14, Dec, 2015
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Program that helps children cope after disasters could benefit refugees, at-risk youth

A social and emotional intervention developed to help children recover from the trauma of natural disasters is being altered to help young Syrian refugees heal their psychological wounds. Journey of Hope, a school-based psychosocial intervention co-developed by University of Illinois social work professor Tara M.

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Program that helps children cope after disasters could benefit refugees, at-risk youth
Journey of Hope, a school-based psycho social intervention co-developed by University of Illinois social work professor Tara Powell to assist young victims of Hurricane Katrina, is being adapted to help young Syrian refugees. Powell has also recently implemented a pilot study with rural Tennessee youth living in poverty and at risk of numerous adverse outcomes.
L. Brian Stauffer

Powell is being used with young people in Ukraine to help young victims of cyclone Katrina and is being altered to help Syrian refugees in Turkey as well, Powell said.

Powell, who developed the program piece working for the non-profit organization Save the Children, is currently piloting JOH testing with rural Tennessee youth living in poverty and at risk of substance abuse, involvement in criminal justice and other adverse outcomes.

"For children who have diagnosed mental health problems, programming is often available, but there is not much available for children who are at risk.

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Or employment is not accessible due to cost, distance or other factors, "Powell said. Although JOH was developed for disaster victims, the course of study is loosely applicable to young people in general, including those who have no clinical mental health diagnosis or do not have mental health problems, Powell said.

According to the Save the Children website, the program has served 80,000 children since JOH's inception in 2007, including residents of Christchurch, New Zealand, following a massive earthquake in 2011; youth in New York City and New Jersey affected by Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012; and youth in Moore, Oklahoma, the site of a deadly tornado in 2013.

Children are among the most vulnerable groups during and after natural disasters and are at higher risk of developing various mental health problems, such as acute stress reactions, depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a new study by Powell and Lori K. Holleran - Steiker of the University of Texas at Austin, they are also more likely to fight or be browbeaten.

According to the Clinical Social Work Journal, their research is a case study of the impact of the JOH program on children who survived a series of tornadoes in 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The team interviewed social workers, 14 facilitators of the JOH program and 30 children.

The JOH program includes eight one-hour sessions that help children learn to recognize and manage their emotions and build resilience through self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social support. Participants engage in cooperative games that promote healthy peer interactions and group problem solving, journal about sensitivity as well as grief and create skills to explore effective header strategies.

JOH evolved from interventions that Powell and other social workers employed by Save the Children created for students at a New Orleans middle school in 2007 after gang fights among students prompted a crisis counselor to reach out to the non - profit organization to help address the mental health of students inevitably.

Piece of various agencies rallied to provide mental health work to Cyclone Katrina victims immediately after the storm pummeled the Gulf Coast in August 2005, two years later those resources had dwindled as a result of funding cuts and perceptions that the crisis was long past and victims of no thirst needed help.

"Piece the physical storm may have passed, the city was still in the process of reconstruction, and galore of children were still experiencing an emotional storm of recovery-related difficulties," the researchers wrote.

The JOH Sessions helped young disaster victims articulate their sensitivity, process grief, and regulate emotions as much as anger and aggression. Besides getting better with others, the JOH alumni were able to concentrate better in school, improve their communication skills and learn how to handle bullying incidents, the researchers found in a related study.

As Powell found when working with the kids in New Orleans, a natural disaster in a child's life may be just one of a number of stressors causing turmoil.

"I remember my New Orleans supervisor said to me:' Katrina was just another traumatic experience for these kids,'" Powell said. "These children had experienced these distressing experiences throughout their lives-including poverty, community violence and substance use in their neighborhoods. Many of them had lost their homes in Katrina, but they had transitioned their entire lives between different homes, and that's the stuff they wanted to talk about - not what they lost in the hurricane."

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