A true trailblazer, Colleen Banta, BS, CCLS, AIMI, began shaping the Parkview Child Life program in the 1980s, and she isn’t done yet. Her relentless quest to demystify and ease the hospital experience for younger patients demonstrates her caring character and profound commitment to her profession.
A dedicated listener and eternal learner, Colleen is one of the inspirational, influential and truly compassionate People of Parkview.
Name: Colleen Banta, BS, CCLS, AIMI
Title: Certified Child Life Specialist
Did you always know you wanted to be in healthcare?
My father was actually the head of the Physical Therapy department at Parkview in the early ‘60s and we lived on Carew St. I remember as a little girl walking over to his “gym” and thinking what a fun place the hospital surely was.
I also became interested in working with children during my teen years as a gymnast. I taught young children and then later coached at the high school level. In retrospect, I was led to explore the Child Life profession through failures in my educational career.
What was your career journey like?
Originally, I was interested in becoming a physical therapist, but when I entered college in the late ‘70s, there wasn’t the demand there is today. I met with my school advisor, who helped me discuss my passions and skills. I remember her pulling out this paper that talked about a Child Development degree with a Health Care emphasis. That’s me, I thought. In 1979, the idea of Child Life as a profession was in its infancy, and it sounded very exciting to me. I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Child Development and Family Studies from Purdue, West Lafayette, in 1981.
I was newly married, and when I received my diploma I also found out we were going to have a baby! My career got sidetracked so I could do what was important to me at that time and stay home to raise our 2 children. When they began preschool, the director of the school showed me a job listing for a child life specialist at Parkview. I applied immediately and officially began my career with Parkview in 1989.
The position began as a part-time program, and I felt like it was up to me to make this work and show the value of the Child Life profession. Beginning a new program was daunting, especially when not many knew what a child life specialist was. It wasn’t easy, but with time and support from leaders, I was able to educate, become a resource person and use my expertise to assist children during some of their most difficult times.
How would you describe your role?
I provide Child Life services 3 days a week to the Pediatric and Pediatric Intensive Care Units at Parkview Women’s and Children’s Hospital. It is my job to make sure that the possible negative effects of a hospital experience are minimized for the child through education, preparation, distraction, activities and play, which can help children cope better with stress and uncertainty.
I am a resource person in age-appropriate care and may receive calls from other departments to assist them in working with children to minimize stress and provide a positive patient experience. I do lots of toy cleaning (managing a clean playroom is so important), discuss patient plan of care with nurses, prepare patients for surgery, explain tests such as an MRI and how to stay calm and hold still using relaxation techniques. I round on patients and make sure their parents, who are essential to the daily care plan, have information and the tools they need to care for their child. We work with the families to address their child’s pain, as well as set them up with any toys or activities they enjoy. We have wagons, games, movies and other age-appropriate activities to help normalize the hospital experience.
I train new volunteers for the pediatric area, work with students interested in the Child Life field and plan special events for our patients like holiday parties, character visits and Ronald McDonald visits. I also coordinate with our community groups who wish to donate or do service projects for children at Parkview, and participate in outreach programs.
I’ve worked for Parkview as a Child Life specialist for 26 years, and I’ve seen firsthand the Child Life profession evolve from a mostly play-based program to a much broader specialty that incorporates other skills, such as positioning for comfort, distraction and relaxation. Because of dedicated Child Development experts and work by the Association of Child Life Professionals, many of our interventions and development theories are backed by evidence-based research.
What makes the Parkview Child Life program so special?
The team of healthcare professionals I work with make Parkview special. I feel supported by the staff and their commitment to take the time to work with me to put the child’s care first. Age-appropriate care means that, with each patient, we are looking at the experience through their eyes. For instance, how does a 3 year old process the unknown and what words can I use that they will understand.
We recently added two more child life specialists in our Emergency Departments. Parkview leaders and community members funded this pilot program 4 years ago and now both positions have become full time. I hear numerous positive comments from parents who have been touched by a child life specialist during their child’s ED experience.
What are some challenges of your job?
Prioritizing my day can be difficult. The days I feel the best and most rewarded at the end of the day are when I have had patient contact the majority of the day. Children are so special and when given the opportunity, information and some choices, they will find ways to cope when faced with new or scary challenges.
What are the greatest rewards of your job?
When I follow a patient from admission to discharge and see them grow from their experience. They draw their nurses pictures, they learn how to blow the ouch away with bubbles, or how to let Mom hug them while getting their lab work done. To see them face new experiences and come down the hall in a wagon or riding toy with a smile. Because I have been growing along with this profession, I’ve felt like I was actually a part of something. Having a child who is more cooperative through the use of distraction, preparation or positioning is what drives the patient experience for our families, and knowing I may have had a hand in this is special.
What most excites you about the future of your profession?
Attending our national conferences, it’s amazing to see how they’ve grown from a few hundred attendees to 4,000. Having a child development expert in a hospital is valuable and research now backs this up. But there’s always room for growth. I know that a child life specialist’s skills can also benefit children in our surgery, imaging, and outpatient areas where preparation, distraction and play could shorten length of stay, improve positive outcomes, along with giving children and families coping skills for future experiences.
What else do you hope to accomplish in your career?
I recently became accredited in infant massage Instruction, and I am able to teach parents a simple research-based technique that has been shown to improve bonding and minimize post-partum depression, as well as improve infant sleep/wake patterns and help with digestion issues. I hope to share baby’s first massage protocol of loving and respectful touch to Parkview families as well as the community.
Is there one particular story with a patient that moved you?
I really don’t think I could name just one. The uniqueness of each family, watching them move through their journey, no matter how long or how short a stay or how severe the injury or illness is, moves me as much as any one patient story. Family-centered care is alive and well in the Pediatric and Pediatric Intensive Care units.
What qualities do you think make a great caregiver?
Someone who takes the time to listen.
If you could tell all parents one thing about caring for their children, what would it be?
Take those short first few years of a child’s life and be there for them. Learn as much as you can about what development is happening in the first 3 - 4 years of their lives and know that you have the opportunity to impact their self-esteem, growth and development.
What’s the best piece of parenting advice you received?
Remember to play with your child and give them a safe environment to do this in. Children build many concrete thinking skills that they will need later in life. They need to figure out how to make up rules and handle failure. Do not solve all of your children’s problems, but rather, ask them how they would handle it. Create problem solvers!
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I was a state champion gymnast when I was 11!
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
I enjoy being outdoors. Bike riding, hiking, cross-country skiing, walking. I also am an avid knitter and love to read.
If you could recommend one book, which would it be?
The Bible has probably had the most impact on my life. I was raised by Christian parents and I’ve watched how the knowledge from the Bible has helped people I love through some of the most difficult times in their lives. Never stop reading and learning.
What would we find on your bucket list and what do you plan to check off next?
You know, I don’t really have a bucket list. I guess I am fairly content. I enjoy good health and hope to have many more years exploring life with my husband, children, and grandchildren. I feel pretty rich. Well, it would be great to knit, read and bicycle faster!