Tips for donating to your local child life program

Many child life programs rely on community donations and support to create an emotionally safe healthcare environment for children and families. While every hospital has different needs, here are some suggestions of where to start if you want to support child life services at your local hospital.

  • Single-use arts and crafts supplies: Child life specialists utilize arts and crafts supplies recreationally to help children and families pass the time and as tools for therapeutic interventions aimed at helping children understand their diagnosis and treatment or to create an expressive outlet. Items like crayons and markers, watercolor paints, construction paper, safety scissors, beads, and string can all aid in this goal. For safety reasons, avoid supplies, kits, or activities with sharp needles or other tools.
  • Sensory items: Sensory items are a great tool to help children cope with the stress of hospitalization. All-plastic mobiles or light and music toys are soothing options for infants and toddlers. Small tubs of Play-Doh and stress balls are good choices for older children.
  • Toys, blankets, and other comfort items: Many child life programs can accept toy donations as long as they are new items in their original packaging. This is especially important for plush or cloth items that cannot easily be cleaned. Hospital rules vary on accepting hand-made items like blankets or hats so it is always good to check with the child life program first.
  • Entertainment: Some hospitals have built-in entertainment systems that include movie streaming and games, but others still utilize DVD and video games. Check with your local hospital to see if they need DVDs and videogames and if they have any requests. Hospital rules on ratings vary, but a good rule of thumb is sticking to movies with a G, PG, or PG-13 rating and video games with an E, E10+, or T rating.
  • Monetary donations: Monetary donations specifically designated for child life services are always appreciated. This allows the child life specialists to purchase exactly what they need to meet the unique needs of the children and families they see. Some programs can also accept gift card donations for either program use or to give to children. Always check with the child life program before donating gift cards.
  • Timing: Child life programs receive the majority of their donations during the holiday season and then create a plan to spread the use of those donations out over the whole year. Consider donating at a different time of year to ensure child life specialists have the tools and supplies they need to provide emotionally safe care for children and families all year.

These general guidelines are a good starting point, but when in doubt, check with the child life program you want to support. Many programs have specific wish lists they regularly update and their true needs may surprise you! The best way to ensure your donation has a maximum positive impact on children and families is to talk directly to the child life program.

You can find your local child life program here.