All posts by Katie Nees

Reminder: CLDR at ACLP Conference

REMINDER!    An opportunity to learn more about Child Life Disaster Relief:
Friday May 26th in Las Vegas, NV.

We welcome all of you who are attending the ACLP conference this week to join us on Friday May 26th between 5:45pm-7pm in the BORDEAUX meeting room.  This will be an informal opportunity to learn more about what CLDR is doing, ask any questions, network, and discover how you can be involved.  We will see you there!

Refugee Children and Caralyn Perlee

Caralyn Perlee, CLDR Director of International Relations has been in France working with Refugee children as part of a CLDR partnership with the Dunkirk Children’s Centre.  Here is an update on her experiences– you won’t want to miss this!

On the first of February, I arrived in Dunkirk, France, where Europe’s first humanitarian refugee camp opened in March of 2016. I joined a team of volunteers that were running the children’s centre on camp, and soon assumed the role of Psychosocial and Welfare Coordinator. Dunkirk Children’s Centre had humble beginnings, growing from only a small tent into what eventually became a small campus, with two buildings, one for older children and one for younger, two play structures and an enclosed outdoor playspace. The goal of the organization was to provide a safe and structured play space for refugee children, run by adult figures that they could trust and depend upon.

When I first learned of the Children’s Centre, it seemed as if they were having a particularly difficult time with the children. With the exception of one long-term volunteer who had been there since the beginning and would eventually become director, different volunteers were cycling in an out of the kids’ lives on a weekly basis. Inexperienced volunteers were ill-equipped to handle the constant fights and troublesome behaviors, and were unable to create steady, trusting relationships with the children in order to even begin addressing the source of such behaviors.

When I first arrived, the children- especially the ones that had been living on camp the longest- seemed to be testing the boundaries with me in every way possible. At times I would get so frustrated that I didn’t think I could possibly last longer than a few weeks, but taking a step back and realizing that this was a direct reflection of the chaos, instability and fear that these children were experiencing made me determined to be as unwavering and trustworthy as I could possibly be. While I arrived with many goals for incorporating Child Life practice into the structure of the Children’s Centre, I quickly found out that flexibility and adaptivity were essential. The director had established a structure and routine that was more rule-oriented than an environment I had worked in previously. At first I was hesitant but quickly came to understand the need and the benefit, and it became apparent that before I would be able to accomplish anything of real therapeutic value, I needed to ensure these kids of their very basic need to feel safe.

Over time, as the need for constant behavior management declined, I found that I was more and more able to engage children therapeutically through both directive play and creative arts interventions. Children played out scenarios involving ISIS attacks, police raids, hiding in cargo trucks, boat journeys, and leaving homes and friends behind.
They became eager to tell their stories, once they understood that it was acceptable and safe to do so.
When we were able to enlist the help of an interpreter, it became clear that they were bursting to be heard and understood, and it was humbling to be on the receiving end of it.
Even the child with the most troublesome and violent behaviors, who often came to the centre only to pick fights and instigate chaos, eventually began engaging positively and productively following a particularly profound individual session.

On Monday the 10th of April, a large fire ravaged through the camp, and after the majority of the shelters burned down, the French government made the decision to close the camp altogether. Over 1,500 refugees were left homeless, having once again lost everything, their lives again filled with uncertainty, chaos and fear. The Children’s Centre had been working tirelessly for the past year to provide children with a sense of safety, structure and calm in a life that is otherwise completely absent of such, and overnight all of this was instantly taken from them. Families were moved into gymnasiums, where we were able to go in and set up temporary play spaces (pictured) and be present for the desperately anxious parents. When the gymnasiums closed in a government effort to bus everyone to relocation centers, many families refused and slept either in the woods or on the streets. The Children’s Centre team spent the following two weeks locating families to ensure that children were safe, clothed and fed, and when we were able to, engaging them in as much play as possible. At present, all of the families are safe in relocation centers, but futures are uncertain as they must decide to either seek asylum in France (most of them do not) or leave the country.

As for the Children’s Centre, the director and board of trustees are assessing needs at other refugee camps and looking into locations for the next project. It is the hope of the organization to make future centers sustainable through engaging the local refugee community and training them in the day to day operations and running of the centers. The model of the Children’s Centre is one that I firmly believe in and have seen the benefit of first hand. I am so proud to be a part of it and am eager to work with this organization wherever they may end up next.

CLDR at the ACLP Conference – May 2017

Mark your calendars for Friday May 26th in Las Vegas, NV.

Child Life Disaster Relief (CLDR) will be at the ACLP 35th Annual Conference in Las Vegas.  You are invited to join us for an informal opportunity to learn more about what CLDR is doing, ask any questions, network, and discover how you can be involved.

Plan to meet us in the Bordeaux meeting room anytime between 5:45pm-7pm on Friday May 26th.  We will send out a reminder on Facebook closer to the date.  See you there!

Upcoming Events in Boston and NYC

Happy Child Life Month!

Child life specialists in the Boston and surrounding areas will have the opportunity to learn more about CLDR at the New England Child Life Professionals‘ Annual Child Life Month Event on April 3rd.  Click here for more information.

Also, SAVE -THE-DATE for the Spring one-day Children’s Disaster Services training in New York City for child life specialists and students!  This training will be hosted by Bank Street College and Child Life of Greater New York on September 16th.  Stay tuned for registration information.

Oak Grove, Missouri Response

Two child life specialists, Sarah Pfeifer and Lindsey Murphy are deploying with a Children’s Disaster Services team to Missouri after the devastating tornadoes/storms.  It is estimated that approximately 300 families have been affected with either severe damage or complete destruction of their homes.   Send them words of encouragement or comment your support here as they work with the kids and families who are struggling to cope.

Registration Open! Fort Worth, TX Child Life – Children’s Disaster Services Training

Fort Worth
REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN for the one-day Children’s Disaster Services training hosted by Cook Children’s Hospital Child Life Department in Fort Worth, Texas.  This training will be on March 25th and is open to child life specialists**.   Space is limited and we expect the spots to fill quickly, so register soon if you’d like to attend this event.   Email us with any questions or for more information.

Click here to register.

** UPDATE:  Due to the high volume of interest for this training, we are needing to amend this announcement to allow only certified child life specialists to register at this time.  We plan to open the registration to students and art/rec/music therapists as promised at a later date:  March 1st.   Sorry for the inconvenience and disappointment this may cause.   Feel free to contact us directly with any questions or concerns.  Read more about the difference between the one-day CDS training for child life specialists and the full CDS training here.

Support Us: PayPal, Amazon Smile & Fundraiser

Ways to Support…

Child Life Disaster Relief is a registered non profit with 501(C) (3) designation and welcomes individual donors to support our mission and help further our cause.

We now have a PayPal link for those who would like to support us in that way:

Secondly, we have joined forces with Amazon Smile. Follow the link below and a portion of your purchase will be donated to Child Life Disaster Relief. Be sure to bookmark or visit the banner below so your future Amazon purchases will continue to support CLDR!

And thirdly, Caralyn Perlee, CLDR Director of International Relations is leaving for France in February to begin a partnership with Dunkirk Refugee Children’s Centre. She has started a fundraising effort to be put towards travel expenses and cost of living while at the camp. Additional funds raised will be used towards sending other child life volunteers to France. The link can be found here: Please feel free to share the link with your friends, family and coworkers to support this cause.

Thank you for your ongoing support for increased specialized care to children facing natural and man-made disasters! We could not do this without your involvement.

2016 Year in Review

2016 was a big year for CLDR!  

…but to be honest, we have been saying that same thing for the past several years.

This all started as a lofty dream; an idea that we knew would meet a substantial need and have a huge impact.  We were committed to the cause, but I’m not sure we truly thought it would come to much- or at least not this much this quickly.  As each year passes, we look at each other and laugh in amazement at all that has been accomplished.  This continues to be exactly what we hoped for and much more than we expected.

2016 Recap:

We continued to solidify a strong partnership with Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) for local and national deployments in the US. In January, Katie Nees, Director of CLDR and Kathy Fry-Miller, Associate Director of CDS met with a group of child life specialists in Florida due to a need for more disaster responders in the Gulf Coast.  Two child life specialists took on leadership roles within CDS and became CDS Regional Coordinators, Erin Silber (Tampa, FL) and Heather Storey (Cincinnati, OH).  Numerous other child life specialists engaged in CDS and CLDR local efforts in their own cities – Kristy Woodwyk (Kalamazoo, MI), Lindsey Murphy (Columbia, MO), Erin Silber (Tampa, FL), and Heather Storey (Cincinnati, OH).  In September, the Florida Association of Child Life Professionals (FACLP) hosted a CDS training in Tampa specifically for 40 child life specialists, students, and music/art/rec therapists.  In October, Kristy Woodwyk, a CCLS at Bronson Children’s Hospital, hosted a training in Kalamazoo and in December, the Pacific Northwest Child Life Association (PNCLA) hosted a two-day CDS training in Seattle.  Several other CDS trainings took place around the country with a number of child life specialists at each.  At the end of 2016, a total 255 Child Life Specialists and students from 33 different states had been trained with CDS.

We deployed 8 out of 12 months this past year responding to 6 different disasters with CDS including the numerous Louisiana floods, the Missouri flooding, the California wildfires, the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina.  A total of 14 Child life specialist/students deployed including: Corinne Joplin, Lindsey Murphy, Sandy Bruner, Erin Silber (deployed twice), Gail Klayman, Tiffany Heinz, Katie Nees, Brianna Pastewski, Paula Hampel, Kelsey Loftus, Heather Storey, Crystal Baker, and Jessica Huerta.  A special thanks to each of them, their colleagues, families, and their employers for the support they so graciously offered prior to, during, and after their deployments.

Katie Nees presented with Kathy Fry-Miller, Associate Director of CDS at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) Annual Conference.   Lindsey Murphy, CLDR Associate Director, and Heather Storey, CLDR Director of Community Relations, presented research on role-transferability and barriers to child life specialists deploying during disasters at the Mountain West Child Life Association (MWCLA) Conference.

CDS facilitated a Critical Response Training for experienced CDS volunteers.  This training focused on man-made disasters (including acts of terrorism, mass shootings, and major airplane/train accidents).  This group of specially trained CDS volunteers will be called upon for future man-made disaster deployments.  Six child life specialists were invited and attended this training alongside 40+ other experienced CDS volunteers.   Katie Nees presented at this training on helping children cope with traumatic grief and loss and offered many specific strategies that could be utilized with children during these critical responses.

We established our Board of Directors and became an official non-profit, obtaining 501(c)(3) status.  M. Anne Longo, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC accepted our invitation for CLDR Board Member.  Dr. Longo has been an innovator, educator, and leader in pediatrics for 30+ years and provides an invaluable perspective for our continued growth.

We developed Task Forces to accomplish specific large-scale tasks for our organization:

Research Task Force

Lead by Lindsey Murphy and includes Elise Huntley, Rachel Schmelzer, Megan Cassani, and Cassie Weisz.

This group is working on publishing data collected from child life specialists on the barriers related to deploying to disasters and on the transferability of child life skills to disasters.  Future projects are lined up and additional research teams will be formed in 2017.

Resources Task Force

Lead by Katie Nees and Lois Pearson and includes Paula Hampel, Maria Sherry, and Caleb Tait.

This group is working on collecting, reviewing, and choosing resources that will be vetted by CLDR as accurate and appropriate resources for CLS’s and the general public.  These will be organized by type of disaster on the CLDR website under the resources tab.  The groups plans on identifying gaps in available resources and developing a plan for meeting those resource needs.

Local Expansion Task Force

Lead by Heather Storey and Gail Klayman with Erin Silber.

This group is working on trouble-shooting ways for CLS’s to become integrated in disaster services within their local communities. Their goal is to work alongside our national partner, CDS to continue their local expansion efforts as well as increase the ways CLS’s can contribute locally to disaster relief efforts.  They are organizing documents and resources including letters and PowerPoints that can be utilized by CLS’s in any area of the country.  They have been collaborating with one local group that has incorporated CLS’s successfully to determine how to implement similar processes in other areas of the country.  This task force will be expanding soon by invitation to CLS’s who have already been working to integrate themselves locally.

International Exploration Task Force

Lead by Caralyn Perlee and includes Lindsay Borel, Rachael Heyns, Liz Hines, Jill Meyers, and Mizuho “Millie” Uyehama.

This group is researching various organizations in the international disaster relief community that might potentially be interested in and a good fit for a partnership.  They have begun building a database of organizations based on their research as well as their pre-existing networks and are looking towards developing the best plan of action for forging future potential partnerships.

Thank you to all of you who have joined us to make this a reality!  We anticipate 2017 being an even bigger year than 2016 and already have some major new developments in progress.  Click here for the announcement of our first international partnership.

Please take this time to update your contact information, address, and child life certification status by emailing us at

Happy New Year to you all!

Announcing a New Partnership: Dunkirk Refugee Children’s Centre

        Dunkirk Refugee Children’s Centre ( is an organization operating in La Liniere, a refugee camp in Dunkirk, France. The camp is home to approximately 1,500 refugees from the middle eastern regions, and with a capacity of 2,500, the population is expected to continue rising. The Children’s Centre is open on a daily basis and offers children the opportunity to come and engage in play and socialization, ultimately helping them to regain a childhood that has been so unjustly taken from them.



        CLDR is partnering with Dunkirk Refugee Children’s Centre because their mission is very much aligned with ours, and because we too want to do everything we can to help the youngest victims of what is now the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. We as a community know how critical child life services are, and the Children’s Centre is eager to have our help.

        Caralyn Perlee, CLDR Director of International Relations, will be heading to the camp in February to begin establishing what we hope will be a strong and consistent presence within the organization. Qualified, long-term volunteers are needed. If you feel that you might be able to give 1-3 months, please contact Caralyn at for more information.

If you are unable to give time, there are other ways to help.  Caralyn has started a  fundraising effort to be put towards travel expenses and cost of living while at the camp.  Additional funds raised will be used towards sending other child life volunteers to France.  The link can be found here Please feel free to share the link with your friends, family and coworkers to support this cause.

If you have any ideas for how we as a community can further contribute to aiding in this cause, please reach out.

Thank you everyone, and Happy New Year!


Additional Info:  CLDR is a partnering organization working to integrate child life professionals’ expertise to support children in disaster and crisis.  You can read more about our vision, mission, and scope of practice here.