Child Life Specialists Help Ease Fear and Anxiety for Hospitalized Kids

March 16, 2023
A BayCare Child Life Specialist comforts a young patient at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital.


Spending time in the hospital can be stressful, especially for children. Depending on their age, hospitalized children may experience fear and anxiety for reasons such as a change to their routine, unfamiliar faces, separation from family and friends, loss of control, misunderstanding about medical equipment and fear of upcoming procedures. 

BayCare’s child life specialists are trained professionals who use preparation, therapeutic play, education and self-expression to help children and their families adjust to the hospital experience. They are essential members of the pediatric health care team at BayCare’s St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital-South and Mease Countryside Hospital and provide support and advocacy for children experiencing illnesses and traumatic injuries.

“Our goal is to make hospitalization and out-patient treatments as easy as possible for both the child and their family,” said BayCare Kids Child Life Manager Kendal Francoletti. 

She adds that every interaction and intervention provided by the child life team is tailored to meet each family exactly where they are. “Every patient has different needs, and we assess those unique needs and develop a coping plan from there,” Francoletti said. 

Some kids with chronic or complex conditions invest a large part of their childhood in and out of the hospital and can at times view a hospital’s walls as barriers to a normal childhood. Child life specialists work hard to make these walls seem invisible by helping kids understand their illnesses and procedures, and by providing them with activities that inspire independence and confidence.  

BayCare’s child life specialists are certified by the national Association of Child Life Professionals and have degrees in fields such as child development, recreation therapy, education, and child psychology. They specialize in working with children in health care settings and provide interventions to meet the psychosocial, emotional, developmental and recreational needs of each patient.

“We work alongside other members of the clinical team to help promote a pediatric standard of care, a level of care we would want for our own loved ones,” said Francoletti. 

Services provided to patients and families by BayCare’s child life team include: 

Emotional Support

  • Establish a therapeutic relationship to build trust
  • Help children cope with difficult procedures
  • Provide emotional support and encourage expression of feelings
  • Advocate for patient and family-centered care
  • Support families confronting grief and bereavement situations

Developmentally Appropriate Support

  • Explain procedures, diagnosis and the surgery process by using developmentally appropriate language and medical play
  • Help siblings understand the patient’s diagnosis and treatment 
  • Help medical staff understand a pediatric patient’s psychosocial and emotional needs

Recreational Support

  • Provide age appropriate and recreational activities in playrooms, teen lounges and at the bedside to help with hospital adjustment and stress management 
  • Promote normalization by facilitating special events, outdoor activities and leisure planning
  • Provide opportunities for patients to celebrate treatment milestones, birthdays and holidays

For additional information about BayCare’s child life services, click here.