Healing young hearts and minds: Child Life Specialists are the heroes of pediatric care


Child Life has teams at three
Banner Children’s Medical Centers
in Mesa, Glendale and Tucson.

Celebrating Child Life Month in March

March is Child Life Month, a time to recognize and honor the work of the dedicated professionals who help kids cope with their medical experiences. They reduce child and family stress and support emotional well-being through developmentally appropriate play, education, and therapeutic interventions while helping children understand and prepare for medical procedures.

As psychosocial health care professionals, Child Life Specialists are trained in child development, family systems, and evidence-based supportive interventions, making them indispensable members of the pediatric health care team. At Banner Children’s, these professionals create a comforting environment, aiding in the overall healing process and enhancing the quality of life for young patients.

“When your child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, it is a life-changing event,” explains Shelly, the mother of a teen treated for cancer at Banner Children’s at Thunderbird. “Learning how to cope through it and stay positive are things I couldn't imagine doing without the love and support of programs like Child Life. From a parent's perspective, Child Life is like an extension of our family. They are there for our daughter, helping her carry the torch while we are working on keeping it lit. It is the truth that no one fights cancer alone. And among our team of warriors, Child Life holds a very mighty sword. We couldn't imagine going through such a war without them by our side.”

Funded largely through philanthropic support, Child Life has teams at three Banner Children’s Medical Centers in Mesa, Glendale and Tucson and at Banner Ironwood Medical Center in Queen Creek, AZ. The field of Child Life emerged as early as the 1960s, gaining momentum with the founding of the Child Life Council in 1982 that established standards and certifications for professionals. Over the years, patients who have grown up with chronic conditions and frequent hospitalizations at Banner Children’s have even decided to pursue the Child Life profession themselves, appreciating first-hand the many ways these professionals profoundly impact the lives of children and families.

Wendy Pauker, associate director of Child Life at Banner Children’s at Thunderbird, explains a lesser-known specialty area of her team’s work. “Child Life is consulted in the adult world, too,” she says. “We are called on to help kids, whose parents or grandparents are dying, to help prepare them to say goodbye. We help children all over the hospital; not just in pediatrics.”

One family’s situation was especially poignant for the Thunderbird Child Life team. A young father of four was diagnosed unexpectedly with advanced-stage, terminal cancer. The family had little time to prepare for the grief and loss ahead of them. Before his passing, Wendy’s team made an embossed handprint of the father surrounding by thumbprints of all his children. “We sent it home with the family to remember their dad,” Wendy says. “This one really touched us.”

Interested in providing a gift for Arizona’s pediatric patients through the work of Banner Children’s Child Life programs?

Each year, the Banner Children’s Open golf tournament proceeds benefit the Child Life program at all three Banner Children’s Medical Centers in Arizona. This year’s tournament happens on Friday, April 12, and there is still time to donate or check it out and make plans to participate in 2025.

To learn more about the field of Child Life and its reach at Banner Children’s, click here.