Young girl rests fingers on bright, mobile sensory toy station provided by the Toy Foundation grant.
The Toy Foundation grant allowed the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Program to purchase a Vecta Jr. mobile sensory station – a portable sensory cart transforming any space into an engaging, relaxing multi-sensory environment.

The Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Program at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach has been awarded a grant from The Toy Foundation to step up to the challenge of a nationwide crisis in children’s mental health. The grant will allow Child Life to create a pilot sensory intervention program to help children and teens in the emergency room who are experiencing sensory overstimulation.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral health concerns in children nationwide were growing, with 1 in 5 children experiencing mental health conditions every year, according to data from the Children’s Hospital Association. The pandemic exacerbated the issue, and Miller Children’s has seen a large increase in children with behavioral health concerns. The grant from The Toy Foundation provides the Child Life Program with key resources to meet this growing need.

“We have seen a tremendous increase in children and teens in our emergency department who need sensory intervention to soothe them during a behavioral health emergency, or who are overwhelmed by the emergency department environment,” said Rita Goshert, director, Child Life, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital. “This grant from The Toy Foundation will allow us to pilot a sensory program in the emergency department with the potential to expand it to other areas of the hospital.”

Children in emergency departments with mental/behavioral health concerns and/or with conditions like autism spectrum disorder, ADD, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, anxiety, etc., may be more susceptible to being overstimulated. They often stay in the emergency department for long periods during their initial treatment and diagnosis, and the environment can be upsetting and overwhelming for any child, particularly ones with special sensory needs.

The Toy Foundation grant will allow Child Life to purchase special equipment designed to enable diversion and soothing for these young patients. Child Life will train emergency care teams to recognize when a child needs intervention using the resources purchased with grant funds, ensuring these interventions are available 24/7. A longer-term goal is to expand the program to other hospital departments.

“We are so thankful to The Toy Foundation for its generous gift that will allow us to meet a growing and urgent community need,” said Yair Katz, chief executive, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital. “The service enabled by this grant reminds us of the crucial role that philanthropy plays in helping our hospital staff provide the extraordinary care they are renowned for.”

In 2023, Miller Children’s joined a nationwide collaborative effort that brings emergency department teams and pediatric mental health experts together to address the national mental health crisis among children. The initiative, called the Emergency Department Screening and Treatment Options for Pediatric Suicide Quality Improvement Collaborative (ED STOP Suicide QI Collaborative), was launched by the EMSC Innovation and Improvement Center in early 2023. Through this collaborative, Miller Children’s will share the sensory pilot program project with other hospitals to serve as a model for other programs.