Child Life: How Play Helps Hospitalized Kids During the Pandemic
With kid-friendly techniques and compassion, Child Life specialist Alex Rogers helps patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles heal so they can get back to being kids.
By Sara Nafie
The Child Life Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles helps ease anxiety for patients and families—an essential need during the COVID-19 outbreak. From helping to prepare kids for a nasal swab test to guiding therapeutic play, Child Life specialists use developmentally appropriate methods to help kids and families process emotions and reduce stress.
Child Life Specialist Alex Rogers, MS, CCLS, cares for some of the most acute patients in the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation Rehabilitation Center. “We see kiddos who need long-term care for things like traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, motor vehicle accidents, severe burns, cancer,” says Rogers. “They’ve been taken out of their normal lives, and it’s my job to help them get back.”
Previously, Rogers would take patients to a Child Life playroom and oversee collaborative games. Due to new safety protocols related to the COVID-19 crisis, she has had to get creative to infuse playfulness into patients’ long days.
“I thought, ‘How can we adapt this crazy situation so kids can play together, yet still respect infection control, social distancing, mask wearing?’” she says. “One idea was to play Hallway Bingo. The kids stood inside their doorways with bingo cards and I ran around calling out numbers. We’ve had a lot of fun with it!”
Preparing for a return to life outside the hospital
Part of Rogers’ work is to prepare patients who have been hospitalized for weeks or months to return home. Sheprovides the same kind of social and emotional support as before the pandemic, but Rogers has added new elements to her work.
“I'm still helping kids cope with trauma, hospitalization, illness, and all that comes along with it. But now I’m helping them cope with things happening outside the hospital as well,” she says. “I’ve been teaching them generally about what the coronavirus is, in a developmentally appropriate way, and how to keep themselves and others safe, like washing their hands for 20 seconds.”
‘That’s what I want to be!’
From a young age, Rogers knew she wanted to work with kids, but in what capacity she wasn’t sure—until she saw a child life specialist on TV.
“I called my dad into the room and made him watch the interview,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘That’s it! That’s what I want to be!’ I was only 14 so of course he said, ‘Slow your roll! Let’s figure out what this is first.’ I remember sitting at the kitchen table Googling ‘child life,’ researching the educational requirements. And then I just went for it!”
Rogers, who grew up in Dublin, California, got her undergraduate degree in child development at California State University, Sacramento, and her master’s in Child Life at the University of La Verne. In 2017, she took a temporary position at CHLA while a full-time Child Life specialist was on leave.
“I absolutely fell in love with the Rehab Center, and when the person I was covering for decided not to come back, I applied for the job. I’ve been in Rehab for almost three years and I love it.”
Getting back to normal
When things get back to normal, Rogers can’t wait to see a bunch of kids in the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation Rehabilitation Center playroom battling it out over a game of Uno. In the meantime, she will keep finding opportunities for play and relaxation for the kids she works with—and in her personal life.
“Recently I found some old puzzles, and I have been coloring almost every night,” she says. “But I am genuinely thankful that I get to come to work each day, because that is my normal.”