Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on May 12, 2011. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
MSU Extension plans for children in shelters
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Children displaced by natural disasters have unique needs, and the Mississippi State University Extension Service has trained key personnel to set up child-friendly spaces in evacuation shelters.
Melissa Tenhet, project director for the Mississippi Child Care Resource & Referral Network, said emergency responders will help affected communities provide safe, fun and educational activities at shelters. Her staff has been trained in the Child-Friendly Spaces Program and the Incident Management System.
“The Child-Friendly Spaces Program was developed by Save the Children and has been used all over the world,” Tenhet said. “It’s designed for children who are toilet-trained through age 12, but older children can participate by assisting staff. Infants and toddlers are welcome in the care of their parents. We supply kits with materials for registering and identifying children who participate, resources for different activity stations, and policies and procedures to follow.”
One key aspect of the training is the recognition that children in distress respond differently from adults and may display unusual behaviors.
“Children may withdraw, have trouble sleeping, suffer from headaches, display aggression, feel helpless or be easily irritated,” Tenhet said. “They also may regress in their behaviors, from bed-wetting to thumb-sucking. The Child-Friendly Spaces Program is designed to help children cope by providing structure, familiar activities and interaction with other kids.”
Tenhet said that the program is not a replacement for child care.
“Parents cannot leave the premises,” she said. “Child-Friendly Spaces provide a place for children to play safely while their families register for disaster services, work with on-site personnel or engage in disaster-related activities related to rebuilding their lives.”
While parents are busy at the shelter, children receive attention from adults trained to help them through this traumatic time. It is fun, but it also has a deeper purpose.
“Play is therapeutic for children,” Tenhet said. “Whether they use their imaginations in make-believe scenarios or enjoy games with new friends, children benefit from the activities in the Child-Friendly Spaces. They feel like they are in control of something, when everything else in their lives has been out of control. It’s a step forward in the healing process.”
At the event, Tenhet and her team trained representatives from nine organizations so early childhood advocates statewide would be able to deliver services should the need arise.
“The Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Early Childhood Care and Development is working with local, state and federal agencies to establish Child-Friendly Spaces in American Red Cross shelters,” said Laura Dickson, director of the policy unit for the MDHS Division of Early Childhood Care and Development. “At a time when children and families have lost so much, having a place to play and relieve stress is important.
“People trained to implement Child-Friendly Spaces have backgrounds in child development and are well-equipped to support children as they cope with the fear and anxiety of relocation. Our goal is to provide Child-Friendly Spaces for every child in an American Red Cross shelter for as long as possible,” she said.
With the recent tornadoes and ongoing flooding, trained child advocates have had opportunities to put this training into practice.
“We recently sent staff to Aberdeen in Monroe County to assist the Gilmore Foundation in caring for children impacted by the tornadoes,” said Louise Davis, MSU Extension child and family development specialist. “We anticipate being mobilized within the next week to work with families evacuated because of flooding.”
Released: May 19, 2011
Contact: Melissa Tenhet, (662) 325-3083 or Dr. Louise Davis, (662) 325-3083