Abstract: Hurricane Mitch and Post-Disaster, Post-Trauma Reactions for Children and Families in High and Low Impact Zones (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11990 Hurricane Mitch and Post-Disaster, Post-Trauma Reactions for Children and Families in High and Low Impact Zones

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 8:00 AM
Pacific Concourse L (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
So`Nia L. Gilkey, PhD , Tulane University, Assistant Professor, New Orleans, LA
The proposed study is a longitudinal research project that considers post-trauma reactions in the short and long-term of Honduran children and families in high and low impact zones of the 1996 hurricane, Hurricane Mitch. Research evidence strongly supports the idea that parental emotional reactions to traumatic events such as avoidance and over protectiveness constitute a powerful mediator of the child's post-traumatic symptoms (Cohen, 2009; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1998); and further that level of exposure, length of displacement, parental PTSD, family SES and child characteristics including coping capacities, age, gender, and self-efficacy can moderate the effects of a disastrous event on a child and families' post-trauma reactions. The empirical evidence regarding trauma reactions in the short and long-term for children and families dealing with a disastrous event remains limited (Norris et al., 2002). This study explores which variables impact trauma reactions with buffering effects on child and family wellbeing post-disastrous event in high and low impact zones.

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).