For children, going to school, even a new school, provided a sense of order. It also gave parents time to plan for the future. Wealthier parents were able to enroll their children in private schools. Poorer families faced a greater struggle.
In Texas, officials reported enrolling19,000 children displaced by the storm (Katrowitz and Breslau, 2005). They were able to waive normal rules, such as proving residency or providing immunization records. The opportunity to start over was critical for thousands of families, including Kathy Jemison and her daughter, Sarah McClelland, 17. The night before the storm hit, they gathered their clothes, keepsakes and important documents (such as birth certificates and Social Security cards). As the storm was destroying their home, they drove 15 hours to a friend's house in San Antonio. Sarah began her senior year at San Antonio's MacArthur High School, and Kathy, who worked for a bank in New Orleans, was able to find a new job.
Making the transition to a new school can be very difficult, especially during the first few weeks. "School gives kids structure," says Lynne Tan, a psychiatrist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y (Katrowitz and Breslau, 2005). "You have adults around to process with the kids: teachers, volunteer parents, school counselors. There are people who can answer questions." Ultimately, a child's psychological fate is dependent upon numerous factors, says Tan. "You have to take into account genetics, maturity level, the environmental situation prior to the disaster. If you have a more stable parental structure in place before the disaster, then you're probably going to have a better outcome." Still, while some researchers believe that the stress of going through trauma may permanently damage developing brains, others believe that children are resilient for reasons that even science cannot explain.
The Associated Press told the story of Monica Smith, a 3-year-old Katrina survivor, who is afraid to take baths because she thinks she will drown (Callimachi, 2006). "She cries and cries. 'Don't be crying,' I tell her. 'I gotta wash your hair,'" says her grandmother, Ruth May Smith. Unfortunately, Monica does not understand what her grandmother tells her, as she learned the hard way that her loved ones cannot always protect her.
There were seven children inside the Smiths' home on Aug. 29 when a 30-foot wave, unleashed by Hurricane Katrina, hit it (Callimachi, 2006). As the walls began to crumble, the older children swam away. Monica, the youngest, stayed inside with her grandmother and two aunts, as none of them could swim. Monica was swept into the wave and would have drowned if a family friend had not saved her. Even though she was saved, the impact of the storm frightened her severely.
Monica is not alone. Approximately 1.2 million children under 18 were living in counties rendered disaster zones by Katrina (Callimachi, 2006). As many as 8%, or 100,000, are expected to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, according to one report. However, most experts believe that this number will be much higher. toll is likely far higher. Of the first 1,000 children screened by the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, 27% showed symptoms of trauma, including nightmares, flashbacks, heightened anxiety and bedwetting.
A study by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and the Children's Health Fund compared child victims of Katrina with other kids surveyed in urban Louisiana in 2003 (Callimachi, 2006). Katrina's victims were more than twice as likely to have behavioral or conduct problems, as well as symptoms of depression or anxiety.
It is difficult to predict how severe the long-term impact on children will be. However, psychologists have discovered certain patterns (Callimachi, 2006). For teenagers, depression is a major issue, as teenagers no longer feel that their homes and futures are secure. Many elementary- and middle-school children have show anxiety over the loss of their toys. They also struggle with nightmares and intrusive thoughts. Their anxiety comes out in physical symptoms, such as regular stomach aches and headaches.
For many young children, their faith in their parents' ability to protect them has been lost or damaged. To make themselves feel secure, they regress, clinging to their parents and returning to baby-like behavior, such as thumbsucking and bedwetting. "Huffing and puffing and blowing your house down is only supposed to happen in fairy tales. Now, anything can happen," says Dr. Lynne Rubin, a founding member of the New York Disaster Counseling Coalition (Callimachi, 2006)
During World War II, Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, observed that children sent to safe homes in the countryside suffered worse outcomes than those who avoided the bombings by staying in shelters with their mothers (Callimachi, 2006). Ultimately, it was the separation, rather than the exposure to the war, that was more traumatic.
More than 5,000 children were separated from their families in the chaotic days after Katrina hit, according to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Callimachi, 2006). Those who lost a parent often become confused and withdrawn, focusing their angst on their surviving parent.
When her father takes a nap, 8-year-old Gabrielle Riley paces around the house, waiting for him to wake up. Eventually, she sneaks into his room (Callimachi, 2006). "I just go in his room and see if he's OK. But sometimes he don't answer me so I just scream loud, 'Daddy are you OK?'" she says. Gabrielle's mother caught pneumonia during the storm and died in her sleep. Ever since, Gabrielle cannot fall asleep by herself; she always sleeps with her grandmother. This is a recurring pattern, say child psychologists, as children retreat into a comfort zone.
More than 60 years ago, Anna Freud had another thought: While children who stayed in London's bomb shelters with their parent fared better emotionally than those sent away for safety reason, the children who did best of all were those whose mothers remained calm (Callimachi, 2006). If the mother showed fear, the child sensed the threat and symptoms of trauma surfaced later.
Many of Katrina's child victims of the story sensed the threat in their parents and, in Katrina's aftermath, in media coverage (Callimachi, 2006). For example, April Ocker did not let her 5-year-old daughter, Breanna, out of her sight during Katrina. Her fear was obvious to Breanna, who has been terrified of losing her mother ever since. "I'm afraid my Mommy is going to go away and not come back," she says.
Breanna witnessed trees crashing around her family's trailer, and her entire city was wiped away (Callimachi, 2006). As the hurricane intensified, April placed Breanna and her 8-year-old brother inside the trailer's bathtub, hoping the tub's strong walls would protect them. The tub survived, but the children are scarred. Now, when it rains, Breanna hides under the coffee table. She is unable to sleep alone and clings to her mother. She also suffers from recurring nightmares.
Katrina and the Government
In New Orleans, the government proved unable to prevent the city from flooding. It then failed to successfully evacuate the city, ignoring the area's poor residents, who lacked cars to flee and money for hotels (Kahlenberg, 2005). Finally, the government failed to provide adequate schooling to the children who evacuated to other parts of Louisiana, to neighboring states, and to other parts of the country.
Considering everything that New Orleans' children went through, it is only fair that they should at least receive a quality education, with great teachers, active parents, and supportive peers (Kahlenberg, 2005). For the first time in their lives, thousands of poor students who were previously taught in high poverty public schools in New Orleans could be given the opportunity to attend middle class, high achieving schools. Alternatively, they may be assigned to other failing schools.
On one level, many public and private schools in the area have been generous, making sacrifices to provide space for new students (Kahlenberg, 2005). However, the situation is far from perfect. The Wall Street Journal reported that private schools opened their doors mostly to sister private schools. In the Houston area, most of the children of New Orleans ended up in high-poverty urban schools, rather than in the suburbs, where middle-class students are educated.
A study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Children's Health Fund has found that many of the children whom Hurricane Katrina displaced are suffering physically and mentally (Gelinas, 2006). However, the problem is not lack of long-term "disaster" healthcare infrastructure. Rather, the finding of certain evacuees' poor health demonstrates that the Bush administration's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) houses too many of Katrina's underclass families in desolate "FEMA-villes," creating pre-fab ghettos for emergency housing.
To conduct this study, researchers interviewed 650 Louisiana families who were displaced by Katrina, and then compared the results of these findings with results of pre-Katrina health studies of Louisiana's urban populations (Gelinas, 2006). Six months after Katrina, the Katrina children studied suffered from high rates of depression or anxiety, with many…