In the edited volume "Helping Families and Communities Recover from Disaster: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina and its Aftermath" (American Psychological Association, 2010), Ryan Kilmer, PhD, and colleagues examine key "lessons learned" and offer recommendations and practical applications for better meeting the needs of children, families, and communities following disaster.
Following Hurricane Katrina, many survivors and their families had limited access to basic services and struggled to meet basic needs. Developed from a National Institute of Mental Health grant to Virginia Gil-Rivas, PhD, and Kilmer, this work highlights the range of risks, resources and factors relating to adaptation following disaster, and emphasizes the role of the community in providing and enhancing resources, services and supports to address families’ diverse needs after disaster.
Kilmer et al. also underscore the need for more coordinated and systems-oriented disaster preparedness and response, and emphasize the importance of customizing responses to the particular disaster context. For instance, interventions to promote children’s adaptation and well-being need to be contextually and culturally appropriate, informed both by developmental principles and sensitivity to families’ beliefs, customs, norms and history.
Kilmer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and colleagues have studied the specific needs of caregivers, children, and families following disasters, in particular those affected by Katrina. In one such study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (Vol. 80, No. 1), Kilmer and Gil-Rivas examine how service organizations’ response to families’ needs may affect the functioning of caregivers and parents. Among families affected directly by Katrina, perhaps not surprisingly, children continued to experience high levels of needs (such as counseling, tutoring or medical needs) and unmet service needs at both one and two years after the hurricane. Caregivers also reported high levels of needs for housing or financial assistance, medical service, counseling or therapy at both time points. Even after taking the distress of hurricane exposure into account, unmet needs of the children significantly contributed to caregiver distress and posttraumatic stress symptoms at least a year after the hurricane.