The Healing Process
This story is nothing new: A New Orleans family moves to Baton Rouge after losing everything in the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Just this past week, yet another New Orleans family loses everything due to historic flooding in Baton Rouge and other river parishes.
My wife, mother and I traveled to Baton Rouge this past weekend to help my mother-in-law and sister-in-law clean out and gut out their house. One would think that people of Southeast Louisiana would be experts on flooding by now, but as much as I wish that were true, it’s not.
As I turned down Goodwood Boulevard into her subdivision, I realized that nothing can prepare you to see mounds of furniture, toys and sheetrock littering lawns on both sides of the street. Neighbors were wearing masks, boots and gloves as they gutted out their homes. These are images that no one can or should ever become desensitized to.
When I got to my in-laws’ house and got out of my car, the stench of waterlogged furniture, damp clothes and rotten food the Katrina smell, filled my nostrils and it brought me back to the recovery period following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. As I worked to clean out the house I began thinking about the effect that these disasters have on our children and on our dedicated teachers and staff at the schools of Baton Rouge and the river parishes.
School is set to begin on Wednesday for most students in affected areas, however many students and families have been affected by school closures across the state. Some students will be going to schools that they did not previously attend, and riding on buses and bus routes that are foreign to them. Arrangements may create cramped classrooms, and the task of dealing with the changes may be overwhelming. Life as they know it will be affected in a major way.
In New Orleans, many residents, including children, are still dealing with trauma, stress and depression due to the devastation caused by flooding. Many of them do not have access to proper mental and emotional care, and many educators I’ve talked to believe that a many of our children and young adults still suffer with trauma stemming from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In 2010, the Society for Research and Child Development conducted two studies examining stress in children affected by Hurricane Katrina and found that stress responses were affected by various factors. The first study found that:
“While many children were stress resistant and lacked psychological problems three years after the hurricane, more than 25 percent of the children still had significant trauma symptoms after three years”.
The second study examined gender-based differences in stress responses among teens.
“Male and female teens who experienced the hurricane showed distinct patterns of behavioral stress as well as gender differences in how they regulated psychological stress.”
We as adults must learn from the mistakes we made following Hurricane Katrina to improve the ways in which we support our children after periods of devastation. This time let’s cultivate the expertise of social workers, school counselors and mental health professionals to allow our children and teenagers to heal by dealing with their issues in a healthy and therapeutic way.
Our school system plays a key role in the healing process, and despite imperfect conditions, we are equipped with the tools and the experience to make the coming school year a success.