Using play therapy to heal children

Living through one of the worst hurricanes in recent memory added another layer of trauma to the more than 2,500 children and youth living in shelters in Puerto Rico.

These children have been removed from their homes and their families due to number of factors, among them violence, abuse and negligence. “Their sense of security was already shaken when the hurricane struck,” said Marcos Santana, the President of the Network of Children and Youth’s Rights in Puerto Rico.

Before and during hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Network worked feverishly to make sure that its 104 member-shelters and centers were prepared for the storms. They had water, food and medicine.

“We mobilized quickly after the hurricane and within a month we had visited all our shelters and centers in 32 municipalities,” said Marcos. A needs assessment was made that led to an operation designed to provide basic needs to member shelters and centers. Yet, María’s aftermath proved emergency provisions were insufficient for the many months that remained ahead of no power coupled with areas that lacked regular water service due to the absence of electricity to pump water to the many elevated areas in Puerto Rico.
The Network, jointly with many other NGO’s who came to their assistance, was able to mount an operation that included the distribution of diesel for generators, water, diapers, food, medical supplies, and doctors. As the weeks passed, the staff at the Network quickly realized they had to do more. There was evidence that many of the children were suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress.

“We turned to the experience of Ecuador, which had developed a program for children after suffering a devastating earthquake,” explained Marcos.

That is when they turned to United for Puerto Rico to request funds for this program. With a $90,000 grant, the Network was able to create multi-disciplinary teams to develop workshops based on play therapy that could help the children deal with their trauma.

A year after hurricane María, the Network has strengthened its emergency planning, created and emergency fund, drafted recovery plans for the midterm and long-run, established a warehouse for supplies, volunteer brigades, expanded its list of collaborators, and enhanced coordination among its members. More importantly, realizing that frailty prevails in the surrounding communities, it has expanded its scope of work to develop a community prevention initiative to hopefully avoid that more children end up in shelters, away from their families. For more information on the Network, please visit on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @redenijpr or call 787-510-6506 or 787-532-8996. For more information on United for Puerto Rico visit

icrossingAdminUsing play therapy to heal children