Helping Young People After Natural Disasters

There’s a Tool Kit (or Two) for That

Posted November 8, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Women photographed in hoodie against a white backdrop

How can child-serv­ing sys­tems react to nat­ur­al dis­as­ters in mean­ing­ful and effec­tive ways?

What actions can child wel­fare and juve­nile jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers take to help young peo­ple heal?

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Dis­as­ter Relief and Response Team has con­tem­plat­ed these very ques­tions over the years. In 2019, this team — which had pre­vi­ous­ly direct­ed resources to com­mu­ni­ties in need after hur­ri­canes, earth­quakes and oth­er cat­a­stro­phes — reori­ent­ed to focus on address­ing the needs of sys­tems dur­ing and after extra­or­di­nary events.

With sup­port from Casey and work­ing in part­ner­ship with the Nation­al Child Trau­mat­ic Stress Net­work, Child Trends has built two com­pre­hen­sive tool kits — one for child wel­fare sys­tems and one for juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems. Each resource deliv­ers evi­dence-based guid­ance aimed at help­ing young peo­ple recov­er from a catastrophe.

Very few states have spe­cif­ic lan­guage in their child wel­fare or juve­nile jus­tice dis­as­ter poli­cies that men­tion men­tal health or trau­ma,” says Rebec­ca L. Vivrette, a Child Trends research sci­en­tist and project direc­tor. The need for resources was clear, and our hope is that agen­cies and gov­ern­ments can make use of these tool kits to help the youth they serve heal and thrive.”

What’s in the Tool Kits?

Both tool kits are orga­nized into three sec­tions with action steps tai­lored for the real­i­ties that youth-serv­ing agen­cies face when work­ing with and on behalf of chil­dren in dis­as­ter situations.

These three sec­tions are:

  1. Rec­om­men­da­tions: This sec­tion helps users devel­op plans and poli­cies that pri­or­i­tize the emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal well-being of chil­dren and encour­ages part­ner­ing with agen­cies and orga­ni­za­tions that tai­lor sup­port to spe­cif­ic groups.
  2. Heal­ing and resilience: When cat­a­stro­phe strikes, kids can be left grap­pling with emo­tion­al dis­tress, phys­i­cal risks, social dis­con­nec­tion, eco­nom­ic insta­bil­i­ty and fam­i­ly uncer­tain­ty. This sec­tion reviews how dis­as­ters affect sys­tem-involved chil­dren and what sys­tems can do to pro­mote heal­ing, resilience and equi­table outcomes.
  3. Inter­ven­tions: Some chil­dren and youth may require a deep­er lev­el of sup­port dur­ing and after expe­ri­enc­ing dis­as­ter. This sec­tion shares promis­ing inter­ven­tions aimed at help­ing kids who are hard hit by trau­ma- and grief-relat­ed stress.

The tool kit for child wel­fare admin­is­tra­tors and staff out­lines proac­tive steps that work­ers and care­givers can take to pro­vide sta­bil­i­ty and seam­less sup­port to chil­dren in care. It shares advice such as: how to build a reli­able infra­struc­ture to main­tain reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fam­i­ly, friends and care­givers; how to address staff needs relat­ed to trau­mat­ic stress; and how to train par­ents and care­givers to com­fort chil­dren dur­ing and after an emergency.

The tool kit for juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem admin­is­tra­tors offers guid­ance on sup­port­ing youth in the com­mu­ni­ty and in facil­i­ties. It shares advice such as: how to build an infra­struc­ture for alter­na­tive meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion; how to adjust the fre­quen­cy of meet­ings with pro­ba­tion or parole offi­cers for youth on com­mu­ni­ty super­vi­sion; and how to con­nect youth in insti­tu­tion­al set­tings with fam­i­ly mem­bers, friends, attor­neys and oth­er social sources of support.

Casey cel­e­brates the release of these tool kits, which will sup­port nat­ur­al dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness and min­i­mize the trau­ma chil­dren and youth expe­ri­ence hav­ing gone through these expe­ri­ences,” says Mil­dred John­son, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foundation.

Each tool kit is pack­aged in a web-friend­ly for­mat and as a down­load­able, print­able resource that could be more prac­ti­cal in post-dis­as­ter set­tings where elec­tric­i­ty and inter­net ser­vice may not be avail­able. Both tool kits are also avail­able in Eng­lish and Spanish.

Resources Fit for a Pandemic

One study, pub­lished in 2010, found that up to 14% of U.S. chil­dren sur­veyed had expe­ri­enced a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter. Since then, vir­tu­al­ly all chil­dren have encoun­tered a dif­fer­ent kind of cat­a­stro­phe: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers were busy devel­op­ing both tool kits as the coro­n­avirus spread, and the pan­dem­ic informed their final products.

Although the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing nat­ur­al dis­as­ters and COVID-19 are dif­fer­ent, the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al impacts on chil­dren, youth, and fam­i­lies can be sim­i­lar,” the researchers explain.

Because of these sim­i­lar­i­ties, youth-serv­ing sys­tems may find the tool kits use­ful for learn­ing how to nav­i­gate the cur­rent pub­lic health cri­sis and how to pre­pare for future nat­ur­al disasters.

Learn more about help­ing sys­tems-involved kids after nat­ur­al disasters

Explore the Trau­ma Sys­tems Ther­a­py for Fos­ter Care prac­tice model

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