Lifespan Perspectives on Natural Disasters: Coping with Katrina, Rita, and Other Storms

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Local care solutions that emerge from the community and build on existing community strengths and resources strike a balance between a deficits and resilience framework. Responses should include provision of support to the supporters and have well-trained staff who can provide a mix of universal and targeted services to ensure a comprehensive range of supports are provided 1. There was a time, not so long ago, when it was widely believed that infants, children and young people were either not affected by frightening and overwhelming experiences or they eventually bounced back—sometimes sooner or sometimes later—regardless of what had happened to them, or what they had seen, been told, heard or smelled.

If an infant, child or young person had reactions it was considered they would be short-lived or they would grow out of them, or forget them. It is particularly important to debunk these myths in relation to the unborn child, newborn babies, infants, toddlers and pre-school children. It is important to consider unborn children too. Infants, children and young people are alert to their physical surroundings and experiences, sensitive to their emotional and social environments, and, according to their age and personalities, will try to make sense of what is happening to them, as adults do.

Consequently they need caring relationships, clear, factual information, the opportunity to ask questions, and honest straight forward explanations according to their ability to understand and without overwhelming them with detail. Providing targeted services for infants, children and young people is an important means of meeting their particular post-disaster needs and building their capacities.

However, there is limited evidence available about intervention effectiveness. In the absence of strong evidence, the use of core guiding principles to inform intervention development and implementation for a community-based approach to supporting child disaster recovery is proposed. Restoration of safety is a fundamental component to promote recovery for infants, children and young people during disasters, from which all other core principles build.

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Infants, children, young people and their families should endeavour to remain together and receive support relevant to their experiences and needs. They should not be separated unless for medical or safety reasons, or unless the infant, child or young person is in a secure and familiar environment such as the school, kindergarten or childcare setting. In restoring safety, it is important to aim for stability, consistency, continuity and routine Hobfoll et al.

Research indicates that prolonged physical and psychological stress increases the chance of the development of a range of mental health concerns including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD.

Therefore restoring a sense of safety as soon as possible is vital Hobfoll et al. Interventions that support the restoration of safety include:.

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The trauma membrane is a temporary psychosocial structure that provides a buffer or healing space for those exposed to traumatic events. It allows space for natural healing processes, mediating what comes in and out. It is this monitoring that parents and caregivers can provide to children exposed to disasters and potentially traumatic events. An example of this monitoring would be limiting the exposure to media coverage of disturbing images and sounds, protecting children from hearing details that they are unable to cope with developmentally or psychologically , or assessing professionals who work with children post disaster for competency and appropriateness.

After the Victorian bushfires, school principals realised they had a full time job in protecting students from the media, interested parties who wanted to visit the school, and counsellors who had limited experience in working with children post disaster. This membrane provides a shield from unnecessary exposure to further psychological distress. Keeping familiar routines and structure will reduce unnecessary stress for the infant, child or young person and help them feel safe. Routines help to maintain consistency, even if it is just in one area of their life for example maintaining a familiar bedtime routine.

Returning to school, day care and pre-school can also assist in the restoration of predictability, social networks and supportive structures. It must be noted that such systems may first need to be re-established to be able to provide the required environment for positive recovery Alisic , Alisic et al. Image: Norwood Charity , published under Creative Commons. Returning to school, day care and pre-school routines assists with the restoration of social networks and supportive structures. There are emerging international examples demonstrating the capacity of children to make a meaningful contribution to community-level disaster recovery, with indications that there are mental health and wellbeing benefits arising from this involvement Peek , Anderson , Hobfoll et al.

For example, it has been found that following severe flooding, children and young people appeared to cope better with changes to their home when they were given some involvement in the decision-making about the repairs Walker et al. Youth participation, as a concept, is not only about providing developmental opportunities for young people, it is also about improving the effectiveness of organisations.

By tapping into the experiential knowledge of young people there is increased opportunity to ensure that a program is actually meaningful and operating in the best interests of the child. Families and organisations need support to understand how children and young people can participate in ways that are appropriate to their maturity, abilities and skills. Parents and carers can encourage children and young people to join in family discussions, provide practical help at home with the clean-up, or re-establish shared and personal spaces.

Children can contribute to broader community recovery and renewal projects, such as helping with delivery of supplies, providing their ideas and priorities for school and community rebuilding planning, and contributing to the development and implementation of community initiatives and events. Organisations that traditionally work with children, such as schools, childcare settings and youth and recreational clubs, should work to involve children in decision-making processes.

These organisations may also act as a resource to the community by partnering with other agencies that provide opportunities for children to contribute but may not be experienced in engaging children meaningfully. This may be due to:. Child development takes place through processes of progressively more complex interaction between an active child and the people, objects and symbols in their immediate environment Bronfenbrenner , McFarlane , Norris et al. Disasters rupture and disrupt elements of that environment and have the potential to impact on the child or young person throughout the course of their life Saltzman et al.

Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that children who have experienced trauma will be developmentally equivalent to their chronological age cohort Saltzman et al. This does not mean that every event in early childhood invariably determines later development. Difficulties may also emerge when there are changes in a program. A program may do fantastic work for a period of time, and then the child or young person may be moved from a program environment where they feel safe to a new environment, or relationship, or worker. Evaluating and strengthening the capacity and capability of these environments will increase the context of support for, and capacity of, these groups.

This notion of thinking about the ecological context in which young people flourish has become crucial to understanding their recovery Henley , Saltzman et al.

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Table 1 shows the influences around ecology. If contextual factors are addressed, the capacity of infants, children and young people for resilience will likely be enhanced. If the context is damaged or impeded, the potential for resilience will likely be compromised. To map the needs and aspirations of infants, children and young people a view from their perspective is required.

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They can be active in this process of identifying who are the most important people in their life. Who can support them? Who empowers them? Which groups do they belong to and who is likely to provide post-intervention support? Enabling the capacities and capabilities within each setting, and the connections between them, enhances outcomes.

The ecological approach emphasises the need to ascertain how the systems for infants, children and young people are functioning and whether each layer of their ecological environment is providing the optimal degree of support refer Table 1. That is, asking how these environments can continue providing the necessary care and support. Invariably this calls for a layered and comprehensive range of co-ordinated and multi-sectoral supports and interventions. Table 1: Influences around each layer of the ecology of infants, children and young people. The impact of disasters is mediated by providing opportunities for peer relationships.

Peer relationships provide mutual encouragement and emotional support. They also play a role in the exchange of age-appropriate and meaningful information and referral.


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They support the development of skills that enable a person to negotiate and navigate social environments Henley The trajectory for recovery of children and young people may be significantly influenced either directly via interaction between the child and organisation e. The availability and types of information, values, expectations and knowledge systems i.


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Reactions by parents to traumatic events have a powerful influence on how their children cope Cohen et al. Parental traumatic stress is one of the key factors that determines the likelihood of a child developing PTSD Cohen et al. Other factors associated with poorer outcomes for children include:. The negative effects of stress on young children can be buffered by responsive care giving National Scientific Council on the Developing Child If parents and carers are supported as they recover, it helps them to help their children cope.

Talking and sharing experiences include playing games and using other ways to express thoughts and feelings.