’s Hospital, you may receive a visit from one of our cuddly canines! Please make your nurse aware if a visit is permissible


  • Shannon Sonnhalter, CCLS – Child Life Manager, Main campus
  • Sandra Criswell, CCLS – Child Life Coordinator

Main Campus

Main campus Child life specialists provide support to all inpatient pediatric units and the following outpatient departments including: Pediatric Gastroenterology, Radiology, Same Day Surgery, and children of adult patients.

  • Heloisa Caputo, BS, CCLS
  • Diana Swinehart, MS, CCLS
  • Andrea Sammon, M.Ed, CCLS
  • Ashley Wood, BS, CCLS
  • Sarah Thompson, BS, CCLS
  • Meridith Paulson, BA, CCLS
  • Kristin Russo, BS, CCLS
  • Tom Richards, BA, CCLS
  • Molly Gross, BS, CCLS
  • Cathleen Young, MA, CCLS
  • Lindsay Schulman, BA, CCLS Tricia Price, BS, CCLS

Fairview Hospital

Fairview Hospital Childlife  specialists provide support to all inpatient pediatric units as well as same day surgery, radiology and emergency department.

  • Patty Cotter, BA, CCLS
  • Debbie Kosakowski, BA, CCLS
  • Stephanie McCarthy, BA, CCLS
  • Katie Eureka, BA, CCLS
  • Jessica Timms, MS, CCLS

Hillcrest Hospital

Hillcrest Hospital Childlife  specialists provide support to all inpatient pediatric units as well as same day surgery, radiology, emergency department, and children of adult patients.

  • Katie Bates, MS, CCLS
  • Chrissy Garrison
  • Bailey Allen, BS, CCLS
  • Erin Naumann, MS, CCLS

Beachwood/Strongsville ASC:

Hillcrest Hospital Childlife  specialists provide support to all inpatient pediatric units as well as same day surgery, radiology, emergency department, and children of adult patients.

  • Julie Hinz, BA, CCLS

Featured Stories

Andrea Rapport
Andrea shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

I love being a child life specialist! My passion for the field comes from wanting to help children and families in any way possible to make their hospital stay easier. It is so rewarding to work with children and families and I admire their strength and courage. I decided to become a child life specialist after hearing a story about it from one of my college professors. I was just finishing up with my undergraduate degree and I decided to do all of the necessary post-undergraduate work to become a certified child life specialist.

Ashley Wood
Ashley shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

As a child, I said I wanted to be either a teacher or a nurse. I did not learn about the child life profession until I was in college. When learning more about child life, I realized this was the job that I had always wanted to do but did not know what it was called. Since graduating from Ohio University, I have had the opportunity to have a variety of experiences in child life, including volunteering for a month at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. I learned how truly universal play is when working with children and families who do not speak English.

Each day, I support children and their families through challenging healthcare experiences, helping them cope with this difficult time. Our role allows us to help children to learn about their medical situation and teach children positive ways to cope with what they are going through. Watching a child grow and utilize the positive coping techniques that you had a part in teaching them is the most rewarding part of my job!

Cathy Young
Cathy shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

I decided to become a Child Life Specialist late in life. I went back to school to be a school psychologist and met Sarah Thompson in a class at Kent State University. She currently works here at Cleveland Clinic Children’s as a Child Life Specialist. She inspired me to change careers. I graduated from Kent State University with a BA in psychology and went on to the University of Akron to get my Masters in Child Life.

I have been a Child Life Specialist here in both the Radiology Department and Surgery Department since April of 2010.

To me, being a Child Life Specialist means being a friend, an advocate, an interpreter for medical speak, a playmate, a teacher, a therapist, an empathetic ear, a facilitator, a member of a team, a caregiver, a stress reliever, a coping mechanism and anything else a patient and family need to help them navigate through their hospital experience.

Diana Swineheart
Diana shares her journey to becoming a Child Life Specialist.

I first learned about child life during a career fair in my first week of college. I had always known I wanted to work with kids, but had not decided exactly how. I picked up a flyer that explained child life and I knew before I was even done reading the paper that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life; I went and changed my major the next day. Child life has such a unique role in hospitalization, from helping a child understand why they are in the hospital, to helping them get through a difficult procedure, to just giving them an opportunity to engage in a play activity. It is such an amazing opportunity to come into these kid’s lives during a time of crisis and help them in working through their fears. The most rewarding moment is when a child is able to master their healthcare experience, and know that you were part of helping them through that process. I look forward to coming to work every single day, knowing that I have not only the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life, but to be impacted by them as well.

Katie Bates
Katie shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

I first came across the field of child life while trying to figure out what major to declare during my undergraduate years at Ohio University. I always knew I wanted to work with children but was not sold on the classroom setting. I knew I loved the developmentally disabled population but did not want to limit myself to only that. I also knew I loved the medical setting but was certain that things like nursing or medical school were not for me. When I came across the field of child life, I felt it was the perfect way to combine all the things I enjoyed about working with children - I get to make a difference, be a positive force in a child’s life when they need it most, enjoy the unexpected, and find ways around new challenges day after day. A child and family dealing with a healthcare experience - whether seemingly small or large, life-long or over in a few hours, are dealing with what can be a traumatic and scary time. It is rewarding and empowering to feel that I can be a positive part of that child and family’s experience, helping them to understand and cope with what is happening. I currently hold my bachelor’s degree in Family Studies with a concentration in Child Life, and a master’s degree in Developmental Disabilities with a concentration in Early Childhood. I am currently working at Hillcrest Hospital in the pediatric emergency, pediatric inpatient, radiology, and outpatient surgery departments. I love working in all these different areas - I never know what to expect! I recently moved back to Ohio and joined Cleveland Clinic Children's. It’s been amazing to be a part of the family, getting to work with some of my fellow Bobcat child lifers, and meeting all the other amazing child life specialists I get to call my teammates.

Kristin Miller
Kristin shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

I went to a career fair my freshman year of college and talked to several people who eventually led me to child life. At that moment I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. I come from a family of teachers, but didn’t want to teach in a traditional school setting. I was interested in the medical field as well, but did not want anything to do with needles. I heard about child life that day and decided that teaching kids about different medical procedures and helping them through it was the perfect medium. What I get to do each day is a privilege. Our patients and families trust me and open up to me about their worries and concerns and allow me to help. I know that the hospital can be a scary place for the patient and the rest of the family too. It is so rewarding to be able to make a blood draw, radiology scan, trip to the OR, and many other procedures easier for the families I see.

Lindsay Kramer
Lindsay shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

I have always had a true passion and love for children. Alongside this, I love the medical field but never had a desire to be a physician or nurse. I didn't want to have to examine or perform procedures on children. After graduating from college with an early childhood education degree, I worked for a year in a school system, my job was not renewed so I began looking at other options – and I discovered Child Life. I never knew this career existed.

I always enjoy and get so much gratification from coming to work. Working with the pediatric patients and their families to make their experience more positive is something that makes me so happy. I feel that I am genuinely helping people from my heart because I am catering what I do to meet whatever their needs are at that moment. Right now, my position allows me to work with children in all areas of the hospital which provides me the opportunity to meet and help many different types of children and families. I love that each time I come to work, my day is different and never the same! Working with children is true enjoyment for me and I wouldn't want to be anything other than a Child Life Specialist!

Meridith Misich
Meridith shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

I first learned about child life as a senior in high school. I knew I wanted to work with children and in a helping profession, but hadn’t heard about child life until a family friend told me about how helpful the child life specialists were when her child had to have frequent treatments at the hospital. That conversation started my journey to becoming a child life specialist, which has given me the incredible opportunity to help children and families overcome the challenges they face in the hospital. I earned my bachelor's degree from the University of Akron in child life and worked at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in the sibling center and Fairview Hospital before joining the team at Cleveland Clinic Children’s main campus. I love getting to meet kids where they're at when they come to the hospital for their tests and procedures, and empower them by providing education and coping skills to make their hospital experience more positive. I enjoy that each day and patient is different, which is something that makes this job truly unique.

Molly Gross
Molly shares her journey to becoming a Child Life Specialist.

I always knew I wanted to work with children in some capacity on a professional level. Child Life provided a perfect fit for me, allowing me to work with kids of all ages, along with their families. For many people, let alone a child, walking into the hospital is like walking into a foreign country – complete with its own language and devices. A Child Life Specialist has to view the hospital through the eyes and ears of a child, and figure out how to translate and normalize their environment. It is so gratifying to know at the end of each day, it was my job to help someone feel more comfortable and at ease, and hopefully be able to have some fun.

Sarah Thompson
Sarah shares her journey to becoming a Child Life Specialist.

I learned about the Child Life field when I was a freshman in college and knew immediately that it was what I wanted to do for a living. I had always wanted to be in a field where I could teach a child something that would impact their life in a way that was more than just reading and writing. Having the opportunity to teach children every day, provide coping mechanisms and support them through some of life's most difficult challenges is very rewarding. Children of all ages have something that is difficult for them or fear inducing. To be a person that can help them to address some of those fears, even if you can't help to take them away, brings a sense of comfort as you know that those fears or worries are not being overlooked by staff. I would not ever dream of doing anything other than Child Life. I look forward to coming into work every day to see if we can help a child overcome or accomplish something that has been so difficult for them.

Shannon Sonnhalter
Shannon shares her journey to becoming
a Child Life Specialist.

Happy Child Life Month!!! I am proud and honored to be the leader of an amazing group of Child Life Specialists at Cleveland Clinic Children’s main campus, Hillcrest Hospital and Beachwood Ambulatory Surgery Center. Within the past five years, our child life team has grown over 50% which includes child life specialists serving Cleveland’s east side community. I am thrilled to watch my team’s successes both professionally and personally. The satisfaction they get assisting a child to complete an MRI for the first time without sedation, prepare a patient for an IV start and have that child look at them and say “that wasn’t so bad!”, or to be present with a family receiving bad news, is immeasurable. Their desks are filled with cards, poems and treats patients and families make for them. I receive phone calls and letters from parents stating how they had never heard of this line of work before but are just raving about how much the child life specialist helped during their stay and what a difference it made for their child. We have even had former patients go to college and become child life specialists – what a wonderful testament to our profession!

What child life specialists bring to the table is kindness, understanding, empathy and a strong desire to help each child master their hospital experience regardless of the diagnosis. They are even there to help the siblings understand what is going on with their brother or sister and still feel connected with mom and dad. Providing this support for family members enhances psychosocial outcomes for our young patients. We know how a parent or caregiver’s behavior and anxiety levels can strongly impact how a child will respond to hospitalization.

Our work is to make the hospital a positive experience for children and families and to develop coping strategies that will be used throughout their lives. That is what child life specialists do best – they help the entire family cope with a difficult period in their lives. We are here for you and your children and truly believe that “sometimes children need more than medicine to get well!”

Spotlight on Child Life