New Study Stress and Displacement on Children
Published: February 03, 2007 07:56 pm
Report: Up to 35,000 kids still having major Katrina problems
NEW ORLEANS, LA — Up to 35,000 children, one-third of those across the Gulf Coast still displaced by Hurricane Katrina, are having major problems with mental health, behavior or school, a new study indicates.
To make things worse, many of their parents are depressed as well, leaving them less able to help the children, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and president of the Children’s Health Fund, which conducted the study together.
More than 60 percent of the parents and caregivers tested high for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the report said. That is well above what is usually seen among people with debilitating chronic diseases, and even higher than Louisiana caregivers reported six months after the storm, it said.
“I’ve been doing advocacy and direct services for kids for more than 30 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Redlener said in an interview Friday.
Every day in the continued post-Katrina instability many are living through damages their chances of recovery, he said.
“What I’m concerned about is the long-term consequences for these kids will be horrendous in terms of academic achievement, mental health conditions and long-term ability to recover,” he said.
The Columbia/CHF report said more than half the parents and caregivers interviewed reported that at least one child had emotional or behavioral problems since the hurricane. That is an even higher rate than displaced Louisiana residents reported six months after Katrina, it said.
“Furthermore, there was a near fourfold increase in the clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety in children after the hurricane, and the prevalence of behavioral or conduct problems doubled,” the report said.
The study released Friday includes findings of a recent Mississippi follow-up to a study done in Louisiana and reported last year by The Associated Press. Taken together, they indicate that between one-quarter and one-third of the displaced children are having serious problems, Redlener said.
The total number of children still living in FEMA trailers, not only in trailer parks, which he described as essentially refugee camps, but in the front yards of devastated neighborhoods, is somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000, Redlener said.
He said he is “quite comfortable” with an estimate that 25,000 to 35,000 of them are in serious trouble.
At a guess, he said, about two-thirds are in Louisiana and the rest in Mississippi and other states, with most of the remaining one-third in Mississippi.
The first study looked at 668 randomly chosen households in Louisiana’s FEMA trailer parks and FEMA-subsidized hotel rooms; the follow-up looked at 576 Mississippi househoulds in FEMA trailer parks. Together, they represent more than 26,000 households in the two states.
The new study also found that:
— The working class and the working poor were hurt worst: in more than half the households earning less than $10,000 a year, people had lost their jobs, compared to 15 percent of those earning more than $20,000 a year.
— One in six children who needed medical care for an illness or injury had not seen a doctor.
— Three times as many children were without health insurance after Katrina than before the hurricane; Mississippi children were twice as likely as those in Louisiana to be uninsured.
— Nearly one-third of children aged 6 to 11 years had missed at least 10 days of school in one month during the last quarter of the spring 2006 semester. Four out of 10 teenagers missed that much school.
Other health organizations also see signs of problems among children following Katrina. Joy Osofsky, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, said more than one-third of the children screened at schools in New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes show serious problems.
They used a national screening test for children and adolescents who have been through hurricanes. In the winter following the August 2005 storm and in spring 2006, about 49 percent met the cutoff score for mental health referral; this past fall, the figure had dropped to 41 percent, she said.
“We’re certainly not seeing a huge dropoff in mental health symptoms and problems,” she said.
The federally funded Louisiana Spirit crisis counseling program saw at least 150,000 adults and children over its first year, said Dr. Tony Speier, director of disaster mental health operations for the state Office of Mental Health.
He said about 500 counselors work in the program.
“Five-hundred counselors, at one level, sounds like a lot of counselors, which it is. But when you stretch that across 64 parishes and the whole population grid — unfortunately, we could use a lot more.”