What is a Child Development Specialist?
A child development specialist is an expert in identifying the traits, symptoms, and patterns particular to children who suffer from various developmental and psychological disorders.
Working one-on-one to evaluate their educational needs and issues, these childcare professionals serve as invaluable advisors to parents and educators.
It is not uncommon that a child development specialist is also a licensed therapist who counsels families in need of guidance and assistance correcting unwanted behavior and implementing strategies to help their children achieve goals.
What Does a Child Development Specialist Do?
The primary duty of a child development specialist is to ensure that children who suffer with developmental and psychological disorders receive the care they need in order to overcome their unique and difficult obstacles.
Working with children to evaluate their developmental issues
Child development specialists devote most of their days to learning about children. Observing them as they play games, solve puzzles, and make crafts, child development specialists gauge how quickly and successfully children can pick up new skills.
They also monitor and document children as they socialize in order to assess how well they get along with others, evaluate their ability to regulate emotions, and identify their communication and linguistic needs.
Developing therapy plans for parents and families
After identifying areas of difficulty, a child development specialist then creates a therapy program to overcome their developmental obstacles.
Programs typically include counseling approaches for modifying undesirable behavior, a dietary plan to help children receive the appropriate vitamins and nutrients essential for their cognitive health, educational methods for learning new skills and concepts, coping strategies to manage negative emotions, and standards of measurement to track and evaluate progress.
Educating families and parents
Once developmental issues have been identified and a therapy plan has been outlined, it is then a development specialist’s duty to teach parents, educators, and other caretakers how to help their child achieve his or her goals and reach their potential.
They will often hold workshops, small group counseling, and even visit the homes of clients to ensure that children are receiving everything they need in an environment that is both safe and healthy.
Organizing referrals and childcare arrangements
As most people do not possess the financial means or information to meet the many complicated needs associated with developmental disorders in children, a child specialist’s duty is to help families select and obtain quality care for their children.
Child development specialists work with social services and community assistance agencies to compile resources, organize educational and childcare arrangements, and make referrals when necessary.
Records and reports keeping
Child development specialists must also fulfill various administrative duties. In addition to documenting children’s developmental needs, issues, and progress, they also keep account of the social services programs and resources families utilize, and acquire children’s records of immunization, physical examinations, and other necessary medical documents.
Where Does a Child Development Specialist Work?
A child development specialist works wherever childcare is provided. Those who specialize in early childhood development are typically employed by hospitals where they work in pediatric departments, daycare facilities, preschools, and programs funded by the government such as Head Start.
As some child development specialists work exclusively with children who are older than five, they are typically employed by both public and private primary schools and after-school programs.
Child development specialists can also work for community assistance organizations, government social services agencies, and as nannies in the individual homes of families who can afford such full-time services.
What are the Requirements to Become a Child Development Specialist?
To become a child development specialist, candidates are first required to hold a high school diploma or GED. Next, candidates must attend a four-year program to earn their bachelor’s degree — preferably in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Child Advocacy.
The various types of coursework for this degree may include lifespan development and psychology, political and ethical problems in child advocacy, diversity and multicultural concerns, and strategies for child rearing and education.
While many opt for a four-year degree, most employers require candidates to hold both a bachelor’s and master’s. To fulfill this need, universities now offer five-year programs for a master’s degree fast track. Students may choose dual majors in social work, education, child life, psychology, child growth and development, or other comparable majors.
Once a child development candidate has earned his or her degree/s, there are a number of voluntary certifications they may earn to help ensure gainful employment.
The most well-known of these is the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, which is required of candidates by many employers before they are permitted to work with children in the early stages of development and/or under the age of five.
Credited through the Council for Professional Recognition, candidates can earn their CDA by working in one of the following four childcare settings: programs for infants and toddlers, family childcare programs, preschools, or home-visitor programs. After their specialized training, candidates are required to pass the CDA exam to finalize their certification.
While technically not a mandatory accreditation, the majority of employers require candidates who wish to work with children older than five become a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) through the Child Life Council (CLC). In order to earn this certification, candidates must have first earned a bachelor’s degree, completed one or more child life or development course/s, fulfill 480 hours of hands-on and supervised clinical experience, and pass the CCLS exam.
What Do You Learn in a Child Development Specialist Degree Program?
In addition to learning how to identify, intervene, and treat developmental and psychological disorders in children, a child development specialist degree program will also teach you how to effectively communicate with patients, educate parents, and provide counseling and resources to families.
While the following is a great start to understanding what you will learn in a child development degree program, it should be noted that this is not a complete nor comprehensive list.
Child Psychology Theories – You will study the basic principles of modern child psychology by learning Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental theory, Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental theory, and Bowlby’s Attachment theory amongst many others.
Typical Versus Atypical Child Development – In order to determine whether or not a child has a developmental disability, you will first learn what typical child development looks like versus atypical.
Challenges for Children and Their Families – In addition to learning about the obstacles that children with developmental disabilities face, you will also learn about the unique challenges faced by their siblings, parents, and other family members.
Family Psychology – As part of your child development degree coursework, you will learn about the various types of family dynamics and how the obstacles that families face often vary depending upon demographic factors such as race, geography, and income.
Behavioral Disorders in Children – As child developmental and behavioral disorders typically manifest together, you will learn about the spectrums and symptoms of each and how one disorder can affect another.
Child Neuropsychology – You will learn how neurological factors in a child’s developing brain can affect their ability to manage emotions, socialize, speak, and acquire new skills. Additionally, you will learn how to use information collected from neuropsychological assessments to diagnose disorders and treat symptoms.
Child Neglect, Abuse, and Intervention – As a child development specialist, it will be your responsibility to recognize and intervene in the various forms of mistreatment and neglect in children who may not be capable of communicating those abuses.
Gender and Age – In addition to how gender affects early child development, you will also learn of the major role it plays throughout other important developmental stages such as preadolescence, puberty, and even post-adolescence.
Human Anatomy and Physiology – Child development specialists also evaluate children’s physical health and growth and the ways in which it can affect their developing cognition and motor skills.
What is an Online Child Development Specialist Degree?
An online child development specialist degree is a four-year bachelor’s degree that may be earned online. Rather than having to commute to a university campus or other physical setting, an online degree allows child development specialist students to complete their coursework through a web-based program in the comfort and convenience of their own home.
This type of degree program is ideal for students who have children, a full-time job, or for any other reason/s need a wider range of scheduling flexibility. However, a child development specialist degree that is pursued online is no less recognized nor less difficult to earn than degrees pursued at on-site locations.
Additionally, web-based degree programs typically offer students a list of majors and concentrations that are far more specific than the options that are available in campus degree programs.
What Skills are Required to Be a Child Development Specialist?
Working with children who suffer with behavioral and developmental disorders requires child development specialists to possess a very specific set of skills.
To help decide if you have what it takes, review the following list. However, it should be noted that there are likely many more qualities and skills you may need for a future career in child development.
- Teamwork and Communication Skills – As they are responsible for coordinating the roles, efforts, and multiple objectives of different childcare parties, child development specialists must possess exceptional communication skills. Additionally, they must exercise teamwork and collaboration skills in order to ensure that the concerns and goals of each parent, teacher, and doctor are understood and coordinated effectively.
- Imaginative and Creative – Child development specialists must be skilled at using their imaginations to come up with lesson plans that children find fun and engaging. Furthermore, child development specialists must be able to get especially creative in order to customize their teaching strategies and methods of evaluations for each individual child and his or her unique learning style.
- Patience and Understanding – Working with atypical children can be stressful, therefore it is imperative that child development specialists have the ability to practice immense patience and understanding at all times. Not only must they constantly revise their teaching and assessment strategies to best fit the needs of children with conflicting special needs, they must also be understanding of the different backgrounds, lifestyles, personalities, and parenting preferences of families.
- Sensitivity and Professionalism – Counseling families and educating parents whose children suffer from developmental and psychological disabilities requires a child development specialist have the ability to speak with kindness and sensitivity while maintaining an overall tone of professionalism.
- Organization and Leadership – Child development specialists must be organizational experts in order to juggle the numerous tasks for which they are responsible; such as: assessing and keeping record of children’s developmental needs, documenting their progress, developing different teaching programs and curricula for each student, and helping families locate resources and arrange services. Furthermore, coordinating the efforts of educational, community, and social services programs requires child development specialists possess outstanding leadership skills.
- Playfulness and Confidence – In order to connect with kids on their level and on their terms, a child development specialist must be able to access his or her own inner child, playfulness, and lightheartedness. However, this alone is not enough to earn the trust of children. They must also be able to exert themselves as a confident authoritative figure.
- Physical Strength and Endurance – Child development specialists must possess enough physical strength to regularly pick up a 50-pound child and carry them at least 500 feet. Furthermore, keeping up with the energy levels of children, especially those with behavioral disorders, requires a certain level of physical endurance.
- Flexibility & Spontaneity – As children are subject to their own cycles of energy, sleep, wakefulness, and concentration, child development specialists must have a special ability to be flexible, understanding, and adaptive to children’s inherently spontaneous nature.
- Inclined to Nurture – While most skills can be learned and improved upon, child development specialists should be somewhat instinctively nurturing individuals.
What are the Benefits of Being a Child Development Specialist?
While it is certainly a challenging career, experts say there are numerous benefits to being a child development specialist that make all the stress of the occupation worth it all at the end of the day.
- It Feels Good to Make a Difference – Helping families and children with special needs overcome obstacles, achieve their goals, and improve the quality of their everyday life is a reward entirely in and of itself.
- Variety in Daily Tasks – While specific responsibilities vary from setting to setting, each workday for a child development specialist holds a wide variety of different duties and tasks that prevent their job from becoming mundane and boring.
- Array of Locations and Work Settings – Child development specialists have different options of locations and settings in which they can work such as preschools, primary schools, after-school programs, and pediatric hospitals.
- A Large Network of Team Members – Collaborating with social services workers, special education teachers, doctors, nurses, and other childcare professionals, child development specialists develop meaningful relationships with team members across multiple different networks.
- Professional Benefits and Amenities – As their job can often be a taxing one, child development specialists are compensated with well-paying salaries, healthcare benefits, flexible scheduling options, and plenty of vacation time and sick days.
- Stay in Touch with Your Own Inner Child – Although they are working professionals, spending so much time engaging and playing with children is an excellent way to forever stay creative and in touch with your own inner child.
- Witness the Results of Your Work – Most working professionals never get to see the results of all their hard work. Child development specialists not only regularly witness the impact they make, but they often get the satisfaction of seeing those results immediately.
How Much Does a Child Development Specialist Make?
Child development specialists fall into a category of careers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as “health educators.”
As of May 2021, the top earners for health educators worked for private organizations or state hospitals and earned a median salary of $76,450. According to the same study conducted by the BLS, the lowest health education earners pulled just a little over $49,240 that same year.
Are Child Development Specialists in Demand?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for child development specialists is expected to increase 12% by the year 2030.
What Professions Are Similar to Child Development Specialist?
Child Social Work
Child social work is a profession dedicated to children’s advocacy and abuse intervention. Job duties include following up on complaints made against adults suspected of mistreating and/or neglecting children.
Child social workers are responsible for removing children from unsafe homes, and in worst case scenarios, they work with district attorneys to proceed with criminal charges against blatant cases of child neglect and violent abuse. Once removed from a dangerous environment, social workers will then place children into approved and state-supervised foster care.
Helping families support themselves and their children, stay safe, and thrive together, family support specialists play an important role in cities and communities throughout the United States. They help families who need counseling and other assistances as they cope with various types of crises such as unemployment, divorce, addiction and substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and homelessness.
Family support specialists also help families locate, obtain, and afford child care services, transportation, shelter, education, job training, and healthcare.
School counselors work at the lowest levels of education, such as preschool and elementary school, all the way up to undergraduate and post-graduate college levels. Their roles and responsibilities include getting to know students, learning about their needs, and helping them to achieve their educational goals.
School counselors also assist students by providing them with tutors and access to other academic resources, counseling to raise their self-confidence, intervening in social situations such as bullying, and making referrals to youth psychologists for additional mental health care.
Child psychologists work with a wide variety of developmental and mental health concerns that affect children and adolescents of all ages.
Many child psychologists may choose to concentrate on one specific issue or group of issues such as treating children with cognitive impairments, diagnosing attention-deficit disorders and autism and managing their associated symptoms, counseling teens who struggle with emotional and behavioral problems that can lead to substance abuse and/or juvenile delinquency, and diagnosing and treating children with serious mental illnesses such as personality disorders.