Guide to Shelter-Based Programming


Emotional Support & Behavior Management

Trauma-informed care:

  • Develop an intake process that informs staff about each child’s personal situation and special needs—including medical and psychological conditions—learning differences, language barriers and behavior patterns.
  • These children feel worried and dislocated. Be intentional about using reassuring and safe language, so they feel that they will be safe at childcare.
  • Be sure staff know the various ways kids display trauma. Aggression can be an outcry for help, and staff should know how to appropriately respond to the situation. At the same time, watch out for those who are quiet and withdrawing. It's tempting to pay more attention to the squeaky wheels.
  • Read appropriate books and stories with the kids to create quiet moments that offer hope. Books to read:
    • “A Terrible Thing Happened” by Margaret M. Holmes
    • “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm” by LeVar Burton
    • “God is Always Good: Comfort for Kids Facing grief, Fear or Change” by Tama Fortner
    • “The Little Chapel That Stood” by A.B. Curtiss
  • Trauma-informed care resources:
  • Bring in experts like counselors and social workers to help students process what they have been through.
  • Ask for yoga instructors to volunteer their time as a way to help students manage stress/emotion.
  • Give each child a “buddy”, (so they feel like they have someone close to them that they can relate to,) and an “assigned" staff person that they can go to if they’re feeling scared or worried.
  • Set aside a quiet room or area for children who are struggling with sensory overload. There should be supervision (never 1 on 1 with an adult), but otherwise it's a place to be quiet, color, work on a puzzle, etc. Consider including dimmer lights and soft music, if possible.
  • Plan for an appropriate response to violence, appropriate discipline and the role of parent and caregivers in the process.

Physical Space

  • Clearly define the child-care zone. Inspect it daily to be sure it is safe. Limit the access to prevent children from leaving unattended and to prevent non-participant adults or children from having access. In this setting, it is probably a good idea to clearly mark children in the program (wristbands, etc.)


  • Have a procedure to check children in and out. YMCA staff should be clearly identifiable–shirts and name tags or badges. This will prevent other adults having unauthorized access to kids. Never leave children unattended. Adults are never alone with children.
  • Kids crave structure, especially in this time when they’ve lost all sense of structure. Each day should have a sustainable, similar rhythm, with a schedule of activities clearly posted for kids and parents to see.
  • Fun, laughter and communal activities will be essential, for both the kids and parents/caregivers. Happy children allow parents to settle, heal and make arrangements for the future.
  • Be sure to have emergency contacts for kids. Determine if parents will be onsite or allowed to leave. Develop a plan for medication storage and dispersal.


  • YMCA supervisors should make frequent, unannounced visits. Parents should be able to drop in at any time.
  • Evaluate and develop site-specific bathroom procedures, always ensuring that all kids are supervised at all times. Ideally, the child care program has a designated bathroom. If not, keep groups together and supervise the area while children use stalls, for example.

Questions & Concerns to Think About

Contract and Reimbursement

  • What has the Red Cross proposed to you?
  • What is the contract length? (Determine length and shelter needs and request that in writing.)
  • You will need to request the Certificate of Insurance from the Red Cross
  • If you are anticipating FEMA reimbursement you cannot turn anyone away. This means you can't screen everyone entering your facility for past crimes, including registered sex offenders.


  • Create inventory lists
  • Give a health check to those entering the facility—physical and mental health
  • Do you have staff or volunteer resources who can manage the health checks?
  • How will you be sourcing donations (food, clothing, hygiene products)?


  • Will Red Cross be staffing the facility, or will you be staffing?
  • Will guardians be required to stay with children?
  • Will you be providing police or security?
  • If possible, you can section off groups of people (i.e., families in one room)
  • What is your capacity, per the fire marshal?
  • Determine what areas shelter guests will have access to (We recommend that they do not use exercise equipment.)
  • If possible, have a separate entrance to control traffic flow
  • How will you keep the facility clean?
    • Set a schedule to check locker rooms
    • Increase facility sweeps, as needed
    • Monitor for bed bugs


  • Is there adequate public transportation around your site?
  • If someone needs transportation, how will you provide this?


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