Harvey-affected youth need emotional regulation, risk screening
children involved have already suffered from multiple losses and traumas. Harvey provides an occasion to begin addressing a profound, longstanding gap in the implementation and dissemination of trauma- informed interventions. Although we recognize that not all youth who experienced the storm and its aftermath will need specialized attention or support, we must be mindful that it is normal for children and teens to experience some distress and impairment in functioning after a disaster. We learned from Katrina that children and the adults who serve them can greatly benefit from basic emotion regulation and coping skills. In this critical moment, schools and other systems present ideal settings in which to impart these socialemotional skills.
Viewed through a trauma- informed lens, the language of encouraging youth to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” or quickly return to normal fails to address the very real psychological impact of a traumatic event such as Harvey. Expecting children and youth to ignore the impact of Harvey on their homes, families and communities is severely unrealistic and encourages further harm. As experts working in the field of youth mental health, we urge local leaders to include trauma-informed approaches to their work, particularly when they are working directly with children. Implementing these approaches will require knowledge about which children were most exposed to potential hurricane-related risk factors; for example, which children were forced to leave their homes, were rescued from high water, separated from their caregivers or forced to attend a new school, among other challenges.
Later down the road, we will need to better understand which children may be experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress and associated psychological or behavioral health problems that can significantly interfere with functioning. This information will require valid screening and assessment tools designed to identify vulnerable youth, as well as evidence-based interventions for those who are in need of treatment. Our academic centers will need to form close collaborations with community organizations, schools and youth-serving systems, working hand in hand to address the needs and strengths of youth affected by Hurricane Harvey. Therefore, we encourage these youthserving systems and the adults who run them to lead with empathy and to seriously think through how to deal with the trauma of Harvey, using evidence-based programming including risk screening and intervention.