Cincinnati Children's Blog

Child Life Specialists Help Kids In Our Community

Child Life Specialists Help Kids In Our Community

When a shooting occurred recently at a local motel, child life specialists from Cincinnati Children’s were called upon to offer assistance. Katie Nees, Annie Krause, Tina Ulanowski and Heather Storey are members of the American Red Cross Mental Health Team. That means they donate their time and talent to assist children in incidents in which the Red Cross responds, including floods, house fires and shootings.

On a Tuesday evening when they got the call that motel residents, including children, were evacuated to a makeshift shelter due to a shooting, Nees and Krause, abandoned their plans for the night and headed to the scene. 

“It was our first assignment since joining the Mental Health Team,” says Nees, “and we quickly realized we were not as prepared as we thought.”

They grabbed some toys, jumped in their cars and were greeted by heavy security at the shelter site. By turning tables on their sides to form walls, they created a private play space within the shelter in which to work.

“For a couple hours, we provided child-centered play which quickly created a sense of normalcy; the relief felt in the room from adults and children was tangible,” Nees remembers.  

Nees and Krause fielded lots of questions from the children, including “how do we know the good guys from the bad guys?” Having seen guns drawn and orders to “Get out now” gave the kids plenty of reason to be frightened. 

“We helped the kids talk and process through their concerns, and even had one of the police offers join us in our play space for a time,” says Nees. 

Ulanowski responded the next morning when the Red Cross asked for more assistance. She witnessed behavior that she knew was a result of trauma. Drawing pictures with messages for the police officers helped the children work through the details of the shooting. 

Storey took over, having just finished work, as Ulanowski left for her own Cincinnati Children’s shift. Storey supported the children in constructive play, open conversation and even an impromptu game of indoor soccer (with an infant in her arms!) while the adults left the shelter to return briefly to the hotel. When the shelter closed, one child tearfully asked Storey not to leave. “I reminded him of the things he could do to cope,” Storey says.  

Nees sums up the team’s first experience this way:  “We hope our time with the children has started them down the road of turning a potentially traumatic situation into one of growth and finding new strength.” 

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in CenterNews, an online publication for Cincinnati Children’s employees. It was contributed by Chris Klein, a member of our Patient Services team. 

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