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Children’s Trauma Lasts Long After Disasters, Studies Show


September 11, 2017
Sarah D. Sparks
Education Week

From Hurricane Katrina to the Joplin, Mo., tornado, the past dozen years have given education researchers unwelcome opportunities to study schools in the wake of disaster.

Lessons learned from studying those disasters may help Texas and Louisiana educators pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and, potentially, Hurricane Irma as Florida braced for that storm late last week.

Above all, this body of research finds that the full effects of disasters on children are far deeper and longer-lasting than expected.

While floodwaters may recede in a matter of days or weeks, students in communities hit by natural disaster often face disruptions for months or years, including missed school, living in a shelter or a home under repair, and experiencing family financial and emotional stress.

“It is not only the event itself, but what comes after the event that causes problems for children,” said David Schonfeld, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and the director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California.

“There’s a tendency to say, ‘Look, the kids are better’—meaning they aren’t crying anymore and they can sit in a classroom and have a conversation—and they say, ‘Well, kids like structure, let’s get them back to normal.’ But they still may not be functioning at full level,” Schonfeld said.