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Emergency workers use toys to comfort children

Staff writer

A stuffed animal can go a long way in establishing trust with a child, Marion County ambulance workers and deputy sheriffs have found.

Ambulances in the county have carried stuffed animals since at least 1994, Emergency Medical Services Director Steve Smith said Thursday.

“It’s very handy to have around,” he said.

Smith recalled the first stuffed animal he received. He was in the hospital because of a broken arm when his grandfather gave him a teddy bear. He said he still remembered how comforting it was to have something to hold while he was in pain and in a strange place.

It’s helpful to give a child something to focus on other than the pain while treating them in an ambulance. It is much better than saying, “This isn’t going to hurt,” especially if it will hurt, Smith said.

“That little stuffed animal goes a long way,” he said. “You can’t lie to a kid, or they’ll never trust you again.”

The effort is supported by donations. Supplies recently ran low, but then a large donation was received, Smith said. Emergency medical technicians have given away all kinds of stuffed animals, including bears, gorillas, ducks, and fish, he said. That variety provides another opportunity to comfort and build trust with a child.

“You can hold them up and say, ‘Which one would you really like?’” Smith said. “It really opens up a conversation.”

Giving a child a stuffed animal is one way to counteract the sometimes negative image people have of law enforcement, Deputy Sheriff Mike Ottensmeier said. It is an opportunity to show a child that an officer is there to help them.

When an officer has to make an arrest at a domestic disturbance, it can be difficult to explain to a child, he said. But by receiving a token of goodwill, the child may listen when they otherwise wouldn’t.

Last modified Jan. 13, 2011

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