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Not One More: How Playtime Supports Resilience Amidst Trauma

Photo by Ryan Maine

This year, we lost four people close to our Playtime community. In January, we lost an 18-year-old graduate of Playtime’s teen program at D.C. General who died from gun violence. In February, 11-month-old baby Makenzie Anderson was beaten to death at the Quality Inn overflow shelter, her case still unresolved. Then in July, a mother at one of our domestic violence shelter partners was murdered by her abuser, her death haunting her close friend and Playtime parent. They came into the shelter together and her death has had a ripple effect throughout the building. A few weeks later, we learned a beloved former member of Playtime’s family was murdered by her boyfriend, leaving her 7-year-old wandering the halls of their apartment crying for her.

This is not the first time the Playtime family has suffered tragic loss, but the frequency of such events this year has inspired us to initiate “grief kits” we are immediately dispatching to children in these circumstances. They include journals and sketchbooks that encourage children to express difficult feelings; bibliotherapy books including, “A Terrible Thing Happened,” “The Goodbye Book,” and “Why Do I Feel So Sad?” to help children process tragic loss; and a new stuffed animal to cuddle at night. Of course, the kits also include fun and engaging toys that we know the child enjoys playing with the most, as well as stress balls and fidget toys. These kits let children know we are thinking of them and give caregivers tools to help grieving children cope.

As a direct service organization, it’s our role to be there for the families and community we serve, and we know that play presents a powerful healing mechanism for children. Coupled with referrals for mental health services and offers to help meet concrete needs in the form of emergency assistance, Playtime is committed to responding quickly in times of crises. We are also committed to being advocates to hold institutions accountable for prevention and systems change.

Domestic violence is rising under the pandemic, and our two site partners serving domestic violence survivors are feeling the pressure. What would happen if we as a community searched for evidenced-based prevention practices with the same fervor we search for bodies?

In addition to reaching out to our families, Playtime is reaching out to City Council and the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board and advocacy groups to call for more prevention services in all family shelter settings. When it comes to supporting the resilience of our children and families facing homelessness during a global pandemic, we must recognize the risk factors, respond to troubling trends, and act. That’s why we’re raising funds to hire an Advocacy Coordinator to help us reach our goal to challenge systemic injustice by advocating for policies and practices that reduce the risk of chronic homelessness. Domestic violence is a big factor in causing homelessness and we must do a better job of investing in prevention to protect families.

Thank you for supporting Playtime’s reach to include children, parents, shelter partners, and public policy to build family resilience even when faced with rising threats to public health and safety.