Schools can play an important role in helping children who have been the victims of natural disasters. In this article, the authors make recommendations for how schools can be sites for the assessment and treatment of children who have lived through earthquakes, tornadoes, and other disasters. The article draws on insights learned by the authors in their postdisaster work in Armenia and the United States.
There are three levels of organization needed to establish school-based trauma services: the government and other social institutions; the school community; and intervention teams. Government agencies need to work together to mobilize public and private resources to help children. There may be competing perspectives from various agencies and stakeholders, but these differences have to be acknowledged and addressed in order to begin the work of serving children. Within the school, the needs of principals and teachers must be considered. In the case of natural disasters, these people are also victims. They may have been injured themselves, seen their homes destroyed, witnessed death and destruction, or lost family members. Finally, members of intervention teams must be chosen and trained carefully. They need to understand the levels of physical destruction and emotional distress they can expect to encounter.
Treatment strategies will vary, depending on the nature of the disaster: Was it widespread? What time of day did it occur? What was the level of destruction and loss of life? Careful initial screening of children can help mental health professionals and public health authorities determine what types of treatment will be delivered. The screening can also influence decisions about other intervention efforts. For example, authorities in Armenia used screening results to determine which areas were the most needy, and what types of housing assistance people wanted most.
Group sessions in a classroom setting, family therapy, and individual therapy all have a role to play in helping children-and their teachers, parents, and neighbors-recover from the trauma.