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The Children’s Hospital Child Life Department


Child Life Department

Since 1969 the Child Life Department at Children’s Hospital has been helping children and their families cope with staying in the hospital, and it continues to make a difference in the lives of sick children.

Coming to the hospital can be a scary situation for anyone, let alone a child who doesn’t know what’s happening, and the Child Life Department does everything it can to ensure the experience is as pleasant as possible.

The Child Life Department offers a variety of services to patients and their families including CHTV, the hospital’s closed-circuit television station; Child Life Humour Program, where Hubert the clown visits children on the units and in the clinic; music therapy that provides musical activities; the Book Corner Library and The Family Information Library; pet visitations; and Manitoba’s TLC, or Teens Living with Cancer.

March is Child Life Month and a number of the programs within the Child Life Department will be celebrating some significant milestones. The Book Corner will celebrate 25 years, the Family Information Library will be celebrating 20 years and the Music Therapy Program will celebrate 15 years as part of the department.

Child Life also puts on special events and entertainment, and welcomes special guests such as the Blue Bombers and Jets to the hospital.

Renée Ethans, manager of the department, said Child Life allows the hospital to treat children psychosocially as well as medically.

“We’re here to alleviate, or ease, some of the stress and anxiety of hospitalization on children and families. We also want to try to optimize their normal growth and development while they’re here,” said Ethans, who has been involved with the department for over 30 years.

“Some of the ways that we do this is we have child life specialists assigned who are assigned to all the inpatient units, in the pre admit clinic, CancerCare and running some of our special programs here.”

The role of a child life specialist is to help prepare children for upcoming procedures and their hospital experience. The specialists will also help children, some who frequent the hospital for treatment, to find effective ways of coping with their numerous visits.

“We have a large emphasis on play because play is how kids grow and develop, and how they relax and our creative. We’re responsible for most of the age appropriate toys and activities in the hospital, but we also have a main play room that is very exciting for inpatients,” Ethans said.

A number of the programs offered by Child Life are funded by the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba including the music therapy, humour therapy, CHTV and the two libraries.

Lawrence Prout, CEO and president of the Foundation, said supporting the Child Life Department at Children’s Hospital is a vital component to ensuring a child has a positive experience while in the hospital.

“The work being done by the Child Life Department is extraordinary, they truly do make a difference in the lives of children and their families while they’re at the hospital,” Prout said.

“We feel privileged to have the opportunity to support these programs that bring so much joy and happiness to children who are going through such difficult times.”

As part of the humour therapy, clowns Hubert and Onri regularly make visits at the hospital and the same man has been behind the clown outfit since 1989.

David Langdon, a child life specialist with the department, always had a love for kids and acting, so he decided to combine the two and bring the two clown personas to life.

Hubert is a non-speaking mime clown, which Langdon said allows children to interact with him better, while Onri is a speaking clown who is a scientist.

Langdon describes Hubert as being part of the child’s world that normalizes the hospital, while Onri is part of the hospital culture.

“Mime is very much the language of young children’s play so they often are explaining what’s going on to their parents,” Langdon said.

“One of the other things I love about it is when you work non-verbally you have to be fully there, fully present. I would find I would connect with children and parents on a really deep level quickly. It’s very powerful that way.”

Langdon said having the humour program can benefit a child in a variety of ways, but it benefits him as well.

“Often there’s lots of laughter, it’s a great distraction and to some kids a clown is unexpected in the hospital. By that unexpectedness showing up I think it kind of opens your mind and your emotional inner being a bit more,” Langdon said.

“It really humanizes the environment I think. For some kids the clown is something to look forward to coming back to the hospital. I remember when I got this job I told my parents and just about anybody that would listen that I had the best job in the world, and I still feel after all these years I do.”

Ethans said bringing joy to children while they’re in the hospital is a special experience she’s proud to be part of.

“I just think I have the best job in the world. I think that every day I am enriched by the amazing children, families and staff that I am surrounded with. I have to say, and I know my staff feel the same way, I feel very passionate about what we do and extremely privileged to be able to be in this position to help others and hear their needs.” she said.

“The Children’s Hospital Foundation does a huge amount to help us because it funds those four programs. We work very closely with the Foundation hand in hand on many projects and activities; we have a huge appreciation for the Children’s Hospital Foundation.”


Make a difference today and donate towards the Child Life Department and Programs