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Children Who Were Displaced Following Hurricane Katrina Face Mental Crises

Armen Hareyan's picture

Two and a half years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the flooding of New Orleans displaced tens of thousands of families in the Gulf Coast region, between 46,000 and 64,000 children remain at-risk for long-term health and social problems, according to a new study issued today by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and The Children's Health Fund. Although many of the children who were displaced have returned to their home communities or home states, according to census and school enrollment data, they still face inadequate housing, unsafe communities, and inadequate access to comprehensive medical and mental health care.

The study found this displaced group at risk for a host of serious medical and mental health as well as educational problems, complicated by highly limited support services. More than half of the 55,000 displaced children in Louisiana (55.4%) and nearly half in Mississippi (47.1%) have been estimated to exhibit one of three "risk factors" that can have a long term or permanent impacts on their lives: a substantial drop in academic achievement, according to their parents; lost access to health care (either medical home or insurance coverage); or clinically-diagnosed depression, anxiety or behavior disorder.

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The study, "The Legacy of Katrina's Children: Estimating the Numbers of Hurricane-Related At-Risk Children in the Gulf Coast States of Louisiana & Mississippi," is a collaboration between Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and The Children's Health Fund. Overseen by Irwin Redlener, MD, the study was led by David Abramson, PhD, MPH, director of research at the Mailman School's National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP). The research focuses on children in Louisiana and Mississippi who had been displaced by the hurricane, and who may be among the most needy.

Irwin Redlener, MD, director of NCDP and president of the Children's Health Fund said, "This may be the most severe acute crisis affecting American children since the 1950s". He continued, "It's been two and a half years since the Hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast region, and the level of uncertainty among tens of thousands of families who still do not have adequate permanent housing for families has manifested itself in the children, with a distressing rise of mental health and medical issues, as well as a drop in academic performance that can have painful and permanent consequences. In fact, these families would be officially recognized as'Internally Displaced Persons' by international humanitarian organizations."

Dr. Abramson added, "Since the disaster, our research team has been following a representative group of families and households who had been displaced by Katrina. Some families are having success rebuilding their homes and their lives. But many families are finding that as they return to communities, old problems persist and a number of new problems emerge. There are still children living in temporary or transient housing, such as FEMA trailer parks, and their parents are struggling to find new housing options. Our intention with this study was to estimate the magnitude of the problem - how many children are at-risk, whether they are living in trailer parks or are back in the community."