Skip to body

Child Development & Family Science

Give to Our Programs

Contact Us

Child Development & Family Science
Michaelsen 100
(509) 963-2766

Child Development and Family Science Graduate Program



Master of Science in Child Development and Family Science

Family with children sitting on the floor playing with toys

The graduate program in Child Development and Family Science aims to prepare students to work in Family and Social Service agencies or as Certified Child Life Specialists. The degree includes an advanced interdisciplinary study of interpersonal and family relationships. The graduate program has a strong emphasis on community involvement, practical application, and research. Students choose to specialize in Family Science or Child Life. Graduates are prepared for advanced career opportunities in children’s hospitals, family social service agencies, parent education programs, family counseling centers, and other family life education settings or doctoral study in family relations.

What is unique about the graduate program at CWU?

Four female student sitting at a table

  • The Child Development and Family Science program admits a small cohort of 12 students per year. Students take courses with their cohort and get to know colleagues in the program well. Classes are also small, and students build relationships with program faculty quickly. 
  • All Child Development and Family Science Master’s students complete a multi-term practicum or internship experience in an agency suited to their particular professional goals. Students who specialize in Child Life can earn some of their hours through our child life practicum with Seattle Children's Hospital.
  • All students design and conduct a research study specific to their area of interest. Students have the opportunity to present their findings at a University sponsored research symposium as well as a regional professional conference.
  • Students have the flexibility to choose a capstone project that best meets their professional goals. Students will work with an advisor to decide whether to complete a thesis research project, an alternative project, or a comprehensive examination.
  • Limited graduate teaching assistantships are available. Assistantships provide  a partial tuition waiver and a stipend in exchange for students serving as instructors and advisors in the child development and family science undergraduate program.

3 female students sitting at a table

Program Requirements

All students complete the Core Child Development and Family Science coursework and choose a specialization.

Child Development and Family Science Core
Course # Title Credits
CDFS 501 Research Methods 5
CDFS 502 Statistics 4
CDFS 532 Family Interaction 4
CDFS 534 Therapeutic Applications of Child Development 4
CDFS 547 Families and Poverty 4
CDFS 592 Practicum 12
CDFS 595 Graduate Research 1
CDFS 700 Master's Thesis, Project Study, and/or Examination 2-6*
  Total Credits 36-40

* Examination = 2 credits; Project Study = 4 credits; Thesis = 6 credits

Students choose between two specializations: Child Life or Family Science. 

Child Life Specialization
Course # Title Credits
CDFS 514 Coping with Grief and Loss 4
CDFS 515 Therapeutic Play 4
CDFS 516 Child Life I: Scope of Practice 4
CDFS 517 Pediatric Diagnoses and Medical Terminology  4
CDFS 518 Child Life II: Impact of Child Hospitalization 4
Total Child Life Specialization Credits 56-60
Family Science Specialization
Course # Title Credits
CDFS 533 Family Life Education 4
CDFS 539 Families and Public Policy 4
  CDFS Electives (choose 2) 8

CDFS 503: Family Communication

CDFS 538: Attachment Theory and Practice

CDFS 514: Coping with Grief and Loss

CDFS 536: Diversity in Families

CDFS 582: Curriculum Development

IDS 405: Essentials of Project Funding in the Social Sciences

Total Family Science Specialization Credits 52-56
Students will work with their graduate advisor to develop a program of study appropriate for their individual career goals. Students typically begin the program in summer quarter, and can complete the degree after the following summer or fall (5-6 quarters total). Students seeking certification as Child Life Specialists or Family Life Educators may need to complete additional coursework to qualify for certification.
Child Life Specialization:
Our program allows students to complete all 10 courses required for certification by the Association for Child Life Professionals (ACLP). All child life classes are offered in-person so students have the opportunity for extensive hands-on learning in preparation for clinical internships. Using medical teaching dolls, medical supplies, and therapeutic play materials, students will practice procedural preparation, nonpharmacological pain management strategies, diagnostic teaching, and therapeutic play facilitation. 
Prospective students may be curious why our undergraduate program is endorsed through the ACLP, and our graduate program is not. That is simply due to unfortunate timing! We first applied and were awarded undergraduate endorsement, and were finalizing our application for graduate program endorsement in 2020 right when ACLP put their endorsement application process on hold, indefinitely. Rest assured, our courses meet all ACLP requirements and are thoughtfully designed to prepare our graduate students to be highly successful in their clinical training, passing the certification exam, and future work as Certified Child Life Specialists. We are proud to receive frequent feedback from clinical supervisors about how exceptionally well-prepared and amazing our CWU graduates are! 
Note: The practicum requirement for the graduate degree requires students to complete 360 hours of volunteer, practicum, and/or internship experiences. CWU Child Life students are encouraged to participate in our Seattle Children's Hospital Child Life Practicum in their second summer in the program to fulfill some of the practicum hours required for graduation. Students may choose to complete additional official child life practicums or internships* during the graduate program, and those hours will count toward the graduate degree. Many students choose to complete practicum hours in settings such as pediatric hospitals, grief programs, Sibshops, and medical summer camps. Contact Prof. Katy Tenhulzen for more information about practicum.
*Many students choose to complete their graduate degree prior to completing their 600-hour clinical internship. Our graduates are still eligible for affiliation with CWU during their internship. 

Tuition and Funding

Information about graduate tuition is available on the Registrar's website. Students in the MS Child Development and Family Science program typically enroll in 10-15 credits per quarter for 5 quarters. Each students' graduation plan is tailored to their timeline and career goals, so it may vary slightly.

Out of state students are eligible for the nonresident 50% tuition waiver. More information is available on the Graduate Studies website.

Graduate Assistantship Opportunities

We offer several graduate teaching assistantships in Child Development and Family Science. Graduate assistants teach entry-level Child Development and Family Science undergraduate courses, in close collaboration with a faculty mentor. Please contact Dr. Claridge to discuss assistantship possibilties in the department. Details about CWU graduate assistantships in general is located on the Graduate Studies website

How to Apply

Application Requirements:

  • Online admission application
  • Personal statement
    • Include your career goals, research interests, and how this program is a good fit for you. If interested in a graduate assistantship, please also indicate your experiences that prepare you to teach.
  • Three letters of recommendation (*at least one from a faculty member)
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • Official transcripts

Admission Details and Deadlines:

  • The deadline for priority application is Feb 1st.
  • We admit a cohort of students each year. We review applications in February and hold interviews in March. Applicants will be notified of admittance decisions sometime in April, and will have the option of starting the program in either Summer or Fall quarter.
  • We do NOT require the GRE for admission.
  • We do NOT have any required prerequisite coursework or clinical hour requirements for admittance to the program. However, we recommend that students pursuing child life certification have taken undergraduate courses in child development and anatomy and physiology. These courses are available at CWU and can be completed during the graduate program if students enter without them. Child Life applicants are highly encouraged to engage in hospital and/or medical camp volunteer experience prior to beginning their graduate coursework, with a minimum of 100 hours recommended.
For more information about applying, visit the graduate school website.


For more information about the graduate program, contact Dr. Amy Claridge.

Graduate Student Handbook 2022-2023

We have undergraduate programs in Family ScienceChild Development, and Child Life.


For more information on professional certifications:

National Council on Family Relations: Certified Family Life Educator

Association of Child Life Professionals: Certified Child Life Specialist

Take the Next Step to Becoming a Wildcat.