Child Life Program

A visit to the hospital can be a stressful experience for any child or adolescent.

The Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program at Ascension-Ministry Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital of Marshfield works closely with families and health care providers to treat the whole child. It makes every effort to minimize the stressful and potentially negative impacts of hospitalization and to maximize the opportunities for positive and supportive experiences.

The needs of a child in the hospital are similar to those of a child at home: a need for security, comfort, acceptance, affection and age-appropriate activities. These needs are magnified by the added stresses of an illness.

The Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program is essential for facilitating positive child/family adjustment to the health care experience. Child Life Specialists provide services that are developmentally appropriate, psychosocially sound and family centered.

The Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program provides free services to all children regardless of race, creed, color, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, handicap, age, source of income or financial ability to pay.

Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program seeks to achieve the following goals:

  • To minimize the stress and anxiety of children, adolescents and their families in the medical setting.
  • To enhance understanding and coping of medical procedures through preparation, medical play and support through procedures.
  • To provide age appropriate, safe play environments.
  • To enhance the young patient's emotional, social, physical and cognitive growth in the context of his/her family, culture and stage of development.
  • To advocate for pediatric patients and their family.
  • To support parents and encourage their participation in their child's health care.
  • To help children and families maintain their normal everyday experiences as best as possible.
  • To provide appropriate resources for patients and families.

The Child Life staff includes certified professionals who are prepared at the bachelors or masters level in child life, child development, recreation therapy or other related fields.

Child Life Specialists strive to promote optimum development of children and adolescents to minimize psychological trauma and maintain normal living patterns.

As an integral member of the health care team, Child Life Specialists provide opportunities for therapeutic play, self-learning, preparation and support, medical play, self-expression, family involvement, socialization and mastery of difficult experiences. Their observations, interactions and assessments contribute to the development of the total patient care plan.

Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program provides a number of services for pediatric patients and their families.

To be effectively prepared for the health care experience, children need to know what to expect in terms of what they will see, hear, feel and taste. The Child Life Specialist prepares patients and their families for upcoming procedures, tests and/or surgery through the use of picture preparation books, teaching dolls and hands-on medical play.

Coping and Support
A Child Life Specialist may accompany your child to their procedure, test and/or surgery. During this time, your child will be offered support using various coping and distraction techniques. These may include deep breathing, visualization and focusing on age appropriate distraction items.

Comfort Positioning 
The comfort positioning model was developed in 1985 by Barbara Stephens, CRRN, MAN, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Mary Barkey, MA, CCLS, Child Life Clinical Specialist, and Howard Hall, PhD, PsyD, of Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. The purpose of comfort positioning is to increase the comfort of infants and children and also parents and medical staff. 

Positioning for Comfort Poster (PDF)

Positioning for Comfort PowerPoint Presentation (PDF)

Therapeutic Play
Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program offers pediatric patients and their families a sense of normalcy and choice, thus helping them to respond to their hospital experience in a positive way. This includes providing age appropriate play opportunities. Play helps develop a sense of mastery in this challenging setting and enables the child to exert control over some aspects of their environment. Play also may be used as a way of making children aware of what is likely to happen next in their hospital experience, and how they can best get through it.


Bedside Activities: The Child Life Specialists, with the assistance of our volunteer program, can assess each child's needs for appropriate activities and experiences and design programs to meet those needs.  

Group Activities: Daily weekday activities are provided in the playroom and teen lounge to help patients socialize with peers and to normalize the hospital experience. When weather permits, activities are provided on the Backyard Patio. 


Pet Therapy
The Pet Therapy Program at Ascension-Ministry Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital is designed to provide emotional support and comfort to patients by providing therapeutic interactions with specially trained dogs and cats. This therapy is done in an effort to normalize the environment and help reduce the stress of hospitalization. In addition, Pet Therapy may enhance positive physical, cognitive, emotional and social interactions. Each volunteer handler must complete volunteer training through Ascension-Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital Volunteer Services. All therapy dogs are Delta Certified and must pass a series of skills and aptitude tests to become certified. All animals are cleaned and well groomed before each visit and must be free from overt diseases and have an up-to-date vaccination history.

Music Therapy
Music therapy is the systematic, applied use of music in a therapeutic setting. Music therapy applications serve to improve or maintain physical, emotional, social, and/or cognitive functioning. Methods used in music therapy include songwriting, active playing, listening, improvisation, singing, movement, and relaxation exercises (music listening, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.) Specifically, the Pediatric Unit at Ministry Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital aims to provide music therapy services to:

-Provide comfort and support to patients and families

-Improve patient's quality of life

-Encourage communication/socialization

-Offer verbal as well as nonverbal opportunities for self-expression

-Encourage family involvement when appropriate

-Enhance self-esteem

-Provide opportunities for functional activity

-Provide opportunities for independence

-Encourage rehabilitative goals when appropriate

-Offer sensory stimulation

-Serve as a facilitator/motivator

-Assist with relaxation/anxiety/pain management

-Improve cognitive skills

-Assist other therapies in encouraging success of patient

Click here to listen to Katie's Song

Katie's song was written and produced by Katie, an oncology patient, with the help of Richelle, one of our Board Certified Music Therapists.

Pre-Admission Tours
Pre-admission surgery tours are designed to prepare pediatric patients and their families for an upcoming surgery. Individual tours are available on a scheduled basis and include a walking tour, medical play, and question and answer time. Parents are encouraged to contact the Child Life & Expressive Therapies office at 715-387-7328 before their child's surgery to schedule a tour.

  View "A Child's Guide To Surgery"*

  View "Tour of Pediatric Unit at Ministry Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital"

Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program has adult volunteers and volunteens who have attended training sessions designed especially for the unit. The volunteers help make the hospital experience as positive as possible by offering emotional and social support to pediatric patients and their families. They often take children to an activity area or bring an activity to their room so parents can take a break. For more information regarding volunteering please go to Volunteer Services. 

Child Life & Expressive Therapies at Marshfield Clinic Health System and Ambulatory Surgery Center

The Child Life & Expressive Therapies Program provides three full-time Child Life Specialists to meet the needs of the pediatric outpatient population. The outpatient Child Life Specialists are responsible for providing a program of procedural preparation and emotional support designed to help patients and their families cope with the stress of a clinic experience. With an understanding of child growth and development and the impact that medical experiences can have on this process, the Child Life Specialists are a resource for other professionals. If your child needs preparation or support for any outpatient procedures or Ambulatory Surgery Center, please contact your primary healthcare provider and request Child Life services.

Other Program Benefits

  • Provides services to Pediatrics, Pediatric Intensive Care, Neonatal Intensive Care, Surgery, Pediatric Outpatient Specialty Clinics, Emergency Department and consultations to other areas as needed.
  • Provides services to children of adult patients in the adult intensive care units (ICU), critical care unit (CCU), oncology unit, and Palliative Care Unit.
  • Provides sibling support and preparation.
  • Promotes special events and visitor activities.
  • Provides in service education for staff, students, volunteers and community groups.
  • Offers an established internship program for university students across the United States.

For more information on Child Life and the profession, visit the Association of Child Life Professionals website @

For more information on the Therapeutic Recreation profession and certification, visit the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification @

Click here for more information about potential Child Life Internship Opportunities.




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