Serious, long-lasting impact of disaster on children
CHILDREN CAUGHT in natural or man-made disasters can suffer from trauma and bereavement for far longer than adults realise, and this can affect not only how well they perform at school but also the trajectory of their lives, researchers have said.
Floodwaters eventually recede, power is restored, buildings are repaired and daily routines begin again, but many children struggle, finding it difficult to concentrate, do schoolwork and sleep.
Some are scared to leave home for school, fearful that something will happen to them or their families. And at school, some will act out, leading to suspension and expulsion, while others cannot focus or concentrate, said David Schonfeld, head of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California.
Adults do not always see how children react internally and expect them to bounce back quickly when routines are restarted, but the effects can linger for years after the disaster.
“It is not like it gets all better quickly and everyone can move on,” Schonfeld said. Though it is often said that children are flexible and get used to living in difficult conditions, in many cases, they don’t.
In 2010, the US National Commission on Children and Disasters reported that state and local governments needed to better identify the needs of all children before disaster strikes and develop long-term recovery plans that address their housing, education, health and mentalhealth needs.
It offered 81 recommendations, but, a 2015 report by the nonprofit Save the Children, found that only 17 recommendations had been “fully met.”
Some US cities have had to scramble to keep school going after hurricanes, such as sending students to temporary housing or even to different districts.
In poor communities and those without post-disaster plans, children suffer more. A 2010 meta-analysis of 96 studies that examined post-traumatic stress disorder or post-traumatic stress symptoms in 75,154 youths found that, in many cases, the effects of the disaster last years and that it is not just the disaster that causes trauma.
After storms like super typhoon Haiyan, it is harder for children to recover.