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Improving Disaster Mental Health Care in Schools

A Community-Partnered Approach

      Background

      Although schools are often the first institutions to provide recovery efforts for children post-disaster, few studies have involved the school community in research to improve the delivery of these mental health services on campuses. This community-partnered study explores post-disaster counseling services 10 months following Hurricane Katrina.

      Methods

      In July 2006, nine focus groups, consisting of 39 school-based mental health counselors and six program administrators (10 men, 35 women), were conducted following a 2-day clinical training regarding a youth trauma intervention following Hurricane Katrina. Participants discussed the types of services they had been providing prior to the training and potential barriers to delivering services.

      Results

      Participants identified high mental health needs of students and described populations that did not seem to be adequately supported by current funding sources, including those with pre-existing traumatic experiences and mental health issues, indirect psychological and social consequences of the storms, and those students relocated to communities that were not as affected. Participants also described the need for a centralized information system.

      Conclusions

      Participants described the need for greater organizational structure that supports school counselors and provides system-level support for services. Implications for next steps of this community-partnered approach are described.
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