For over 35 years, Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) has been meeting the needs of children by setting up child care centers in disaster shelters and disaster assistance centers across the nation. Specially trained to respond to traumatized children, volunteers provide a safe, calm and reassuring presence in the midst of chaos such as the massive flooding in Louisiana.
Dianne Oxender, a retired school teacher from Michigan, is one such volunteer who deployed to serve in a Red Cross Shelter in Hammond, Louisiana. According to Dianne, “We are always ready, willing and able to serve and find that working with the Red Cross is always a very rewarding experience.” She adds, “To be able to help these children and their families through the chaos of a disaster is a big part of an affected community’s ability to recover.”
Working side by side with Red Cross mental health and spiritual care volunteers, CDS runs childcare centers in shelters—in part, because the parents need to resume jobs and have their children cared for while they are working. More than just child care, highly trained CDS volunteers arrive with carefully selected toys that promote imaginative play that encourage children to express themselves, thereby starting the healing process. Dianne joined fellow volunteers from across the country to fill this vital role in Hammond—an area hard hit by the floods.
Children’s Disaster Services was invited to join the Red Cross Critical Response Team in 1997. Critical Response Childcare volunteers receive additional training in responding to the needs of children after a terrorism or mass casualty event. Children in the care of CDS are often full of questions such as “Why are mom and dad crying?” “Who will take care of me?” and “Will this happen again?”
Fully consumed with the stress of the disaster and addressing the basic necessities of life—food, clothing and shelter—even the best of parents can struggle to meet a child’s needs in a disaster. Not only are CDS volunteers able to answer these questions, but they also answer the call when and where needed.
Partnerships like this help the Red Cross to better meet the larger spectrum of needs when disaster strikes.