GREAT FALLS — The staff at Toby’s House Crisis Nursery have one goal: to be there for any child that doesn't have a safe place. “Toby’s House is a place for children to feel safe and loved and cared for,” said Susie Zeak, the executive director.
What is a Crisis Nursery? A crisis nursery is defined as a licensed facility, which provides short-term, 24-hour non-medical and residential care and supervision for children under six years of age, who are either voluntarily placed for temporary care by a parent or legal guardian due to a family crisis or a stressful situation.
Who uses a Crisis Nursery? Parents who: care enough about their children ask for help; are facing emergencies as well as the cumulative effect of stress; who are so overwhelmed that they may not be able to provide their child with a safe environment; who don’t have family or other support structure in place; who are facing a variety of issues.
It's a passion project rooted in tragedy, that’s taken years to become reality. Community members rallied around the creation of a crisis nursery after the death of a 2-year-old girl named October Perez in 2011. Toby, as she was affectionately called by family members, was killed by her mother's boyfriend.
There has been more heartbreak in the headlines since Toby’s passing, including the death of 5-year-old Antonio Renova in November 2019.
The added anger and anguish from the incident turned into even more action as a group of individuals pushed on with their idea for Toby’s House.
“People care about children one because they are vulnerable because they’re innocent, they don’t get to pick their parents,” said Zeak. “But, I also think that there’s just a very strong passionate group of people in Great Falls that have really touched people’s hearts and that’s one of the reasons why Toby’s House is so successful.”
The non-profit has been open for three weeks and has already helped numerous parents and families with daycare needs and toiletries - all free of charge.
Donations have also flowed in to keep shelves stocked and bellies full. “We just have so much support in the community that it’s just unbelievable,” said Zeak.
Zeak’s had to balance family life and a career before and believes every parents should remember it’s ok to ask for help
“I feel that if you are healthy, you are able to have a healthy relationship and raise your children in a healthy manner, and we’re here to help with that,” she said.
Toby's House Crisis Nursery is hoping to expand hours of operation this year.
There are many reasons people utilize a crisis nursery for temporary child care or respite. Some of these include:
- There is not a safe place for a child to stay while resolving personal issues
- Someone is not capable of taking care of their child as they would like
- An important appointment but no one safe to leave a child with
- When stress and life’s problems are becoming too much to tolerate and could result in taking it out on a child or when someone feels they are losing control
- Medical emergencies where a care-giver needs immediate assistance with temporary childcare
- Mental health, substance abuse crisis
- Foster care parent respite