Child Life Celebrates 40th Anniversary at Children’s

Child Life 40th Anniversary MainLast week, our Child Life department celebrated its 40th anniversary at a party for patients and families with cake, games and other fun activities. To mark this milestone, we thought it’d fun to look back on four decades of dedicated service.

Child Life Program Started at Children's

Here is a 1974 article from our hospital archives about the start of the Child Life Program at Children’s courtesy of our Archivist, Mary Hayes.

Where it All Started

In June 1974, Sally Francis was hired for a two-year pilot project to develop a Child Life Program at Children’s, funded through private donations. It would be the first department of its kind in Texas and one of the first 15 in the U.S.

I talked to Sally recently, and she says, “The original goal of the Child Life Program, which still stands today, was to provide emotional, developmental and educational support to children and their families during health care experiences.”

She says the program would also provide advocacy, education and training for the psychosocial care of children at Children’s Medical Center Dallas and in our community.

Two years later, when the initial pilot ended, the Children’s administration, recognizing the value the Child Life Program had on patients and families, committed to establishing a permanent Child Life Program at the hospital.

Research has shown that children in the hospital who engage in therapeutic play with a trained professional exhibit less emotional distress, increased cooperation, and fewer negative physiological responses.

          – Child Life Council, Inc.

My, How We’ve Grown

Over the next four decades, the Child Life department at Children’s has grown, in both the people and the unique ways they provide support, to become one of the largest departments of its kind. Here are a few highlights from the first 40 years:

  • 1980 – Children’s hosted the national meeting of the Association for the Care of Children’s Health.
  • 1982 – With the help of Child Life Specialists, Children’s established its first diagnosis-related summer camp for oncology patients.
  • 1995 – The Child Life department expanded into outpatient areas to provide support to even more patients.
  • Child Life Anniversary Party

    Patient Evelyn Moreira, 4, carefully pours glitter into a funnel at the 40th anniversary party for Child Life.

    1996 – Through the generous support of the Troy Aikman Foundation, Child Life opened Aikman’s End Zone, a high-tech playroom for teens that features computers, games and unique space for older patients to enjoy.

  • 1997 – The first Music Therapist joined our Child Life team (we now have four).
  • 2001 – PAWS Across Texas started visiting Children’s, providing pet therapy to patients.
  • 2005 – The Funnyatrics Clown Program launched thanks to generous donations from families who thought that laughter could be the best medicine.
  • 2009 – The Child Life department expanded to Plano at our Children’s Medical Center at Legacy campus, and an art program was added, along with a creative art studio.
  • 2012 – Thanks to a generous donation, Child Life Specialists received iPads to use in preparation and procedural patient support.
  • 2014 – We recently added the Music and Games Kiosk, a Redbox-type machine that allows patients to check out new and classic movies and games while hospitalized at Children’s for free.

Click Through the Slideshow to See Pictures From the 40th Anniversary Event Celebrating Child Life

Laughter is the best medicine
Laughter is the best medicine

Dr. Slappy, one of the Funnyatrics clowns at Children’s, fits 9-year-old patient Maggie Nail with a new nose at the 40th anniversary party for Child Life.


With a little help from my friends
With a little help from my friends

Emily Pounds from Child Life helps Camilla Mendoza, 7, pick colored beads to mix into a jar with other fillers during the 40th anniversary party for Child Life. 


Let’s shake on it
Let’s shake on it

From the comfort of his red wagon, 14-month-old patient Charlie Miller considers shaking the paw of Izzy, a schnauzer from PAWS Across Texas. 


Art fun
Art fun

Reecie Stephens, 4, and Child Life Specialist Lauren Braun work together on an arts and craft project using glitter and test tubes at the 40th anniversary party for Child Life.


Fun with “X-rays”
Fun with “X-rays”

Child Life Specialist Kimberly Crews helps 9-year-old patient Maggie Nail trace her hand and glue Q-tips as if they were bones in an X-ray during the 40th anniversary party for Child Life.


Say cheese
Say cheese

Members of the Child Life team who were able to join the 40th anniversary party pose for a quick picture during the celebration. Thanks for four decades of making life better for children.



We know that many of you and your children have benefited from the love and support of our Child Life Specialists over the years, and we’d love to hear your stories in our comment section below.

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2 Responses to Child Life Celebrates 40th Anniversary at Children’s

  1. Jamie Ruffin October 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    That’s my daughter and me up at the top. I cannot even begin to explain the amount of good Child Life brings to the children being treated at Children’s Medical Center. This particular event was fantastic. My daughter enjoyed all of the crafts and getting to pick her special gift was her favorite part. We will always be thankful to everyone at Children’s.

  2. Jana Fuhrman Deeks July 16, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    I was a Certified Child Life Specialist in the ICU from 1990-1994. I have the best memories of working with the ICU patients, families and staff. I am so glad that Children’s has and continues to recognize the value of this department, even during this tenuous time of change in healthcare.

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