Welcome to our guest blog page where passion and inspiration coincide. Here Child Life Specialists and Students have the opportunity to share their love for writing with their peers.

If you or anyone you know has a passion for writing and would be interested in being one of our guest bloggers, please email Maria Mandese, FACLP Website Coordinator at webmaster@faclp.org

January-February 2021

We would like to introduce…

Sarah Klapka!

The Joy of Being a CLA

My morning starts off in surgical pre op. Room one loves bubbles. At 10 months old with an anxious mother in the room, bubbles help bring a smile to both their faces. In room 5 I have a 4 year old girl. She is shy and looks scared, fumbling with her hands. But when I go in with unicorn sticker sheets and Minnie Mouse coloring, her demeanor changes. She wants me to stay and do stickers with her all day. Now I stop at room 8. An 11 year old boy. He doesn’t want anything at first, but when I drop off star wars coloring and a card game, he asks me to play.

After rounding in surgical is finished, I head over to outpatient ambulatory care. Today is a special day as it is one of our patient’s first birthday. I see her weekly for play sessions and am excited to see the look on mom’s face at the decorated room, gifts, and pink birthday cake. Mom cries when she comes in, so in awe. I am honored to be a part of this amazing celebration.

When the birthday singing ends, I move onto the next patient. A 8 year old boy in ambulatory, who wants to play video games. I bring the portable Wii over and we duel in Mario Kart. He wins, of course.

After finishing rounding and working with the kids in ambulatory, I head up to outpatient hematology oncology. Here I make crunchy purple slime with a 12 year old patient and she tells me about school. In the next room I do a Mickey Mouse craft with a 4 year old boy as he gets his chemo. I spend time talking with him and his mom, as I do every time they come in.

Lunch time.

Afterwards I clean toys and restock prize bins. I get a call to spend some time with a 5 year old patient in the PICU who’s parent has left to go get food. We make burgers and fries out of play doh, he is so excited to show mom when she gets back.

Heading home. This is what one day in my life as a child life assistant looked like. However, my favorite part about the job is that every day is different.

2020 came with a lot of challenges and bad news, but it was also the year I was lucky enough to land a job as a child life assistant! Finishing my practicum in summer 2019 and waiting to apply for internships till I am almost done with graduate school, this job came at the perfect time. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I knew that I would love being a CLA.

When I started in January 2020 at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, we had so much going on. I was hosting weekly groups such as golf in the atrium, managing volunteers, rounding on patients, providing bedside play, etc. While I was thrown into it all quickly, I absolutely loved it. I often worked with my co child life assistant to accomplish tasks and split things up. I couldn’t believe that I was actually working at a major children’s hospital as a part of the child life team. This was the dream of every child life student.

But in March, things started to change. COVID hit, and everyone was affected. Including me and my role as a CLA. I had no more volunteers to manage, no groups to supervise, no special events to help plan. I became a lot more involved in one-on-one bedside play with patients. As COVID progressed, we also decided to start the “Camp Joe D” program. This became our craft program, and my coworker and I became the craft planners. We planned many different themes for each week such as Disney week, medical play week, winter crafts, Halloween crafts, etc. Each week we would make a flyer with about 4-5 different crafts. Every time we would round on patients, we would show them the craft for the week and ask if they were interested. The crafts became a huge hit, as we didn’t really have much going on for the kids due to COVID. Continuing to expand our network for kids to be involved, our CCTV game show also started up. Playing bingo or guessing games over the air with the kids became a great way to get them involved.

During the time of COVID I was so lucky to continue working as a CLA and to gain so many amazing experiences working with patients. Being a CLA has allowed me to work with a wonderful team of child life specialists and a large variety of patients.

While as a CLA I don’t provide the same support as a child life specialist, I think that this role is so important in the hospital setting. Focusing primarily on play, one of the key aspects of child life, we help normalize the hospital setting and give kids the chance to be kids.

While my time as a CLA has ended, I will never forget the amazing experience it was and all the patients I met who changed my life. If you are able to apply for a job as a CLA I would highly encourage it! Not only does it allow you to get your feet wet in the child life field, but it will truly leave an impact on heart.