CLDR Member Spotlight: Kristen Cady

Do you currently work in Child Life? If so, tell us about your current position. If not, tell us about your Child Life history.

  • In 2018, I started in my current position as a certified child life specialist in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. Prior to that, I worked in our Pediatric Emergency Department. I work with a wide range of diagnoses, providing procedural preparation and support, therapeutic play activities, sibling support, legacy building and bereavement support. I have also been very involved in helping to create a plan detailing our departmental response in the event of a major disaster impacting the hospital and in integrating this with the hospital-wide Emergency Operations Plan.
  • My training to be a child life specialist began as an intern at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. I then spent the summer after my internship working at The Painted Turtle, a camp for children with serious medical conditions, before landing my first position as a child life specialist working with pediatric burn patients at Shriners Hospitals for Children—Northern California, where I spent four years full-time and another four years providing per diem coverage.

How long have you been connected with Child Life Disaster Relief and in what capacity (either directly or through our partnerships – Children’s Disaster Services, Camp Noah, etc.)? Briefly describe some of those experiences.

  • I learned of Child Life Disaster Relief in early 2016 and soon after completed the Children’s Disaster Services training. My first deployment was to the Northern California Wildfires in Santa Rosa in 2017 where we were stationed in a Local Assistance Center. This was my first “behind the scenes” look at what it takes to respond to a disaster, and I learned so much about all the organizations we were working alongside (and all the abbreviations that go alongside them!)
  • After my first deployment, I completed the Children’s Disaster Services Critical Response training in June 2018. I went on my first Critical Response deployment in August 2019, providing support at a Family Assistance Center after the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. This was a very different experience from the first, given the nature of the situation. While the children joined us in Play-Doh and building buildings out of Magnatiles, their parents spent time with agencies that provided victim assistance and mental health support. By providing a safe space for the children, their parents were able to seek help for themselves, as well as to gain insight in how to support their children without exposing their children to the heavy conversations, which allowed the adults to speak more freely.
  • I have also recently started participating in the Sacramento Region VOAD meetings to represent Children’s Disaster Services and to help build connections with the other local volunteer organizations involved in disaster response.

What made you interested in working with children after disasters?

  • Living in Northern California, there have been a number of disasters in our region in in the past few years—including numerous wildfires. While I am fortunate that these disasters haven’t impacted me personally, seeing so many disasters on the news makes me feel I need to do something. When I learned about this organization, I realized it would allow me to use the skills I have to help out in a way that is meaningful and impactful.

What is your favorite memory from being involved?

  • There were so many little moments that made me reflect to myself, “this is why I’m here”. My favorite memory from deploying is not a moment but a feeling. It was observing the deep connections that formed between people—whether family, neighbors, or strangers—that always stand out as I reflect back on my experiences. As new children arrived to the CDS center, those that were already present quickly invited them to join their play. A few older teenagers even joined us, despite the sign saying “Child Care”, in order to help their younger siblings feel more comfortable with the separation from their parents. As the young children built up comfort to play with unfamiliar adults, the teenagers gained comfort in sharing whatever was on their mind over a game of UNO. One teen shared with us the details of some of the very meaningful items she had lost in the fire. As she was walking out, she handed me a simple pink ribbon she had created, signifying to me the connection that she felt after only a short time spent together.

What advice would you give to others who are thinking of working with children impacted by disasters?

  • Most people have heard this advice before, but it should be said again — be ready to be flexible! Before I even deployed, I saw right away how nothing is certain in disaster response—it takes a lot of coordination to assess what the needs and resources are, and both of those things are constantly changing. Dealing with the uncertainty of the plan can be difficult—sometimes not even knowing whether you will be called to respond at all. Be ready to help where you are needed, and remember that you are one piece of a very large puzzle.
  • My second piece of advice is to embrace your team. I was fortunate on both deployments to have CDS team members with a wealth of experience gained from countless previous deployments, as well as from their careers in teaching, nursing, and play therapy. As a team, we also had to work well alongside many other agencies—it was really interesting to learn about the role that others played, and how we could work together to provide a positive experience to all those we were serving.
  • Finally—be ready to immerse yourself in play. In the hospital setting, I am often prioritizing and planning multiple tasks that lie ahead. In my role with CDS, I was able to focus wholly on being an active participant in play with children, which was a nice reminder of the true power of child-directed, adult-supported play.
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