Long After Katrina, Children Show Symptoms Of Psychological Distress

An article on the study by the Osofskys can be found online at www.edweek.org/links. New research conducted by scholars who have worked with children affected by Hurricane Katrina reveals that 40% of the children and teenagers who returned to schools in the New Orleans area continued to experience serious psychological symptoms a year after the disaster. Dr. Howard J. Osofsky, Chair of the psychiatry department at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, has expressed concern about the long-term impact on these children and emphasizes the importance of not forgetting about them at a national level.

The research is published in the report titled "Katrina’s Children: Social Policy Considerations for Children in Disasters" by the Society for Research in Child Development. Dr. Osofsky and Joy D. Osofsky, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the LSU center, provided updates on the impact of the storms on children, families, and schools in the affected communities at a recent conference. The conference highlighted the fact that Hurricane Katrina displaced approximately 650,000 people in Louisiana, causing families to be scattered across the state and the country. As a result, the state’s public school enrollment dropped significantly, and even in the current school year, enrollment remains lower than before the disaster.

The director of management-information systems for the Center for Child Development at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Gary J. Asmus, expressed concern about the thousands of children who are still displaced from Louisiana and their unknown whereabouts.

The study conducted by the Louisiana State University trauma team found that a significant percentage of children in grades 4 through 12 had experienced various challenges due to the hurricane. These challenges included damaged homes, relocation, separation from primary caregivers, transferring to new schools, loss of family members or friends, unemployment of parents, separation from pets, and more. The team conducted surveys on more than 9,000 children and teenagers in the affected areas between December 2005 and March 2006, with additional surveys conducted at the start of the current school year. The researchers also followed up with 184 children to assess any improvements in their circumstances. They found that even as late as the current school year, a large number of children still required mental health services.

The psychological distress experienced by younger children was evident in their excessive clinginess, repeated discussions about the hurricanes, sadness, and concerns about the future. It was also noted that each new storm or thunderstorm triggers increased anxiety among these children.

The findings of this research highlight the long-lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina on the mental health of the affected children and teenagers. It emphasizes the importance of providing ongoing support and mental health services to ensure their well-being.

The continued demand for mental health services is not surprising considering the extent of disruption that children have experienced, according to the researchers. Although almost all the children were forced out of their homes after Hurricane Katrina, a significant number of them were also separated from a parent or primary caregiver at some point. This is particularly concerning because previous studies have shown that children cope better with traumatic experiences when they have the support of their parents. In the study conducted by the Osofskys, it was found that children who experienced separation had a higher need for mental health services compared to those who stayed with their families. It is crucial to determine if these separations could have been avoided, noted Ms. Osofsky.

The study also revealed that young survivors of the hurricane attended an average of three different schools in the months following Katrina, with some even enrolling in as many as nine schools. Additionally, statistics from Mr. Asmus showed that two-thirds of students in New Orleans had missed at least 60 days of school, and half had missed three months or more without being enrolled elsewhere during that time.

Researchers at the conference reported that children who had attended school in different locations had mixed experiences. Some were accepted well, while others faced discrimination and teasing due to cultural differences or speaking differently. Three-quarters of the children reported that a parent had been unemployed after the storm, and 11 percent had lost a family member or friend as a result of the disaster. Furthermore, nearly a third of the youngest children said they had been separated from a pet at some point.

The researchers emphasized that the psychological distress has not improved because many families are still facing challenging circumstances a year and a half after Katrina. According to fall surveys, 27 percent of the children in both age groups were still living in trailers. Ms. Osofsky pointed out that there are still children living alone, highlighting the ongoing need for emergency officials to develop disaster recovery plans that effectively coordinate information on children, provide services to families, and address the specific needs of children.


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    Calvin Merritt is an educational bloger who specializes in writing about educational topics. He has been writing for over a decade and has written for a variety of different platforms. His work has been featured on various websites and he has also been published in various magazines.