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St. Louis Crisis Nursery Keeps Kids Safe 24/7, No Matter What Life Throws At Their Parents

Thirty-five years ago, the St. Louis Crisis Nursery opened its doors — and it hasn’t closed them since.

For 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, nursery staff welcome children in need of care due to factors like homelessness, illness or extreme parental stress. By keeping them for two to five days at a time, without cost to families, the nursery keeps the children safe and reunites them with their parents when conditions improve.

It also works to improve those conditions. On site, kids get medical exams, trauma-informed care and art and play therapy. Parents receive crisis counseling and take-home necessities, as well as follow-up visits and group support. In its 3½ decades of service, the nursery has grown to five 24/7 locations and 10 additional outreach centers serving a swath of the region from Wentzville to East St. Louis.

Molly Brown started with the organization as an intake counselor 21 years ago and now serves as its senior clinical director. With parents dropping off kids, “we would sit down and we would listen and we would set goals and we would problem-solve and provide support and love and care,” she explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “And when that family came to pick up, I would get to meet with them again.

“And to see a mom who walks through the door of the crisis nursery with her head down, maybe not making eye contact and feeling like in the middle of this crisis, she’s all alone, caring for her little ones,” she continued, “and to see her come back to pick them up, maybe some of those resources have worked out. Maybe they found a place to go. Maybe some of that stress has been relieved by the connections that she’s made and the break that they’ve had. And to see her walk in with her head high, and excited to see her kids again, those are some of the proud moments of getting to work as an intake counselor.”

Brown explained that the pandemic made things a lot more complicated. Especially in the early days, when experts knew far less about transmission, just staying open felt like a gamble. And some high-risk staffers had to stand back. The organization temporarily closed its St. Charles nurseries so it could reassign workers to keep the other three locations open, Brown said. Home visits were also curtailed, or moved to a virtual setting.

In many cases in the past year, Brown said, families simply needed basic supplies. “We went through a period of time when we were seeing so many babies coming in, and hearing our moms, that they were having to reuse diapers,” she said. “We were seeing the most horrifying diaper rash. We just thought, ‘We have to be able to do better.’”

A Pooper Troopers “diaper drive" rose to meet the need. Deliveries of cleaning supplies, when those became difficult to access, were also a godsend for families.

In the past year, the St. Louis Crisis Nursery has served about 3,000 children, down from its normal total of 5,000. But Brown said many of the cases over the past year have been more difficult.

“For many of our families that were already struggling, the pandemic exacerbated those struggles, and their access to resources,” she said. “The families that were calling in truly were very isolated, and definitely were facing some extreme situations.”

As the organization celebrates its 35th year of service, it’s again beginning to welcome volunteers back on site. Those interested in getting involved are encouraged to check out its website.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis. She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.