Offer Stability for Children of Disasters
By Meredith Hogan Pond
"Children are really happy to get back to school
after a disaster," said Joy Osofsky, Ph.D., at the
SAMHSA-sponsored "Spirit of Recovery" Conference
in New Orleans in May. Dr. Osofsky, Professor of Pediatrics
and Psychiatry at Louisiana State University Health Sciences
Center, spoke as part of a panel, "Addressing the
Needs of High-Risk Populations: Children and Adolescents."
|Larke Huang, Ph.D.
The panel was facilitated by SAMHSA's Larke Huang, Ph.D.,
Senior Advisor on Children in the Office of the Administrator
and former member of the President's New Freedom Commission
on Mental Health.
Panelists offered hands-on experiences and insights
into how children respond and show resilience to traumatic
events such as Hurricane Katrina, and how frontline providers
can use strategies such as psychological first aid in
the early response to children experiencing trauma.
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|Joy Osofsky, Ph.D.
"Resilience is the primary thing we're seeing in
children now," Dr. Osofsky said, "But children
are much more resilient if they have support from their
family." Dr. Osofsky and her husband (see
SAMHSA News, Post-Disaster Response: Learning
from Research) are part of the Louisiana Spirit Crisis
Counseling program, which has served thousands of children
and families in the New Orleans area since the hurricanes.
She reported that school enrollments in St. Bernard
Parish have increased from 365 students in November 2005
when the schools re-opened to 2,300 students by the end
of May 2006. "Many young people are graduating from
their high schools, too," she said. (See related
article Documentary Features New
Orleans High School.)
|Marleen Wong, Ph.D.
Another panelist, Marleen Wong, Ph.D., agreed. "Parents
serve as a protective shield for children in a disaster,"
she said. Dr. Wong is the Director of Crisis Counseling
for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Dr. Wong's
program is also a participating site in the SAMHSA-funded
National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).
Through this network, she provided technical assistance
to the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Wong emphasized that schools provided the frontline
of stability and services for children who were traumatized
by evacuation, relocation, and readjustment after the
hurricane. "Teachers are now becoming first responders,"
she said. "They need help and interventions as much
The intersection between mental health and education
is important, said Dr. Wong, citing one of the six recommendations
of the President's New Freedom Commission. "We need
to rebuild mental health services in schools," she
said. "Teachers, school counselors, and social workers
can play a part."
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|Jay Koonce, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.
The panel also focused on how "receiving"
communities, such as Austin, responded to children relocating
from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Enrollment in school offered these children their first
chance at stability since the disaster occurred. With
the end of the school year, however, new challenges are
emerging. "Our focus is shifting," said Jay
Koonce, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., Clinical Director, Phoenix
Academy, Austin, TX.
"We're developing summer camps and providing continuing
support and structure to ‘in home' environments."
Mr. Koonce served as a certified mental health responder
for the Office of Emergency Management in Austin during
the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the city hosted
thousands of guests.
Organizing parents to help their children was important;
however, approaching parents required sensitivity and
respect. "Saying ‘Want to come to a meeting
on how to help your kids?' received a lot more positive
and cooperative responses than ‘We're having a
therapy group,' " said Mr. Koonce.
He noted that the stigma associated with therapy and
counseling is still strong. People want to be perceived
as competent, he said. "Two things we all need in
life are to feel loved and to feel capable. Treating
people with respect is what it takes."
|Mary Lou Kelly, Ph.D.
Mary Lou Kelly, Ph.D., M.A., offered additional information
on the effects of disasters on children in her panel
presentation, titled "Disaster Recovery: Family-Focused
Treatment." A professor of psychology at Louisiana
State University, Dr. Kelley emphasized the importance
of re-establishing family routines, including mealtimes,
homework, and morning and evening rituals. Children also
needed increased praise and encouragement, she said.
More information on the "Spirit of Recovery"
conference, including PowerPoint presentations, is available
For more information on disaster readiness and response,
visit SAMHSA's Web site at www.samhsa.gov.
Note: Through NCTSN and the Louisiana Rural
Trauma Services Center, Drs. Joy and Howard Osofsky have
recently made available a booklet, Helping Children
and Families Cope with Hurricanes. To access that
publication in PDF format, visit www.futureunlimited.org/katrina/Hurricane_
« See Part 1: Hurricane Recovery Guides Preparedness
« See Part 2: Hurricane Recovery Guides Preparedness
See Part 1: Post-Disaster Response: Learning from Research
See Part 2: Post-Disaster Response: Learning from Research
Recovery Guides Preparedness Planning
Documentary Features New Orleans High School »
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