A Save the Children staffer plays with a child in a safe play space, set up to help children cope with the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael.

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Children Following an Emergency

The mental health needs of children following an emergency are immense. Stress caused as a result of lost homes and lost communities can have a widespread, deep and enduring impact on children’s mental well being. 

As reports surface on the damage caused by Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 hurricane at the time it made landfall in Florida, Save the Children is actively working to protect vulnerable children and provide immediate support for families affected by the storm by distributing critical supplies. Our long-term response efforts will focus on providing much-needed emotional support to children as well.

Despite heightened vulnerability, children’s mental health needs are historically underrepresented in preparedness efforts in both public health and medical communities.[i]

Save the Children knows this is unacceptable.

Through the generous support of our donors, we are working to provide schools and communities with structured programs designed to support the emotional development of children following an emergency.

Here’s why it’s so important:

Children have unique needs that make them the most vulnerable in a disaster. From their small bodies being at greater risk of illness or harm during an emergency to their dependency on routine to help them make sense of their surroundings and feel comforted, children have the potential to suffer the most following an emergency.

The long-term negative impact of a disaster can be mitigated. With some basic training, parents, teachers and caregivers can help protect children from further harm following an emergency. Providing reassurance and validation of emotions while working to normalize routines and returning to learning can all work to reduce the mental harm caused to children.

However, many parents may not know how to address these needs. After Hurricane Katrina, key findings documented in American Medical Association’s Journal of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness found that while one-third of children were reported to have been diagnosed with at least one mental health problem, fewer than 50% of parents were able to access needed professional services. The major barriers that parents reported included not knowing where to go for help, lack of insurance coverage for treatment, no available providers and lack of transportation or child care for other children in the family. [ii] 

Children’s well-being depends, in large part, on the stability and well-being of their parents and caregivers. Children understand and process events based on messages they receive from those responsible for them. Helping parents and caregivers to process their experiences and develop resources for coping is the first step in increasing their ability to support children. By attending first to their own emotional needs, parents and caregivers can be more fully present and attentive to the needs of children.  

Children communicate stress differently. There is no one way in which children express worries and fears. Each one may communicate upset feelings in different ways. It’s important to recognize both the physical symptoms and behavioral changes that can mask trauma. Sleep disorders, irritability and acting out area also ways in which children may communicate stress.

A donation to Save the Children’s Hurricane Michael Children’s Relief Fund will help support the urgent needs of children and families. Please donate now.

To learn more about Save the Children’s work in Florida and across the United States, please visit: savethechildren.org/USA.

YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN NEED. MAKE A DONATION TODAY!

 

 

 

[i] A Child’s Health Is the Public’s Health: Progress and Gaps in Addressing Pediatric Needs in Public Health Emergencies 

[ii] Abramson, D., Park, YS., Stehling-Ariza, T., and Redlener, I. “Children as Bellwethers of Recovery: Dysfunctional Systems and the Effects of Parents, Households, and Neighborhoods on Serious Emotional Disturbance in Children After Hurricane Katrina.” Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. 4. (2010). pp. S17-S27.