United States

Teacher Training on Issues of Psychological Trauma in Children Update

July 31, 2006

Dr. Martina Fuchs

Recent FEMA statistics account for nearly 17,000 hurricane Katrina evacuees registered in California seeking federal assistance. Because only a single family member in a household can apply for FEMA aid, the actual number is likely to be significantly higher. In many cases evacuee households contain at least 3-4 family members. In addition not all evacuees have registered with FEMA thereby raising the true count even higher. Many of the evacuees living in California are children. Data collection inconsistencies make it difficult to know exactly how many evacuees are children. However, estimates suggest that between 40 and 70 percent of the total evacuee population are children.

The psychological trauma experienced by these children places them at significantly higher risks for developing dangerous and costly physical and emotional health impacts throughout their entire life. A joint CDC/Kaiser-Permanente study of Adverse Childhood Events (ACE Study) in 1998 clearly outlined the increased lifelong physical and emotional effects for children who experience such events. Significantly increased occurrences of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, alcoholism, suicide and other major killers have been well-documented in adults who experienced these adverse emotional situations as children. Early identification and intervention of these impacts will save lives, improve the physical and mental health of our residents and save countless dollars in the years ahead. The Real Medicine Foundation is currently developing a training module for teachers in Los Angeles to address this need. The purpose of this proposal is to increase early recognition of the impacts of adverse childhood events in order to prevent and minimize long-term negative health outcomes among children in Los Angeles.

Real Medicine Foundation has piloted training in Memphis, Tennessee with positive results. Following hurricane Katrina we provided training on the psychological impact to teachers and guidance counselors in the Memphis Archdiocese school system. At that time Memphis had one of the country's largest populations of evacuated children from New Orleans and surrounding areas. Our program was received with great excitement and our follow-up surveys indicate that participants noticeably improved their knowledge base and their ability to help children who needed it.

In keeping with the model the Real Medicine Foundation utilized in Memphis, the course and manual will be produced in collaboration with the Harvard Institute for Trauma & Crisis. Dr. Kevin Becker, director of the Institute will oversee the project. Dr. Becker has specialized in psychological trauma for nearly 20 years and has conducted projects following some of the world's worst tragedies including the 2004 tsunami, Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. We intend to work with partners in the school system to develop and deliver a culturally appropriate and useful training program.