Schools are uniquely positioned to provide normalization and security to children and should be a part of recovery efforts. The recovery phase includes engaging in short-term efforts to restore people to physical and mental health and vital systems to minimum operating conditions; and long-term efforts to restore entire disaster areas to previous conditions or better. Schools should remain open whenever possible. Keeping students engaged in their regular routine, including attending school, is a key to maintaining their resiliency. However, school buildings may be damaged or contaminated and in need of repair before classes can resume and services can be offered. Alternate locations may be needed if school buildings need extensive repairs or rebuilding. Transportation systems to and from school also may be damaged. The mental health of students is an essential ingredient for meeting schools' academic mission: Students suffering from anxiety, PTSD, or grieving the loss of friends or loved ones will have difficulty learning. Mental health services can be delivered through schools, particularly in underserved areas, in order to efficiently reach a large number of children. Schools provide an optimal location for discussion, peer, and adult support. In order for schools to support children who are having difficulty coping with a traumatic event, staff must be supported and be aware of their own responses to the traumatic event.
What Is Currently Being Done?
Immediately following the events of September 11th ED made $8.9 million of Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) funds available to the New York City Board of Education, and state educational agencies in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Funds awarded to the state educational agencies were distributed to school districts that were impacted by September 11th. Funds awarded to the New York City Board of Education were distributed to various school districts within the city. Funds from Project SERV were used by school districts to help restore the learning environment and for a variety of mental health services. Project SERV funds also supported a study conducted by Columbia University to assess the mental health effects of September 11th on children in over 8,000 school children in NYC public schools. CDC provided technical assistance to this study. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), in collaboration with Project SERV, has developed a Guide for Intermediate and Long-Term Mental Health Services after School-Related Violent Events. This document provides guidelines for school staff and community mental health personnel to establish and maintain immediate, intermediate, and longer-term mental health recovery services necessary to restore the social and emotional equilibrium and well-being of students and staff after violent events. SAMHSA also developed a guide on Coping with Traumatic Events, Tips for Teachers which provides tools to assist teachers to develop students' emotional and psychological coping and resilience skills during times of crisis. SAMHSA funds the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families, and communities throughout the United States. The NCTSN will work with established systems of care, including the educational system, to ensure that there is a comprehensive continuum of care available and accessible to all traumatized children and their families.
For more than 25 years, the FEMA/SAMHSA Interagency Agreement to Provide Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Crisis Counseling Program has supported short-term interventions with individuals and groups experiencing psychological sequelae as a result of large-scale disasters. These interventions assist disaster survivors in understanding their current situation and reactions, assist survivors in reviewing their options, promote the use of coping strategies, provide emotional support, and encourage linkages with other people and services. Upon receiving a Presidential disaster declaration, if a state determines that state and local resources are insufficient to meet mental health service needs, the state mental health authority can request supplemental funds from FEMA.
The Trauma Psychiatry Program at UCLA, as part of the NCTSN, has produced a Trauma Information Pamphlet for Teachers. This pamphlet includes information on types of posttraumatic stress reactions, consequences of these reactions for adolescents, things that make these reactions worse, and information on how teachers can help.
What Are The Gaps?
Only a small percentage of children in the United States receive the mental health treatment they need. For those children who do receive needed mental health services, schools are the primary providers. However, short- and long-term mental health services in schools or tied to schools remain scarce. In addition, there is a lack of information on baseline mental health of children in the absence of a terrorist event. Children who are displaced from their schools due to a terrorist event, disrupting their daily routines for an extended period of time, are likely to be at increased risk for post-event difficulties. In addition, anxious or ill children do not learn well, jeopardizing the school's academic mission. Most schools are not well-equipped to address the mental health needs of students and staff after a terrorist event. Funding to support school mental health services is scarce. Relationships between mental health providers and schools need to be established in advance of a crisis. School staff can be trained to identify and refer students who appear to be in need of mental health services. Mental health providers should develop working partnerships with schools in order to address the mental health impact of terrorism on children. Project SERV and FEMA/SAMHSA activities should be coordinated to prevent gaps in service provision. Schools may be inundated with outside proposals to provide services and conduct research. Schools must review these to determine their appropriateness for the setting and to balance the needs for supportive intervention and normalization. School officials are responsible for ensuring the physical safety of school buildings and grounds. Little information is available to help school officials understand what remediation actions are needed to ensure the safety of school property after a terrorist event, especially an event involving biological, chemical, or radiological agents. Nor is there guidance for schools about when it is safe to reopen damaged school buildings, or those impacted by biological, chemical, or radiological agents.
1. Collaborate with the Secretary of Education to formalize partnerships at the federal, state and local levels, and coordinate activities to ensure that schools are fully integrated into preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation efforts. Specific activities on which HHS and ED can work together are:
• Add funds to the School Emergency Response to Violence Project (SERV) contingency fund, increasing the government's capacity to respond in a fast and flexible manner to meet the critical needs of schools and students after a crisis in the school or community.
• Increase collaboration and linkages between Project SERV and SAMHSA crisis counseling services.
• Fund demonstration projects that evaluate the effectiveness of school-based responses to past emergencies (eg, Columbine high school shootings, September 11th) and expand and evaluate existing emergency planning and response models (eg, New York City, Los Angeles) for involving education agencies and schools in a coordinated system of response and recovery.
• Train students, staff, and family members to be first responders.
• Ensure that schools are part of community-based planning and training as both community resources and as places where large numbers of children and adolescents are congregated.
• Ensure that schools place a high priority on returning students to school and their normal routines as quickly as possible after an event as one important method for supporting their resiliency.
• Establish a school terrorism and disaster psychosocial preparedness and recovery technical assistance center.
2. Develop and disseminate materials and fund staff development for teachers and other school personnel about:
a. symptoms of psychological disturbances among children and how to refer students to appropriate care;
b. the importance of fostering resiliency among children and methods for doing so; and
c. methods for managing the stress of on-going terrorism threats.
3. Develop and disseminate guidance for school officials regarding:
a. remediation actions that might be necessary after different potential types of terrorist events;
b. the importance of mental health screening and mechanisms for determining what should be permitted in an emergency setting; and
c. when it might be safe to reopen damaged school buildings, or those contaminated by biological, chemical, or radiological agents.
• The American Red Cross has added a supplement to the Masters of Disaster curriculum, Facing Fear. Helping Young People Deal with Terrorism and Other Tragic Events, to address dealing with feelings of loss, sadness and anger after a tragic event; provides information about understanding media coverage; and provides positive ways for children and their families to respond to past events and plan for future uncertain times. Also available for downloading from the Red Cross website, is a series of brochures that provide age-appropriate suggestions for how adults (parents and educators) can help children cope with disasters and terrorist attacks.
- Schools and Terrorism; Journal of School Health, Feb2004, Vol. 74 Issue 2, p39-51
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information
regarding the role of schools in disaster recovery plans for children. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
According to the Journal of School Health, in what three areas could counselors help staff increase their knowledge regarding disaster response? Record the letter of the correct answer