Method: This study uses secondary, longitudinal data from a previous 1996-1999 research project conducted by Dr. Robert Kohn of Brown University Medical Center. Data analysis included descriptive statistics and multiple regression analysis. Data was analyzed at 3 months and 2 years post-disaster. A comparative analysis of trauma reactions in children and families in low impact vs. high impact zones was conducted as well as comparisons between families residing in emergency shelter or alternative housing arrangements vs. their own homes 3 months post-disaster and 2 years later. The study sample consisted of 1100 children and families randomly selected and surveyed 3 months and 2 years post 1996 Hurricane Mitch. Retention was 80% of those sampled 3 months post-disaster. Four key survey instruments used in the data analysis included the Impact of Events Scale, the Child and Adult Kish Scale, Self-Report Questionnaire (SRQ), and MASC (coping scale). Post-trauma reactions in children and parents is defined as symptoms of PTSD, depression, behavior problems, substance use, family stability, family cohesion, and displacement.
Results: Findings suggest that family stability and cohesion and parent post-trauma reactions have significant buffering effects of trauma reactions for children and families in both high and low impact zones whether they live in emergency shelter 3 months post-disaster or not. Additional findings suggest that 2 years post-disaster, post-trauma reactions are still quite evident with moderating effects on child behavior and family coping, particularly for those who have had ongoing housing instability, family disruption and economic strain problems, both in families from high and low impact zones.
Implications: The psychological impact of disastrous events can have lasting impact on families, particularly if the emotional and psychological needs of the child and family are not adequately addressed. Much more research is needed to help local mental health practitioners and those in the disaster mental health research and practice community better understand the impact of disaster in the lives of families, and how best to intervene regardless of disaster exposure, both immediately following the disastrous event and in the long-term (Sheeringa and Zeanah, 2001).