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Mark Shriver

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Responding in Newtown

Posted: 12/19/2012 9:14 pm

This past weekend was tough for families across the country; for 26 families from Sandy Hook Elementary School, it was unimaginably devastating.

My wife, Jeanne, and I are having a hard time explaining the situation to our three young kids, including seven-year-old Emma. We try to stick to our routines and to shield them from the nonstop coverage, but they are shaken by the news. And so are Jeanne and I. We are doing our best to answer the kids' questions and, more importantly, to reassure them that they are safe.

We all struggle with how to respond to a crisis like this, but Save the Children knows, from decades of responding to emergencies around the world, that it's the little things -- like a space for kids to play and a reprieve for parents who are trying to deal with the aftermath -- that can make a big difference. That's why our Child Friendly Spaces program is the centerpiece of our immediate response, whether in shelters in New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy or at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. Stocked with toys, books and games, Child Friendly Spaces allow children to play, socialize and begin to recover.

As Sunday's L.A. Times described, Save the Children has set up a Child Friendly Space at Reed Intermediate School so that while parents are receiving crisis counseling, their children have a safe area where they can play and begin to cope with the uncertainty and stress they are experiencing. We have served more than 300 children over the last five days and expect to be onsite at least through the end of the week.

On Saturday morning, Jeanne-Aimee De Marrais, Save the Children's domestic emergencies adviser, told me that she was sitting with three small children, making Christmas ornaments, when one little girl said that something scary had happened at her school. Her brother chimed in and said that he and his classmates were kept safe in a closet by their teacher for two hours until the police came and took them outside.

We have heard many other heartbreaking stories and expect to hear more. Undoubtedly, the next few weeks will be difficult -- I found these 10 Tips for Helping Children Cope to be very helpful and hope you do as well.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this horrific tragedy.

 

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