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news News Thursday, October 3, 2019 Thursday, October 3, 2019 10:54 AM - Thursday, October 3, 2019 10:54 AM

Child life specialists help children cope with aftermath of natural disaster

Child life specialists help children cope with aftermath of natural disaster

Recovering from any type of adversity can be difficult for children. When Tropical Storm Imelda made landfall, Houston and surrounding areas were devastated with floods – leaving many unable to go back home.

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Houston child life specialist Catherine McDaniel has been part of Child Life Disaster Relief for two years, an organization that partners with Children’s Disaster Services to deploy members and provide assistance to affected families through the Red Cross.

The organization sends specially-trained individuals to set up a safe play space for children, typically in shelter settings. Their goal is to create an environment where kids can feel at ease, cope and express themselves. McDaniel was deployed to a shelter in Beaumont, Texas, in late September.

“Kids learn and cope through play, and they have recently been through something pretty traumatic and don’t feel safe. They don’t have a home at that moment,” McDaniel said. “We are able to give them that safe space for expression.”

The role of a child life specialist varies by situation, but their goal is always to provide support for children and their families. When a child experiences a significant change, there can be many uncertainties about where they are and what is about to happen. A specialist is there to help kids cope with stress that is related to their current environment and to prepare them with realistic expectations of what will happen next.

“It also gives the parents a little bit of a break,” said McDaniel. “They are able to take a shower by themselves. They are able to go speak with FEMA if they need to. They are able to just take a nap. The shelter life can be pretty difficult.”

McDaniel was able to assist in Beaumont, Texas, for two full days. The organization offered support to a group of 13 children between the ages of 3 and 14. How long a family spends in a shelter varies, and depends on the extent of the disaster and how fast they can find accommodations. That may mean going back home after water recedes, going to a new home or living with relatives.

“The two times that I have been deployed, Shriners was so amazing, allowing me to use my time off last minute to go serve these families,” McDaniel said. “I’m very thankful to be part of an organization that allows me to have that partnership. We are all no strangers to disasters and what that feels like, it’s just part of life down here and we have to take care of each other.”