What "Child Life" Means to Me

Elizabeth Carter and Abigail Rainey
Abigail Rainey (right) with her sister, Elizabeth Carter


I have been connected to Riley Hospital for Children ever since I was born. My sisters and I spent the first few months of our lives in the Riley NICU.  I started to volunteer with the Child Life program in college and fell in love with how kind, caring, and compassionate the Child Life team was. I was drawn to Child Life by seeing what can be done to help empower kids while they are in the hospital.


When I talk with families, I explain Child Life as a way to help kids cope with the stressors of hospitalization. Those stressors are different for each kid, and I meet kids where they are socially, developmentally, and emotionally to help them face the challenges they come across in the hospital.

Child Life can benefit patients in many different ways. We have a phenomenal team of Child Life Specialists that work on many different units, from outpatient specialists, to inpatient specialists to our Child Life Zone specialist.

We help kids build their coping skills so they are better able to handle health care encounters in the future. We promote continued development while kids are hospitalized, we educate them about their health care experience, and we support patients and families through their journey. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on Child Life Services says, "There is evidence that Child Life services help to contain costs by reducing the length of stay and decreasing the need for sedation and analgesics." This benefits patients, families and health care providers.


Every day looks a little bit different for a Child Life Specialist. I check in with nursing and medical staff on my unit first thing to figure out what procedures are going to be done that day, and how I can help kids prepare for them. If there is a patient with a new diagnosis, I meet with them to help them learn about what is going to happen, or I can help them get familiar with the hospital environment so that it is less scary. My day always includes play: Medical play to help a child or teen prepare for a procedure; play to process what is happening in the hospital; or play to help a child feel normal and socialize with other kids.


One child I recently had the pleasure of working with was kidney transplant patient Katie Curry. When I first met Katie I was still working in the Pediatric Intensive Care unit. I met with her almost every day to help make the PICU environment less scary. We played a lot. Katie loved to play and learn new games, and that gave her a chance to have control and mastery over something in a time where there were lots of questions, and new things happening. We did some medical play to work through the frequent lab draws she was getting, and then she got to show her brother what we did when he came later in the day. I think our work together helped her know she could still be a kid while she was in the hospital, and gave her an opportunity to start to learn about what was going on with her body.


What I love most about my work is seeing kids use the coping skills they have learned while working with a Child Life Specialist. I love seeing kids master something while they are in the hospital, whether it’s learning to hold still for a procedure, telling their hospital story, or finding something to be proud of. I love seeing the success that children and teens can find while they are in the hospital.

One of the most challenging parts of my job is there seems to never be enough time in the day or week to meet the needs of all the kids on my units. I give all my energy when I am at work, and try to meet as many needs as possible, but we need more child life specialists so that we can continue to meet the needs of all the patients that walk through these doors.


I am so thankful for the support of donors. Our department has a goal of being fully donor-funded, and each dollar donated can help with that. I think the biggest message to donors is that they are directly impacting patient care through supporting the Child Life program. Every time I see a patient succeed, or feel empowered by a Child Life interaction I think, "Wow. I am so thankful that donors get this, and want to make this happen for the patients at Riley".

Abigail Rainey, Riley Child Life Specialist

Abigail graduated from Indiana University in 2012, and has been working at Riley as a Certified Child Life Specialist since early 2013. She transitioned to working on the hematology and oncology units earlier this year. Abigail loves spending time with her husband Collin, and their dog Hobbes. Abigail and Collin love to hike and camp together, and she also enjoys reading, spending time with close friends, and being involved with her church.

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