At the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, kids experiencing crisis and trauma have the opportunity to play and explore in a safe environment. Photo courtesy Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery

At the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, kids experiencing crisis and trauma have the opportunity to play and explore in a safe environment. Photo courtesy Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery

A respite for children

Updated: July 12, 2016 - 3:29 pm

Crisis nursery works to end child abuse, neglect

Many families in poverty don’t have a place to turn for child care help in times of crisis.

Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery provides them with that child care respite, allowing them to focus on addressing their challenges, whether it’s finding housing or coping with domestic violence.

The Minneapolis nonprofit cares for about 20 children each night with ages ranging from newborns to 6 year olds, providing them with clothing, meals, activities and more. Children can stay at the nursery for up to 72 hours at a time and up to 30 days in a calendar year.

“Our work is really about establishing relationships with families,” said the nursery’s executive director Mary Pat Lee.

Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery began because of research the United Way did on child abuse and neglect in the late 1970s. United Way found that parents in crisis needed a place to turn when they lacked help caring for their children.

Several community organizations banded together to open the state’s first crisis nursery in 1983. The nursery has expanded its capacity over the years from six to 20 children and has added services, such as a 24-hour crisis hotline, crisis counseling, home visits and parent education.

This past fiscal year, the nursery served more than 500 children, providing 5,764 days of care and more than 1,200 home visits. Nearly 90 percent of parents/guardians they serve are people of color and almost all are women. About 85 percent of families have incomes under $10,000.

Parents bring their kids to the nursery for a variety of reasons, family services director Molly Kenney said, from emotional exhaustion to homelessness, domestic violence, a job search and more. The nursery lets the families tell them what a crisis means to them, she said, and doesn’t limit access based on the crisis.

“It doesn’t really matter what happens to them,” she said. “It more matters how we can support them.”

The organization works with parents to shape their kids’ experience at the nursery, allowing them to set goals for the stay and keeping them involved with the care process. Staff members provide the kids with structure and choices during the day, allowing them to pick their own clothes and food at meals and explore play spaces as they’d like.

“The play activities are really led by the child,” Kenny said.

The nursery has a four-to-one child-to-staff ratio, and staff focus on helping children better understand their emotions. They are also intentional about helping kids build relationships with other adults, a skill Lee said is useful for when they start school.

Partners in Pediatrics provides medical care and consultation for the nursery, which also partners with Early Childhood Family Education and the homeless shelter People Serving People on weekly parent-education groups.

Dr. Lisa Irvin of Partners in Pediatrics said a lot of the kids at the nursery face significant barriers to health care, from transportation to insurance issues. As the nursery’s medical director, she helps staff handle food allergies and medications and tries to encourage families to follow up with a primary care provider.

The nursery also has a home-visiting program that has master-level clinicians visit families once a week for 12 to 18 months.

“That’s really the opportunity we have to work with them to try to create the stable environment they want,” Lee said.

The nursery appears to be generating positive results, as more than 90 percent of parents said it helped them gain a better understanding of child development and alleviate their crises.

That’s welcome news for Lee and Kenny, who said the ultimate goal is to prevent events that can permanently break up families.

“If we can get to families before something devastating happens, it’s so much better for everybody,” Lee said.

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Basic info:

Location: 4544 44th Ave. S.

Contact: 763-591-0400

Website: crisisnursery.org

Year founded: 1983

What you can do:

— Volunteer: A complete list of opportunities can be found at their website, crisisnursery.org/volunteer, but include cooking meals, child care and leading activities.

— Donate: Nearly 40 percent of the organization’s income comes from individuals.

Attend an event, tour the facility or advocate to end child abuse and neglect.

By the numbers:

526: Children the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery served in fiscal year 2015

5,764: Days of care it provided

3,727: Crisis calls it managed

4,087: Children who were victims of abuse and neglect in Minnesota in 2014, including 19 who died

20: Number children ages newborn to 6 the nursery can care for each night

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About the Where We Live project

This project is an ongoing series spearheaded by Journals’ publisher Janis Hall showcasing Minneapolis nonprofits doing important work in the community. The editorial team has selected organizations to spotlight. Nate Gotlieb is the writer for the project.