October 24, 2022
Actions to protect children, in times of war or during or after other traumatic events, often focus on physical safety. For children to truly thrive – physically, mentally, and emotionally – and grow into healthy adolescents and adults they need to actively engage in play, practice curiosity, and find supportive adult caregivers during childhood. A wealth of research, including the CDC-Kaiser Permanente adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study, shows a strong connection between early childhood experiences and later-life health and well-being.
“Playmaker work is rooted in creating corrective experiences through intentional play,” said Steve Gross, Founder and Chief Playmaker for the Life is Good Playmaker Project. “We focus on cultivating joy, healthy relationships, safety, self-worth, and wonder – the tools children most need to be resilient, to form bonds, and to combat significant stresses and traumas that negatively impact their health, growth, and development.”
Ridni, a Ukrainian charitable fund that combats orphanhood and creates family environments for children, and the Playmaker Project have teamed up to scale up Guardians of Childhood, a psychosocial recovery initiative designed to give child and family services professionals Playmaker tools and practices to protect children from the daily threats to their social-emotional wellbeing they're facing.
Ridni and Playmaker leadership collaborated virtually for months before connecting for their first in-person retreat in Poland in late August. At the retreat, 40 child and family services professionals from the City of Lviv, Ukraine, gathered to learn Playmaker practices and to find some respite for themselves. The training also served as a planning session for the Ridni and Playmaker teams to continue to formulate the long-term vision for Guardians of Childhood.
"Guardians of Childhood is a very intentional name,” said Gross. “Toxic stress in young children can lead to chronic illness, disease, disability, and shortened life expectancies – but intervention by caring adults can shield children from some of the harmful effects, and drastically improve outcomes.”
“We are very excited to cooperate with the Playmaker team,” said Mariana Romaniak, CEO at RIDNI Charitable Foundation. “Our teams have a shared mission to guard childhood of Ukrainian children and to teach those who work with children on everyday basis the most effective practices.”
Playmaker Project work has focused on the education and development of early childhood education professionals in the United States and Haiti for over a decade. The Guardians of Childhood initiative, in full partnership with Ridni, expanded the team’s work to Ukraine and surrounding countries during this time of significant need. The collaboration is planned to be ongoing.
An aim for this project, said Liubov Matveichenko, General Advisor at Ridni Charitable Foundation, is for all attendees to have a shared framework and language for how to work with the children they are serving and for participants, themselves, to feel fueled by the experience.
“The trauma related experience continues, which constitutes a challenge for our work," said Matveichenko. "But, as we don’t know for how much longer Russian war on Ukraine will continue, we have to take action now...
Guardians of Childhood, in addition to training caregivers to directly impact children, also aims to improve understanding, broadly, about how children process trauma and advance information about what children need in the wake of disaster, trauma, and negative life-changing events.
“There’s not enough consistent information out there about what to do with kids after a disaster, man-made or otherwise,” said Gross. “We can change that through this partnership, and we can serve as an inspiration, and as motivation, for how to approach the needs of children who are dealing with overwhelmingly difficult challenges."
The United Nations estimates that over 5 million Ukrainian children, both those who are still in Ukraine and those residing in refugee-hosting countries, are in need of various forms of humanitarian assistance, including psychosocial care. The same data shows that two out of every three Ukrainian children have been displaced from their home for some length of time since Russia invaded.
Lviv is the largest city in Western Ukraine and the sixth-largest city in the country. According to a June 2022 New York Times article, more than 75,000 children displaced from cities across Ukraine have arrived in Lviv since the start of the war.