Monthly Archives: June 2016

Day 7: Leaving a Different Orlando

Today I flew home.  I hated leaving when the Family Assistance Center is still open and there are some significant things still happening, but I needed to get back today.  Four members of our team are still there and will continue to care for the children.image

I drove away from the football and soccer stadium and thought: If I ever come back to this stadium it will likely be for something fun, but to me it will always represent something completely different.

 My first flight out of Orlando was PACKED with kids flying home with their families in Mickey Mouse t-shirts….several of them also seemed to be on sugar highs, which was fun for everyone.   Someone next to me on my second flight asked me, “Where’d you fly from?” and when I said Orlando, he said, “Oh that’s fun!”.  I nodded.

But to me, Orlando will now represent something different than before.  I think the people of Orlando are changed too and Orlando is a different place.   But for me, I think Orlando will always represent the privilege it is to be able to work with kids and families in critical, life-changing moments.  And to be able to laugh and play and be silly with kids sometimes and other times be serious and solemn together, all while helping them communicate, express, and begin to process their thoughts, fears, and hopes.  What an honor!

Additional Note:  I honestly am not completely comfortable sharing all these thoughts in this blog, since it feels a little too personal and our audience has grown so big!  But the CLDR team truly believes that there are many more CLS’s out there who can and should join this movement.  My hope in sharing this is that others will catch the vision for how we can use our child life skills in the field of disaster relief.  There is such a need!  Thank you for reading and for all your support during this deployment.  It has meant more than you could know.

Day 6: Wheelchairs and Boo-boo’s

We have been seeing a lot more of those who are injured coming to the Family Assistance Center.  This is likely due to the fact that they are starting to be discharged from hospitals.  Some come in wheelchairs and many with all sorts of bandages.  And they come supported by their friends and families.  It was Latino Night at the Pulse, and many individuals who were killed or injured are Latino.  There is a strong family and extended family support and that shows in the children’s play and words.


We are starting to see a difference with the kids who are coming since we are seeing more of the kids from those who have survived now.  There is a little less of a focus on grief and loss in their play and discussion and more of a focus on family, fears, and insecurities.   The fears are about potential dangers at every turn and fears of another family member being hurt or killed by some other bad person.  It was amazing to watch and hear how my teammates supported some of these kids in significant ways today.

One little boy I spent time with at a different location per the request of the parent, communicated through his play that he wasn’t sure his loved one’s “boo-boo’s” that he saw would ever heal.  ….but to anyone watching us play, they would have thought it was all fun based on how loud he laughed and giggled and seemed to completely enjoy what we were doing together.  I love how kids are kids, and I love how their real thoughts are often a mystery to adults, unless we stop and listen a tiny bit deeper.  I also still can’t believe I get the privilege to be the one to listen deeply right now.

The large hospital system a block away from Pulse has 49 crosses out front.  Each one has a name, a red heart, and a picture of that person.  Balloons, flowers, and notes are all around left by mourners, and that spot has become a gathering place for many at all hours.



Day 5: Numbers Don’t Capture the Story

At the Sunday night vigil with 50,000 people.
We got to the church early (it was completely packed once it started).

A few of us went to a local church service this morning before the Family Assistance Center (FAC) opened. Even though I’m an avid news-reader, I have not been reading the news on this horrible event and only learning details from the kids. But I have to tell you, the church put the names of the 49 victims up on the front screen for people to spend time in prayer and that was the first time I had seen the names all together- I was genuinely and completely shocked at how many names were up there. It took my breath away. The number 49 doesn’t capture the magnitude of this event. I read the names and could identify some of them and could picture the faces of the children we’ve met and the stories they’ve shared.

The Red Cross does a daily briefing each morning before the Family Assistance Center (FAC) opens, and they report on details and tasks. They reported that the FAC has welcomed and helped 642 individuals and 266 families so far who were significantly affected by this tragedy. These are the victims’ families, the injured, and also those who were at Pulse that night (both staff and patrons) who were not injured. Many of them suffered emotional trauma as well as needing assistance with lost valuables including wallets and keys. The cars in the parking lot were also unable to be retrieved easily due to the crime scene itself and the media waiting by the cars to talk to anyone who came to retrieve them.  So, the FAC developed a plan for retrieving those cars and returning them to the individuals.

Those numbers of the families we have served… they are huge.  But I can’t let go of that feeling when I saw those 49 names all together: that the numbers just don’t capture the true magnitude and impact of this event.#healorlando

Day 4: Critical Response Team & Wally

Due to the nature of this deployment, these blogposts have been on hold until they have been cleared for release.

This has been a super controlled and well organized disaster response as a whole. My teammates who have been on critical response deployments before, say that the response for man-made disasters seems to be more regulated overall than for natural disasters. Possibly in part due to the fact that local agencies and organizations are less likely to have staff or buildings of their own directly affected, so they are able to coordinate relief services on full capacity.


This is our full team. Erin and I were the child life specialists on the team. Erin was able to arrive a day before me, and she stay for two days before she needed to return to work. We also have one early childhood mental health therapist, a social worker, and a physician, and all have been trained for working with kids post disaster.

We continue to have valuable interactions and opportunities and those interactions of course still need to handled with high confidentiality so I am unable to go into detail. I was hearing today how local organizations have been asking/offering to be allowed to provide services to the families, but at this stage, they are being turned away. That is not because they do not have something valuable to offer, but only because those needs are currently being met by the critical response teams of the various disaster organizations initiated by the Red Cross. If the Child Life Disaster Relief (CLDR) team has learned anything in the past 5 years, it is that the field of disaster relief relies heavily on its trusted “go-to” organizations that have proven their effectiveness over years and decades of providing consistent and reliable disaster relief services. We are grateful for our partnership with Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) to be able to join them in providing these critical services in the disaster’s immediate aftermath. However, once the critical response time period is over, those local organizations who are looking to help, will be needed more than ever in the Orlando community.

Now after all that, I need to introduce you to my new friend, Wally:


Yeah. He’s with the FBI. No biggie.

Child Life Specialist Reflects on Serving Families in Orlando

Certified child life specialist Erin Silber was deployed to Orlando to assist children and families impacted by the attack at the Pulse nightclub on June 12th. Erin was deployed through our partnership with Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) along side Katie Nees and a group of CDS volunteers.

“To know that you’ve affected positively someone that has been in that situation and is dealing with the outside effects of it within that family unit…it’s pretty powerful…”

Watch Erin’s interview with WTSP, Tampa for more insight into her time helping families in Orlando.

Day 3: Play-Doh Naps

Today started with a press conference where we stood with city officials and the other relief organizations in front of a line of reporters (crazy!).  And then it ended with a nap on top of play-doh.


It was a quieter day overall for us in our play space.  One pre-teen girl seemed eager to talk and showed me pictures on Google  and described how it feels to have her family in the news and on social media. I colored and played cards with a young boy who cracked a smile every so often- I love the shy kids!  Later, another young boy gradually started playing slower and slower until he fell asleep with play-doh and roller in his hand…..the last few days have been exhausting, I think.



But you know what?  Right after a kid today told me that our play-doh selection was lame (we wore our supplies out yesterday!), I met up with a child life specialist (CLS) here in Orlando who had offered to help in any way we needed.  I asked if she could bring us a few more specific supplies and she gathered the items from other local child life specialists and brought them to us!  She is also continuing to help us connect with CLS’s for some potential in-hospital family needs.

imageI love that instant-friends feeling from our child life family.  Thank you, Orlando CLSs!  You’re just what we needed.

Day 2: I’ve Changed My Mind

imageSo, you guys.  Remember when I said yesterday that I wasn’t completely convinced that leaving lots of responsibilities to come here so quickly was the smartest decision?  Well, I’ve changed my mind.

Today was incredible.

I want to tell you all the details and reasons why, but security and privacy for the families here on this deployment is extremely important.  I cannot tell you all the things our team has been able to be a part of or specific situations that we have been able to have an impact with, but I will tell you what I can.

We have set up a play space at the Family Assistance Center which is in the huge football and soccer stadium here.


The reason is that they are able to securely control and monitor the area.  It is heavily guarded at every corner and door/gate.  No one who is not authorized and fully screened is allowed on the premises including (especially) the media.  The FBI and all sorts of other police are very present.

Our play space is in a corner of the room where several groups/organizations have tables to meet with and provide all sorts of types of assistance for the adults on many different practical and emotional levels.

I spent a couple hours with a few school aged kids in our space and watched -and gently guided them to realizing that they had something big in common. They had no idea who each other was and I watched them go from withdrawn/timid kids to looking at each other in amazement when they discovered that they are not “the only ones”.  I watched their disinterest turn to disbelief which turned to relief and then turned to complete giddy-ness all while we simply played together.  These kids shared their stories and formed a bond with each other so deep that they (we) began to just be completely silly and giddy. The kind of silliness you experience with your siblings or best friends.  We had so much fun – but,  of course,  it was deeper than fun.


So yes, I’ve changed my mind.  I don’t want to be anywhere right now but here.


Two certified child life specialists on this team (full team pic another day).

Day 1: Lots I Don’t Know


Today was a long day of travel, and layovers, and mechanical issues on planes, and trying to wrap up details for an all-of-a-sudden week away that I’m not totally convinced I should have taken. But my child life team and boss are amazingly supportive. They have made some real sacrifices to help me be here, for which I am so amazed and grateful – and here I am.
I just arrived in Orlando to join a small Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) critical response team. This is a specialized team of experienced CDS volunteers who were called upon by the Red Cross
yesterday to come work with the children affected by the horrific massacre that happened here a few days ago.
We all know that even though there were no child fatalities, there are still child victims of this man-made disaster.  Children, just like adults, will be forever affected by the tragedy in Orlando. The difference is that for many of the children, this may be their very first experience with grief and loss- and it is quite an intense one.   They are also facing realities of “bad guys” and what all that means for their world-view and for their futures.  Children often do not have the cognitive ability to fully comprehend these things or to regulate or manage the overwhelming emotions and confusion they may be feeling.  They also often have parent(s) who are beyond overwhelmed themselves and may be struggling to effectively attend to their child’s emotional and psychosocial needs right now.
So, those are things I know.  I know many of you reading this also know these things. But I think saying what I know right now is helping me as I step into a whole lot of unknowns with this deployment.  I’m feeling the heaviness of this one for sure.  And the reality is, I just really have no idea what to expect.


A billboard outside our hotel

Orlando, FL: Mass Shooting Response

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Two certified child life specialists who have leadership roles within Child Life Disaster Relief and Children’s Disaster Services are heading to Orlando, FL to assist with children and families affected by the shooting.  Please send positive thoughts and energy to all those affected directly and indirectly, as well as to those working with the victims of this horrific tragedy.  Stay tuned for further updates on their deployment.