Child Life Therapy Program

A female care provider talks to a smiling young girl in a hospital bed.
Jan Crider (left), a Doernbecher child life specialist, understands that hospitals can be scary for young patients. She and our other child life specialists offer a range of techniques to help patients and their siblings feel more at ease.

At OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, our Child Life Program team can help you and your child feel more comfortable in the hospital. We aim to ease your family’s stress by giving you the support, tools and information you need to help your child heal — and even have a little fun while you’re here.

We offer:

  • Certified child life specialists in every area of the hospital.
  • Art, music, playrooms, toys, costumes and games.
  • Therapeutic, medical and developmental play.
  • Animal-assisted therapy with Hope and Davis, our facility dogs.

What is child life therapy?

Child life therapy helps you and your child cope with being in the hospital through play, education and creative activities. Our child life specialists are members of your child’s care team. They focus on the emotional, social and developmental needs of all the children in your family.

Meet Jan Crider, and learn more about how she and other members of the child life team work with young patients, their siblings and families.

Helping your child and family

Our specialists will work with your family to find strategies that fit your child’s age and development.

Activities: Our Child Life team understands that sick and injured children still need to have fun and play in the hospital. We provide a range of activities to encourage kids to be kids. This includes special visitors, weekly video bingo games, a costume closet, music and animal-assisted therapy.

Lowering anxiety: If your child is anxious about a medical procedure or surgery, we can model ways to cope, such as deep breathing and storytelling. We can help you explain what’s happening and answer questions in a simple, honest way that your child can understand. Play is a big part of our approach because it allows children to express their feelings in a comfortable way.

A female care provider smiles as she talks with a patient who is sitting up in a hospital bed.
Jan Crider, a child life specialist and art therapist, joined the profession after caring for a younger brother with hemophilia throughout his life. “The most rewarding aspects are the children,” she says. “They just bring you alive and call you to be so present.”

Our services

Two women standing, each with a yellow lab service dog standing next to them.
Sandy Westfall (right), is the manager of the Child Life Program. She is also the handler for Hope, one of Doernbecher’s two facility dogs. Hope often joins Westfall in her work as a child life specialist. Kristin Knight (left), a clinical social worker, is a handler for our other facility dog, Davis.

Developmentally supported play: We support your child’s healthy development and growth with play in your room or in one of our four well-equipped playrooms.

Medical play: Your child can learn what to expect during a test or procedure by:

  • Playing with real medical equipment.
  • Pretending to treat dolls and stuffed animals.
  • Doing art projects with supplies such as bandages, gauze and tape.

Therapeutic play: Timid or anxious children may benefit from creative activities such as journals, scrapbooks, music, photography and art. This gives them an outlet for fears they can’t say out loud.

Facility dogs: Our two facility dogs, Hope and Davis, and our animal-assisted therapy teams visit children and families by request to help them feel happier and more relaxed. Hope and Davis — calm, friendly golden retrievers — love playing fetch. One of their favorite commands is “snuggle.” Hope’s handler, Sandy Westfall, is the manager of the Child Life Program.

Our providers

Our child life specialists hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in child development or related fields. They are also certified by the Association of Child Life Professionals.

Program manager: Sandra Westfall, M.S., CCLS

Child Life specialists:

  • Peggy Adams, M.Ed., CCLS
  • Rebekah Coles, B.S., CCLS
  • Jan Crider, registered art therapist, B.S., ATR, CCLS
  • Beth Fitzpatrick, B.S., CCLS
  • Kim Kuenhert, M.A., CCLS
  • Allison Laurenza, B.S., CCLS
  • Hannah Ono, M.A., CCLS
  • Susan Sherwood, M.A., CCLS

For families

Call 503-418-5388 for more information.

Refer a patient

  • Call 503-346-0644 to seek provider-to-provider advice.

Stay informed

Blog: Find health and parenting tips, patient stories and more on Doernbecher’s Healthy Families blog.

News: Read about research breakthroughs, patient care and many other topics on the OHSU News site.