CLDR Member Spotlight: Cara Smith

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

  • I am in my 7th year as a child life clinical instructor at Missouri State University. Prior to that I worked as a CCLS for 8 years at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO.

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 completed training with Children’s Disaster Services in April 2019. My first deployment was with CLDR to Nassau, Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. I served as the team lead for the first team of CCLSs to the area. Our role was to assess the psychosocial and mental health needs on the ground and to form partnerships with local and disaster relief organizations to help meet the needs of children and families who had been evacuated from neighboring islands after the hurricane.
  • I was amazed by the way so many strangers came together to work as one cohesive body. When the medical staff heard that child life was present, they immediately integrated us into their work providing physicals and immunizations for children. Some medical staff were already familiar with child life, but many others were learning about our role for the first time. After hearing about the types of services we provided and seeing the impacting our services had on children, the staff were chasing us down to help provide support for all of their health care interventions. Our presence definitely sparked interest for long term child life support in the Bahamas.
  • Our other major role was to work with children, primarily in shelter or children’s home environments, to help them process their experience with the hurricane. Child directed play once again proved to be the most powerful tool in helping children process and gain mastery after this disaster. The children will ready and eager to share their experiences with our child life staff. The children had really big feelings to share, including a lot of aggression. It was challenging working, but our team focused on hearing the messages behind the kids behaviors and helping them find safe and effective ways to express challenging feelings.

What made you interested in working with children after disasters?

  • Much of my studies have been focused on children in trauma, particularly related to mindfulness, resiliency and interpersonal neurobiology. I am passionate about child directed play as a healing modality for children. I reconnected with Lindsey Murphy, assistant direct of CLDR, and she shared her research on the CCLS role after disasters. My passion and philosophy of child life aligned so perfectly with CLDR’s approach to working with children after disasters. I knew I had to get involved with this great organization.

What is your favorite memory from being involved?

  • One afternoon I found myself alone with a set of wooden blocks (a very rare occasion as I usually had 10-12 kids climbing on me). A 12-year-old boy sat down by me and I asked if he wanted to play. He told me he wasn’t sure what to build. I told him I wasn’t sure what to build either. We sat together for a moment and then he began to build. He told me he was building a house, and then he built a dock. Without prompting from me, he began to build the scenes that made up his memories of the hurricane and his rescue. He told me the story of having to run to his church for shelter, climbing into the rafters when the water broke through the doors and eventually his boat ride to safety. He shared how he wasn’t afraid of the water because he was a good swimmer, but the wind had scared him. He shared that he hasn’t heard from many of his friends and feared that they were dead.  He said it was hard to sleep at night because he kept seeing these images of the hurricane. He talked about what it was like to be left with nothing and have to start life over. All of this came from a pile of blocks and an adult willing to sit and hold space for a kid, without directly or expecting a certain outcome. It was one of the most powerful moments of play I have experienced.

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

  • Do your own self work. Your ability to self-regulate in a high stress environment will prove to be the most valuable tool you can take with you.
  • Do it! It was one of the most challenging and most fulfilling things I have ever done. I made deep life-long friendships with my CCLS colleagues. I tapped back into the reason that I love this work and the tremendous power of play!
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x