Child Life MA or MS Program

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Child life specialists are devoted to meeting the psychosocial needs of children with illness and disabilities and their families. Required coursework focuses on understanding child and family development, effects of stress and crisis on individuals and families, child and family advocacy, ethical and administrative aspects of work in health care settings, and research and evaluation methods. Supervisory and clinical positions are typically found in settings such as hospitals and outpatient clinics, and associated settings such as pediatric rehabilitation, hospice, and bereavement centers. Both thesis (MS) and non-thesis (MA) options are offered, but students must gain approval of their advisor and then petition the faculty for permission to write a thesis. The non-thesis option involves either an internship or fast-track project. The Master's program typically takes 2 years to complete. Graduates of the Master's program are well qualified to take the child life certification (CCLS) exam.

child's hand with IV

Students who have undergraduate degrees in related fields (i.e., child development, psychology, counseling, social work, education, etc.) enter the MA track and complete a 480-hour (minimum) clinical internship as a part of the graduate program. The internship is usually completed at a pediatric healthcare facility outside of Columbia. With faculty and staff guidance, students must initiate and complete the process of obtaining their own internship positions. The chosen internship site must meet the approval of the Child Life Internship Coordinator in the Department of Human Development and Family Science. This internship is completed as the final 9 hours in the Master's program and involves supervised clinical work and coursework.

Students who have undergraduate coursework in child life and have completed an approved child life clinical internship prior to application to our program may enroll in the "Fast-Track" (30 credit-hour) option to obtain either an MA by completing a project, or an MS (requires completion of a thesis). Enrollment in the "Fast Track" program must be approved by the student's advisor.

Child Life students will be admitted only in the fall. Exceptions are made only in extreme circumstances.

Child Life applicants should include a paragraph in their application that explains how they have met (or are currently meeting) these prerequisites: a) Child Life practicum in a hospital setting, b) one or more courses on research methods, and c) one or more courses on child/adolescent development.

Ideal undergraduate preparation includes courses in development across the life span; practical skills for work with younger children, adolescents, and parents; medical ethics; and communication skills. The following types of courses are essential. Students who have not taken any of them as undergraduates will be required to add them to those required for the Master's degree. These background courses include:

  1. Child Development coursework (infancy through adolescence) - equivalent to HDFS 3420 and HDFS 3430
  2. A course in research methods - equivalent to HDFS 2200
  3. Supervised child development experience and coursework in a group setting for children – equivalent to HDFS 3500 or 3700. Acceptance of previous lab experiences for credit are subject to approval by the student’s faculty advisor.
  4. For all applicants for Fall 2016 and beyond, a Child Life practicum is required for admission to our graduate Child Life program. All applicants must show evidence of a) having completed a Child Life practicum, b) currently completing a Child Life practicum, or c) having been accepted for a Child Life practicum, to be completed prior to the semester in which they hope to enroll. We are not able to provide a practicum experience for prospective students or applicants. If you are uncertain what a Child Life practicum involves, please visit the Child Life Council website for information. Applicants should include a letter from the practicum supervisor in their application to verify this requirement has been met.

Students who have not met prerequisites 1-3 have the option of taking the appropriate courses here at the University of Missouri, but should expect that this may mean adding an additional semester or two.

  1. Statistics and research methods (6 hours)
    HDFS 8200: Research Methods
    Any advisor-approved statistics course 7000 level or above
  2. Core content (21 hours)
    1. Child development and childhood illness (15 hours)
      HDFS 7100: Children in Health Care Settings
      HDFS 7110: Child Life Theory and Practice
      HDFS 7400: Childhood Death and Bereavement
      HDFS 8010: Developmental Perspectives on Illness and Health
      HDFS 8440: Social and Emotional Development
    2. Family dynamics and theory (6 hours)
      HDFS 8012: Family Dynamics and Intervention
      HDFS 8210: Theories of Human Development
      HDFS 8220: Family Theories
  3. Clinical Internship (9 hours)
    HDFS 8972: Internship
  1. Statistics and research methods (6 hours)
    HDFS 8200: Research Methods
    Any advisor-approved statistics course 7000 level or above
  2. Core content (18 hours)
    1. Child development and childhood illness (12 hours)
      HDFS 8010: Developmental Perspectives on Illness and Health
      HDFS 8440: Social and Emotional Development
      And two of the following:
      HDFS 7100: Children in Health Care Settings
      HDFS 7110: Child Life Theory and Practice
      HDFS 7400: Childhood Death and Bereavement
    2. Family dynamics and theory (6 hours)
      HDFS 8012: Family Dynamics and Intervention
      HDFS 8210: Theories of Human Development
      HDFS 8220: Family Theories
  3. Thesis or other independent effort (6 hours)
    HDFS 8090: Project
    HDFS: 8999: Exam*
    HDFS 9090: Thesis

*No course credit is assigned to the exam option.