A woman came into the Greater Minneapolis Nursery (GMCN) looking for shelter for her children. Her boyfriend had been prostituting her and had taken all of her money. She was terrified for herself and her children. The nursery housed her children while staff supported her in finding resources such as women’s shelters and domestic violence support centers.
GMCN Executive Director Mary Pat Lee has worked there for more than 16 years. “My job, or at least the way I see my job, is to make sure that everybody else has what they need to do their job so that we can achieve our mission, which is to end child abuse and neglect and create strong, healthy families,” Lee said.
In 2021, 186 children from 113 different families stayed at the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery. The non-profit organization is at 4544 4th Avenue South.
Help starts with a crisis line. Any time of the day or night, if a parent or guardian in the care of young children feels like they need to talk to someone, the GMCN has a qualified advocate that they can connect to. Lee mentioned that sometimes those calls are a parent calling in to say that they have a colicky baby who hasn’t slept, and they aren’t sure what to do. Other times, a parent doesn’t have any place safe for the children to stay. No matter what the situation, the GMCN’s mission is to provide support for families.
“In being here and being a resource for people, we’re really able to hopefully prevent abuse, but also neglect,” Lee said. “We’re really trying to ensure that parents have a place that they trust that they can come to.”
GMCN cares for kids newborn to age six. Children can stay in the nursery up to three days at a time and up to 30 days in a year. If a parent uses their overnight services two or three times, the nursery will offer a home visiting program. The home visiting program is where a master’s level clinician will come to the home once a week for up to two years and discuss what is putting the parent in crisis and how the nursery can support the family getting to a place where needs can be met.
“It’s always about connecting people to resources,” Lee said. “It’s especially true when we’re dealing with a situation where the parent has experienced domestic violence.”
STRESS IMPACTS BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
Lee also pointed out that kids who have experienced crisis and trauma have a higher cortisol level than what is considered average for children. Because their bodies are in “flight or fight” response, it triggers stress and can have an impact on their brain development.
“We’re trying to ensure that kids here really experience rest,” Lee said. “We try and give them some techniques to help them handle their big feelings, and we try and give them an opportunity to have a trusting relationship with an adult other than their parent.”
To help children that come in practice mindfulness and process their feelings, the nursery has different playrooms. One room is dedicated to sensory play with pads on the floors to roll around, different instruments, and toys with various textures. Another room is an art room where kids can express themselves creatively with paint, crayons, and etc.
GMCN provides clean clothes and meals for children while they are there. The dining area has signs encouraging the kids that they do not have to be afraid to ask for more food, and others with pictures that represent different emotions.
“We want to be giving kids the benefit of what science has learned about how we can change our response to be most helpful and to mitigate the things that are harming and damaging through stress and crisis,” Lee said.
GMCN works with Dr. Megan Gunnar and doctoral students who specialize in child development at the University of Minnesota. They come in to educate staff on ways to help children through crises they are experiencing, and will then visit later to see what progress has been made and provide more advice.
“I think, for the nursery, really trying to build that relationship between parent and child to break the pattern is important,” Lee said. “It’s a two-generation approach, and I think through that, a lot of our parents are doing an amazing job, but many of them are caught in this repeating the experience they had as a child with their children.”
To find more information on the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery and how to donate, visit www.crisisnursery.org/. Call 763-591-0100 to reach the GMCN’s 24-hour crisis hotline.
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