Tag Archives: Child Life

Trauma Training Opportunity!

Addressing Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes:  Pediatric Trauma Informed Care Symposium

ADENA: PACCAR Medical Education Center

Saturday, April 29, 2017

7:55a-12:30p EDT

Learning Objectives:

  • Discuss how trauma affects individuals and recognize psychological aspects
  • Recognize how trauma may impact the lifespan of a child
  • Implement trauma informed care within a system

Sessions include: 

  • Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes (Crystal Gilliam, mother)
  • What is Trauma Informed Care (Brian Bethel, Child Protection Center)
  • Psychological Aspects of Trauma (Alyse Klupenger, LISW-S and Julie Oates, LPCC-S)
  • School to Prison Pipeline (Nubia Pena, Education and Prevention Specialist, UCASA)

To register, visit: http://adena.org/meded  and select the calendar date to access the registration portal or call 740-542-3976 by April 22,2017.

Available via Live Broadcast to registered participants:  http://connect.adena.org/CME

For more information visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/addressing-trauma-through-a-childs-eyes-pediatric-trauma-informed-care-symposium-tickets-30814933295

“Want to see my home?”

I know I have mentioned a lot about the kiddos and their families I’ve encountered. However, I also want to be sure to share these things as well:

The Shelter: the cots and the small area surrounding them became their home

I remember when I was playing with one kiddo he asked me if I wanted to see his home. I replied, “sure”, thinking he would begin to tell me about his home or show me a photo. But instead he grabbed my hand and said “okay let’s go”. He proceeded to take me to a small area in the shelter where him and his family slept. This was an eye-opening encounter.

The bags, boxes, and containers families had by their cots may very well be all they have left!redcrosscot1

The Schools:

The superintendent of the schools came to the shelter every morning with a list of the kids going to each school. He stayed and ensured every kid got on the right bus and got to school.

The Volunteers:

The constant influx of additional volunteers, the kindness and generosity everyone showed to each other, the amount of people that dropped everything and came to respond to the disaster…

Well, the journey has come to an end for me. It feels odd leaving when the disaster relief work is incomplete. In the child life world, I imagine this feeling would be similar to what I would feel if I left in the middle of a procedure. Side note: I have never done that. I keep reminding myself that the amazing CDS team is still there providing support and opportunities for play. Although I may feel I am leaving things unfinished, I think back to the interactions I had with the kids and families, the stories shared, the raw emotions expressed and the impact we had on each other.  The relief and break that was given to parents and family members. The opportunity provided for kids to be kids and to work and communicate through play. The infectious smile one received when observing the child care center. The amount of kids wanting to come to the center significantly increasing as word spread. The numerous thanks and appreciation received.

And as I remember all these things I can’t help but notice a smile spread across my face.


Making Play Out of Anything after Hurricane Matthew – Kelsey Loftus

Our day was filled with lots of adventures from lost GPS signals to unknown place to be and unknown location for staying the night. Once it was all figured out where we would be going, we hit the road. We were told we were going to the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds consisted of a shelter with families from the tribal community and is also in a “dangerous” area.  We also headed off to a second shelter to see if our services would be needed there as well. We were maybe inside for a few seconds when we were approached by some of the kids and quickly became friends.  Here was a group of kids that had just had a traumatic experience, were uprooted from their homes, and were playing and “just being kids”.  I followed their lead as they wanted to put on costumes for Halloween.  Some kids had costumes or parts of costumes to use but one was crying because he didn’t have anything.  I helped him go around and ask if anyone had anything we could use for a costume and we creatively made it happen.  Although they weren’t going out for trick or treat, as probably most had planned before Hurricane Mathew hit, they still put on their costumes with a big smile on their face.

Later, we set up a play space at the first shelters, and at 1pm we were open! The kiddos started trickling in. We weren’t sure how the turn out would be because the tribe does not like to interact with the government, so the shelter manager had warned us that they may not be welcoming. However, we experienced just the opposite. Parents were extremely grateful for us and the opportunity to take a break and engage in self-care.  We had about 10 kids in the room although it felt like more than that at times.  Through my interactions with the kids I could tell they were having a difficult time. The kiddos all shared the fact that they wanted/needed one on one attention and had lots of aggression.


One of the kids, Sam (not his real name), and I quickly became buddies. There was a big box laying out on the floor that the kiddos could use however they wanted, but Sam didn’t see it as a box. He saw it was a firehouse and that is exactly what it became. We took some scissors and made a front door, took a blanket for the top of the box to make the roof, and even had a secret pass word for the door to become unlocked. Next thing I knew, we were running around putting out fires left and right. Another child named Kyle (not his real name) quickly joined in on the fun too. Sam was the firefighter, Kyle the police man, and I was the assistant. We were quite the team. Our firehouse also turned into the firetruck so that we could get to the fires quickly. Once all the fires had been taking care of, our fire house turned into the hospital. Both Sam and Kyle were the doctors. Apparently, I had a very bad fever and needed lots of shots. But, after that I was all better. Thanks to the amazing doctors.

After a while, I noticed Sam appeared to be getting bored and disengaged. So, I worked with him to figure out an activity that he would be interested in, basketball. I found a bucket with a handle that became the basketball hoop once attached to the fence. We used a koosh ball as the basketball and after that it was game on.

All the kids had a blast and told their parents how much fun they had. They all couldn’t wait to return tomorrow morning, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings too.

-Kelsey Loftus

(Sorry for the lack of pictures!  There are strict picture regulations on this deployment.)

Deploying = Out of My Comfort Zone = Best Place to Be!


Sitting here on the plane, a million thoughts run through my head. Starting with how this all came to be, to what this journey will be like. To think this all started from me responding to an email stating I’m available is crazy. I remember Children’s Disaster Services writing back stating it may be difficult to get us out on a Sunday but they will still send it in for approval with the Red Cross and see what happens. They said they would try to let me know as far in advance as possible. I remember taking a deep breath and saying to myself “you know what… this Is in God’s hands. If it’s meant to be and God wants me there, then it will all work out and if not then maybe next time”.  Side note: I have never said anything like this in my life.

And what do you know, hours later I got a call saying “it’s a go”. When those words reached my ears, my heart jumped out of my chest. I wasn’t sure what to think or feel. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited but there was a whole mix of emotions.

  • Joy for the opportunity
  • Sadness for all the people affected by the disaster
  • Curiosity for how it will be and how it all comes together
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Excitement for a new journey and challenge
  • Nerves as this is something very new
  • Happiness to be able to use my skills and time to help those in need

Now this is also coming from the girl that has never traveled alone before. So the fact that I am sitting here on the plane not only independently, but also where everything is literately up in the air and can change at the drop of a hat is even crazier.

But despite the endless mix of emotions, the one I feel the strongest is a sense of calmness and peace for I am in the right place and where I am meant to be.


One Trauma Unveils Another…

A few weeks ago, my local CLDR team got our first dispatch call: a multi-family apartment fire with 2 fatalities.  We were being called to assist with a grandmother and her child with autism who both were living in the complex and evacuated at this time.  Woah…fire, death, autism…this is a big one to handle for our first local call, I took a deep breath, and texted my team brief details to find out who could respond.

Within a few hours, I reached out to the grandmother via phone.  I introduced myself, listened to her story, and began trying to gather information to help inform our services.  The conversation was a little rocky as the child hadn’t left her side since the fire and was becoming upset when his grandmother discussed anything related to it on the phone.  We kept the conversation pretty vague due to this…I was very thankful for my previous experience working in developmental and behavioral pediatrics as many of the sensory stressors and behavioral reactions the grandmother explained were familiar.  We ended the conversation with an appointment for me to “meet & greet” with her son, she said “he either likes you or he doesn’t, I don’t want you to waste your time on helping us if he doesn’t approve.”  Talk about pressure!

As I hung up the phone I felt so unprepared…ugh, I don’t even have a rough idea of this child’s experience of the fire, the relationship they had with those that died, the cause of the fire…was it human error?  How was I supposed to go help without an idea of what I was stepping into?  I had the weekend to figure that out…or just think about it!

Monday morning I met them at their temporary housing.  Myself and a colleague were greeted with a huge smile from a sweet 5-year-old boy and his grandmother catching some fresh air on the porch.  What unravelled, was astonishing!  To be honest, I thought I was prepared for anything –  I’ve got years of experience as a CCLS, in a trauma bay and with children with autism…that covers it right?

The boy and my colleague played, and played, and played….0d86ca35368f0f44ac6fcff8d3021beethey played with play-doh, played with his favorite alligator (saved from the fire – thank goodness!), played with bubbles, and even did some coloring.  I sat with the grandmother at the opposite end of the room and listened….for 2 hours.

Story after story unravelled of hardships I couldn’t even begin to imagine!  This grandmother needed to be heard.  I quickly realized that the trauma I had been called in for “the fire” was the least of this family’s concerns at this time.  The child had endured more in his life than any human being should EVER have to endure.  The grandmother had given her entire life and seemingly only been met with devastation – tornadoes, fires, loss, terminal illness…the list goes on.  Despite these circumstances, I found myself in awe of this grandmother’s ability to assist her child in coping.  She described her understanding of his needs to communicate about the fire, but “in a different way”, this she accomplished through a “news-reporter” game.  She went on to recognize how the child revealed his experience of the fire through this game…”after a while of playing news reporter he got up and started running in circles…I let him run…and finally I asked ‘what are you doing?’, his response…I’m getting our neighbors outta here!”

As I prepared for our time together to end, I found myself trying to find something, just one more thing I could do to help.  Prior to our arrival, I had tentatively thought a social story about the fire or his new home would be helpful, helping to transition and to establish a sense of safety again.  Maybe giving the child the time and space to engage in child-directed play would be helpful.  Maybe walking through the rubbled home together to gather meaningful items with this child would be helpful.  Maybe I would do some grief/loss work with this child regarding the fatalities. Maybe I would just simply be offering the grandmother education regarding her child’s reactions, needs, and potential interventions to alleviate continued traumatic effects.  Maybe offering validation of safety and assisting in ridding any feelings of guilt/fault.  None of these things, aside from safety and play, seemed helpful at this time…and to be honest safety wasn’t even something I could confidently guarantee due to family circumstances.

I realized throughout our interaction that what this family needed most was community resources.  I also found myself thinking about how significantly this child’s development had seemingly been grossly affected by chronic stress and trauma.  With the permission of the family, I made a cold call to our developmental specialty clinic in the area, talked with the social worker, spoke with their assessment team, and the next day made a referral for further assessment and resources.

I guess in many ways this first call looked like any other day in the life of a child life specialist….unpredictable circumstances that require creativity,  flexibility, and compassion.

A week later, we received another call requesting our services for victims of this same fire – this time it was to work with the SEVEN children of those that had died in the fire…


Day 7: Packin’ Up and Headin’ Home

Today was our last day in the LAC. Lake Isabella, Kernville, Squirrel Valley and South Lake will forever hold a place close to my heart. These towns have such a strong sense of community and I will always be thankful for my time spent there.

The LAC had so many different resources present to provide to any individual impacted from this fire. Anything ranging from replacing your social security card and birth certificate to therapy dogs (which I obviously made quick friends with). Image-1


We were all just one giant team working together to hopefully ease some of the stress and anxiety that comes with recovering from a disaster.

One mother shared with me her sincere appreciation of Red Cross support and all other services provided. She stated, “It won’t replace what we lost, but it will give us a new start.” I think that’s exactly what we all hoped for, to positively impact these individuals and help them start their personal recovery process.

This was the sign in front of the elementary school where the LAC was located

I also need brag on my CDS team! We had such a dynamic group of individuals with experiences ranging from recreation therapy, early childhood education and child life. We truly had an amazing team.

Rhonda, Kim, Me, and Patty from CDS
Rhonda, Kim, Me, and Patty from CDS

Earlier in the week, during dramatic play, one child stated: “There was chaos everywhere, but they escaped with the greatest treasure of all; friendship and teamwork.” (Seriously, these kids were just that incredible!)

Thank you California for welcoming us with open arms and letting us be a part of your beautiful cities and state.


Thank you all for following and for all of the love and support. Continue to keep all of the individuals impacted from the Erskine Fire in your thoughts as they continue this recovery process.

Much love,


Day 6: Story Telling

I have been so fortunate to have heard so many of these children’s “stories”. Some children come running into the center and yell, “Stupid Fire!” And then immediately engage in play. Some children express minor details of the fire during dramatic play and then quickly state, “And that’s the end of that story.” While other children sit and tell you every detail of their experience. I again, cannot truly express how fortunate I feel to be able to be that listening ear.

One school-aged child verbalized every loss she experienced and truly went full-circle in her story telling. She informed me of every detail leading up to the fire, the suddenness of the fire, her fears/worries, the items they grabbed running out the IMG_6515door, and the deep loss they experienced. She went even further to express her excitement of finalizing a home for them to stay in and how happy she was to finally have her own room (she has a family full of brothers!!). She told her entire story, all while intently focusing on making a very detailed rubber band bracelet.  This young girl came very prepared to the LAC, with an activity bag provided from her community. She would have been perfectly “occupied” the entire visit had she not visited our center. However, I cannot help but think, how emotionally safe and protected she must have felt in order to tell us her entire story. For this, I am so thankful that the disaster community values the importance of play and a protected environment for children. I am relieved seeing children already processing their stories using so many different modalities of play and expression. I hope these children and families continue to receive all of the support, care and resources that they need.

Here are just a few of the other “stories” I heard today…

IMG_6539 IMG_6549


Day 5: Quality vs. Quantity

This is such a common phrase used in the field of Child Life. We have been seeing significantly low numbers here in the Local Assistance Center (LAC) since setting up, however, I don’t think that has anything to say in relation to the quality of interventions provided. Almost all of the children we have seen have lost their entire homes. Everything is gone. However, their spirit, playfulness, smiles, character, laughs, and personalities have been shining through in full force.

I wish I could sit here and type forever to tell you about all of their stories… Some day…So let me tell you about one of my new friends!

The first thing that popped into my head was, “Wow, what an adorable outfit!” I immediately paused and thought, probably because the outfit is brand new as her parents had to purchase all new clothes. IMG_6504 Every interaction with these children and families truly provides me with a better understanding of the massive loss these individuals endure. This little girl spent hours with us in our center and I quickly became her “big sister”…what a special title to earn! Long story short, when her mother arrived to pick her up, we informed her that she had eaten a slice of pizza, animal cookies, and drank a bottle of water. Her mother was so incredibly happy and informed us that her little girl hasn’t eaten much in the past couple of days and had lost her appetite. What an amazing thing to be able to provide food, safety, comfort, and play.
I am forever grateful for this opportunity and to have been able to meet all of these children and families.
Until tomorrow,

Day 3: Happy 4th of July!

4We celebrated the 4th of July a little different than I usually do…(no fireworks).

The children that we did see lost everything, their entire home. Their mother was present attempting to organize the final details of them transitioning to their new home. I think the photo below captures a lot more then words can explain.2 Patty (our team manager) was the one who noticed the three Sheriffs in the background and the stark difference beyond our barrier where the children were playing. I think this photo displays what our entire goal and mission is: to provide safe, expressive, play opportunities that allows kids to just be kids. I am hopeful that we see more children tomorrow, however, that’s the reality of the disaster world. You must be available to provide support, however, you never know what the needs are or what to expect.

The Red Cross also gave us a half day off today! We are forever grateful that we were able to explore some of this beautiful state and community. Below is a photo of our incredible CDS team at the Sequoia National Parks. 3

Until tomorrow…


Day 2: Perspective

FullSizeRenderI can honestly say now that I have a completely different perspective on what happens when a disaster strikes. I have been trying to put into words what this first day has been like and I am having a much more challenging time than anticipated.

I think all I want to say right now is “Thank You.”

Pink Ribbon
The pink ribbon signifies a home that has been completely destroyed or a home with significant damage.

Thank you to the fire fighters and first responders who risk their lives everyday to save people, pets, homes, and communities. Thank you to the volunteers and staff members who dedicate their time to help people recover from disasters. I have been nothing but astounded by the amount of genuinely kind-hearted people that I have met, who have come from across the country, to help this community return to a normal state of health, mind and strength. Thank you!