2019 Heritage Grant Recipient: Saint Louis Crisis Nursery

It was a long summer for Saint Louis Crisis Nursery. As its name implies, Crisis Nursery is there for children and families in crisis, and in an especially violent summer for St. Louis children, the organization was working overtime. “We were supporting families directly impacted by gun violence – providing grief counseling, helping to pay funeral costs – but also meeting with their concerned neighbors and some very frightened children,” says DiAnne Mueller, Crisis Nursery CEO. Through art and play therapy, and other activities, Mueller says that Crisis Nursery counselors were able to help children talk about their experiences – hearing the gunshots, losing someone they know, being confined indoors – and feel safe in sharing their feelings.
Providing a safe haven has been the base of Crisis Nursery since 1986, helping children and families through the tough times. Today, Crisis Nursery offers short-term, emergency shelter in five 24/7 nursery sites for almost 6,500 children a year, whose families face an emergency caused by illness, homelessness, domestic violence or overwhelming parental stress. The organization also provides crisis counseling, in-home visits and parent education groups at 10 outreach centers across St. Louis City and County, Jefferson County, St. Charles and the Metro-East. As a result, 96% of children whose families participate in Crisis Nursery services are able to remain in their natural family home.

Not every parent who needs help will seek it out, so Mueller and her crew routinely canvas high-risk communities, providing crisis counseling, referrals, education and supplies – fully aware of the risk to their personal safety. “We’ll never stop going where we’re needed, because it’s often the only way to reach people and gain their trust…one block at a time, one family at a time,” she says.

It’s about ending a cycle. Hundreds of research studies consistently report that children who have been abused or neglected experience negative outcomes, and the long-term implications of abuse remain exceptionally high. Being abused or neglected increases the likelihood of being arrested as a juvenile, committing a violent crime or becoming homeless as an adult. While touching all socioeconomic boundaries, the primary risk factors of child abuse are poverty, low educational attainment and inability to endure stress, so Crisis Nursery focuses on these areas when helping parents develop a solid framework for their family and become “the parents they want to be,” says Mueller.

Now in her 25th year leading Saint Louis Crisis Nursery, Mueller admits 2019 was one of the most difficult. Still, she is hopeful. “There really is no other way to be but hopeful about the future. We owe that to our children.”