Audra Holst-VanNoord, Jessica Lewin, Courtney Rosborough
Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 41
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-5097-0.ch005
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Child life specialists in schools help students, school staff, and families function more cohesively, advocating for the needs of each individual while continuing to prioritize child development. This chapter will outline the student and staff needs that child life specialists are uniquely suited to meet while also giving an overview of interventions, supports, roles, and coping strategies that can be led by a child life specialist within the school setting. Throughout this chapter, one will see how easily a child life specialist can integrate into existing systems or propose a new position within the school environment.
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This chapter will examine schools as a nontraditional child life setting and how Certified Child Life Specialists can support students experiencing challenging situations that can negatively impact their optimal development and learning ability. Child life was initially established to meet the needs of children in healthcare. However, the profession’s scope of practice and skill set can provide support to children and families in any setting in which children are undergoing challenging life events (ACLP, 2018). It is especially important for Certified Child Life Specialists to continue to uphold the competencies of the child profession and understand their scope of practice in any setting in which they may work (ACLP, 2020).

Taking into account that child development milestones change over the school years, this chapter gives an overview of how Certified Child Life Specialists can collaboratively create and use therapeutic interventions in elementary, middle, and high schools. “Child life professionals are uniquely educated and trained to provide children, families, and their support systems opportunities to cope, gain a sense of mastery, engage in self-expression, and promote resiliency” (ACLP, 2018, p.1). Real-life examples will show that Certified Child Life Specialists can support student and staff needs as they take on established roles or by proposing specific child life specialist roles within a school setting.

Suppose a child life role is not available in a school setting. In that case, some Certified Child Life Specialists may take on a school position with another title, such as emotional, behavioral specialist, or coordinator of student support. In contrast, others may repurpose a traditional school role into a child life one. As the ACLP position statement on child life practice in the community (2018, p.1) states, “there is a significant value in including child life professionals in a variety of community-based settings.” On average, students spend 180 days or 950 hours at school (Carrington, 2020). Coping skills taught by a child life professional within a school setting can lay a foundation for students to cope with significant challenging events throughout their lives and can be generalized to future healthcare experiences.

Much like in the hospital setting, schools have multidisciplinary teams made up of a variety of professionals. Certified Child Life Specialists integrate into existing student support programs collaborating with other support professionals such as social workers, school counselors, behavior specialists, psychologists, teachers, and administrators on the emotional well-being of children. Using weekly psychosocial rounds or collaborative meetings, schools increase staff communication and awareness of student needs impacting academics and ability to learn. With their collective knowledge, the team focuses on common psychosocial goals, identifies action plans, and maximizes staff involvement.

For schools that have implemented multi-tiered support systems (MTSS; see appendix 1), a child life skill set articulating strategies and accommodations for students with various diagnoses can be useful at each level: universal, focused and intensive. School-based child life interventions are grounded in the core child life competencies; however, they may look very different from interventions in the healthcare setting. Child life professionals in a school still focus heavily on the essential goals of child life: building rapport, assessing coping, promoting resilience, minimizing stress, providing therapeutic interventions, and communicating effectively with other professionals (ACLP, 2018). Through proactive support in the classroom, in small groups, and individually, students’ psychosocial needs will be met first before attempting academics.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Environmental Checklists: When implementing universal strategies in a classroom, staff must identify internal environmental conditions that may impact a student’s academic performance. Simple steps can be completed to transform a space to be more inclusive for all types of learners.

Non-Violent Crisis Intervention: Interventions that help keep staff and students safe during crises such as assaultive, disruptive, or out-of-control persons. Training focuses on prevention, de-escalation, personal safety, and physical intervention.

Individual Program Plan (IPP): Is a student-focused, collaborative action plan that addresses barriers within the learning environment, communicates student goals and growth, while also providing a guide for transition planning at the end of the year. Can also be known as an Individual Education Plan (IEP), Special Education Plan (SEP), Student Support Plan (SSP), Individual Support Plan (ISP), depending on the location or district. This plan identifies goals for students with disabilities (intellectual, physical, medical, learning, hearing, visual, communication, behavioral or emotional) and disorders, which may include General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Depression, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD), Tourette’s, fine and gross motor delays.

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): A process used to identify and understand challenging behaviors, while also coming up with possible solutions and more appropriate, alternative behavior. Once a challenging behavior is defined, observations and data is collected. After developing a hypothesis of why the behavior is occurring, staff can create and implement strategies to increase positive behavior. A positive behavior support plan is then created to identify scripts, skills to be taught and individual interventions for the student.

Sensory Spaces: An intentionally created area in a school that supports students' need to self-regulate by stimulating or calming their senses. This therapeutic space may contain a variety of multi-sensory resources and stimuli that help reduce stress or fulfill a need for sensory input in an appropriate way. Once a student is calm, they can re-engage with learning.

Restorative Practice: An approach that focuses on strengthening the community, building healthy relationships, and conflict prevention and resolution. It is a social science that aims to improve relationships and repair any harm that has been done. All parties are included and treated with dignity to create a positive and equitable school culture.

Strength-Based Approach: Has multiple definitions based on which profession it comes from. Social work focuses on relationship building and creating community networks for a client. Teaching, it is about being self-reflective in their practice and understanding how they impact their students. As a child life specialist in a school, this approach is more about focusing on the strengths of others (students, staff, families). Instead of identifying deficits, this practice is holistic and multi-disciplinary to work with an individual to promote their success and wellness.

Trauma-Informed: An approach that realizes the prevalence of trauma, recognizes how trauma impacts individuals and their development, responds to trauma and resists re-traumatization. Trauma-informed care focuses on including safety, choice, trustworthiness, collaboration, and empowerment.

Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA): Student-led group to provide those who identify with LGBTQIA+ community as well as their allies a safe space to educate, advocate, and support one another.

504 Plan: Plans used in schools to remove barriers and give equal access to students with disabilities. 504 plans provide modifications or accommodations to enhance learning and add support so all students can participate in public education or any schools that receive public funding.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): Is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success. SEL helps kids identify their feelings, understand and communicate with others, build strong relationships, and make good, empathetic decisions. Students are better able to cope with everyday challenges and benefit academically, professionally, and socially.

Behavior Challenges: In a school setting, a student’s behavior is considered challenging when it is unsafe for themselves or others, or if it is significantly impacting their ability to learn and join in on everyday routines. For example: aggression, tantrums, impulsivity, elopement, screaming, swearing, refusal to follow instructions, repetitive movements.

Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS): A proactive, school-wide approach that is committed to ensuring equitable education for all students by utilizing universal (whole class), focused (small group), and intensive (individual) strategies. This system provides a framework for instruction, assessment and support so that staff can work collaboratively with students, families, and community partners. It is inclusive of all students, but is not considered special education. It is student focused and responds to all their unique strengths and needs to increase student success. Integrating this approach into a school environment, staff can address student’s academic, behavioral, and social-emotional health needs preventatively.

Positive Behavior Support Plan: A plan created after completing a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). It is a working document that is continually evaluated and redesigned if strategies are not working or next steps need to be made. This proactive plan focuses on the function of behavior by looking at changing the environment the behavior occurs, the lagging skills leading to the behavior, and how the behavior is reinforced. This plan aims to decrease challenging behaviors and increase appropriate, functional behaviors instead.

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