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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.

Ready, set, go! Stand down…GO!

Sunday night at 8:09pm I received a text from one of my local teammates and all it said was “Deploying!! Can you go?” To be honest, my first thoughts were “I’m not able to go…” I sat there trying to wrap my head around my hesitations…

You see, last week there was a possibility that I would be deployed and I “felt ready.” The timing seemed great, my team at work was fully staffed, I was feeling energized and rested. But, we ended up being told to “stand down.”

Quickly I recognized how selfish I was being, as pictures fullsizerfrom the news flashed through my mind from Hurricane Matthew. My heart was quickly softened as I thought about how hard these past few weeks must have been for the families and children in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was overwhelmed as I started to think about the 11 children that are living in a shelter and have witnessed things far harder then anything I have ever experienced. I sent an emailing saying I would check in with my management team first thing Monday morning but would try to go…

Monday morning my management worked some magic! My team at work is amazing and supportive – I was cleared to go! I sent Children’s Disaster Services an email saying I was ready….that’s when the waiting began…

I received confirmation that I would be going and that details would be coming my way. If you know me at all, you know I am a planner and like to know what I am heading into, where I will be staying, what time I need to be ready, etc. If you have worked in the field of disaster relief at all, you are probably laughing at this moment…

Monday evening came and went and I had no information on what time I would be leaving. I set an alarm for 5:00am and began checking my email every 10 minutes. I became a bit anxious as my teammates (there are 4 of us going from all over the country) started to get their flight itinerary and I still had not heard anything. I have yet to meet anyone on my team but when I was sent the roster on Monday, I began texting one of them. I sat in my PJ’s sipping coffee at home as she was on her way to the airport with a flight itinerary in hand…

Around 10:30am it finally came, an email was sent and my flight was booked to leave out of Cincinnati at 2:35pm. I packed a bag with no more detail then I would be going with a team of four to Fayetteville, North Carolina where I will be assisting with disaster relief after Hurricane Matthew in a shelter that is housing 48 residents, 11 of whom are children. I don’t know where I am staying or if I needed to bring a pillow or sleeping bag (I didn’t bring one). My plane is boarding and I am on my way with a one-way ticket to Fayetteville, North Carolina!



Deployment Alert: Hurricane Matthew

arc1We have a Certified Child Life Specialist and child life student deploying with our partner, Children’s Disaster Services, to Fayetteville, NC to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.  This particular disaster has been extra complicated to get services into for many reasons, so we are excited to start serving!  The team will be working in a Red Cross shelter housing 48 residents and 11 young children, whom will likely be there for a while.  Please keep the entire team, our child life friends, and of course the disaster victims and survivors in your thoughts as they continue to recover from this devastating storm.

*Check back often for updates from the team!



Day 4: The Power of Play!

Today was unbelievable. I again struggle to put into words what we experienced today. Children are so resilient and always seem to surprise me in many different ways.

I want to share with you all one story that puts into perspective what we are here to provide. This young boy was sitting at the table with us playing and building play-doh. His mother was just around the barrier and was telling a fellow volunteer their story. Their story was unbelievable and something that no individual should ever have to endure. They lost everything. As she is communicating with us, the little boy pauses and says, “Mom, can you please go away, we are trying to play.” image1

It appears at this time he was not ready or willing to hear their story spoken out loud again. What he needed most at this time was play. The opportunity to express himself, in a developmentally appropriate and therapeutic manner…which was not verbal or outspoken conversation…but simply play! Through his play, this child was able to process and express more then I ever anticipated in this short time together. I’m thankful for the power of open-ended, child-directed play to support these children in coping through and processing this very stressful and challenging situation.

I feel so honored that this community has allowed us to provide support to these children and families in any way we can. It is such a privilege to be able to be that listening ear and playful peer. My deepest sympathies go out to everyone who has been affected by this tragic fire.


– Paula