Background and Purpose:
Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic damages resulting in enormous economic costs, the lost of lives (McQuaid, 2006), and the displacement of over a half million people (Kasindorf, 2005). Many of these displaced survivors were African American, poor, and elderly (Horner, 2006) which places them as a high-risk population (Ursano, et al., 2003). Little is understood of the impact of disasters on older adults and it is an area that has been vastly understudied (Sanders, Bowie, & Bowie, 2003). Coping with change, relocation, and separation of family were daily challenges faced by many Katrina survivors. The individualistic and complex nature of coping processes adopted by Katrina survivors in both the short-term and long-term are explored in this study. Further, this study seeks to understand the impact of this trauma on the health and well being of this vulnerable population with attention to salient service delivery issues.
African American Katrina survivors, ages 55 and older who relocated as a result of the Hurricane (n=20) were the study participants. A qualitative paradigm was used to collect data through in-depth, semistructured interviews. Grounded theory, using constant comparison methods was employed to analyze experiences of differing Katrina survivors interviewed either immediately following relocation or those who had been displaced for over 2 years. The interviews sought to identify coping strategies adopted to cope with challenging situations and these effects in both the short and long-term are explored. Interviews with participants were transcribed verbatim and prominent coping themes were identified using inductive processes adhering to common criteria of coding and the identification of themes (Marshall & Rossman, 1995; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Glaser, 1978).
This paper presents the findings of a study that explored the coping strategies employed by African American Katrina survivors and highlights three primary categories. 1) Prominent psychosocial processes were found as related to sub-themes that emphasized strategies for revisiting the past, rationalizing, and finding peace. 2) Interaction supports found coping strategies that relied on social networks, establishing community, and spiritual connectedness. 3) Finally, structural concerns were evident in service level needs that suggested the role of such factors as fear, isolation, and victimization on the coping process.
Conclusions and Implications:
There has been limited study of the impact of trauma on African American populations and research that chronicles the experiences and subsequent coping strategies adopted by this population has important implications for both social work education and practice. This study informs understanding of the risk factors and vulnerabilities facing older adults. The results underscore the importance of social workers understanding coping processes in the context of a cultural perspective and the necessity of flexibility in service delivery methods. Implications will address the application of this knowledge base to more effectively guide social work practice approaches.
[References available upon request]