Long After Katrina, Children Show Symptoms of Psychological Distress

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Boston — Forty percent of the children and teenagers who made their way back to New Orleans-area schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continued to suffer from serious psychological symptoms a year after the disaster, according to new research from scholars who have worked with those young people.

“Many people have raised the issue of whether there will be scarring over the lifetime of these children,” said Dr. Howard J. Osofsky, who chairs the psychiatry department at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. “From a social-policy point of view, I think there is real concern to not forget these children at the national level.”

Dr. Osofsky and his wife, Joy D. Osofsky, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the LSU center, were among a handful of Gulf Coast-area researchers at a recent conference here who gave updates on the storms‘ impact, more than a year and a half later, on children, families, and schools in those hard-hit communities.

Katrina displaced about 650,000 people in Louisiana alone, scattering families across the state and throughout the United States, according to researchers at the March 29-April 1 meeting here of the Society for Research in Child Development, a Washington-based social science group.

As a result of the diaspora, the state’s public school enrollment dropped from 741,000 in October 2004–the year before the hurricanes struck–to 657,000 by the end of the next school year, nine months after the disaster occurred Child Development. As late as October of this school year, one researcher said, statewide enrollment in Louisiana was still 50,000 students shy of what it had been two years earlier.

“There are still thousands of children displaced from the state of Louisiana, and we don’t know where they are,” said Gary J. Asmus, who is the director of management-information systems for the Center for Child Development at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

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Follow-Up Surveys

The Osofskys were part of a Louisiana State University trauma team of mental-health professionals that worked with displaced families in Orleans, St. Bernard’s, and Plaquemines parishes–three areas that were especially hard-hit.

They lived for four months aboard a cruise ship that provided temporary housing for emergency workers and their families, 80 percent of whom had also lost homes as a result of Katrina and the severe flooding it unleashed.

In the months following the disaster in late August 2005, the trauma team screened more than 9,000 children and teenagers in those three jurisdictions. The surveys were done between December 2005 and March 2006, as children began to return to school, and again at the beginning of this school year.

The researchers also repeated surveys on 184 of the children who were screened in the first go-around to get an idea of whether circumstances had improved for them. In addition, screenings were set to begin last week on children enrolled in public preschool programs.

“One thing to recognize is that children of all ages were traumatized,” said Ms. Osofsky. “People sometimes think younger children forget.”

Yet one-quarter of the children in 3rd grade or younger exhibited enough symptoms of psychological distress to meet the cutoff for referral to mental-health services, according to the surveys. Among the 4th to 12th graders screened, one-half were found to be in need of services, even as late as this past fall.

The telltale behaviors among younger children included excessive clinginess, repeated talk about the hurricanes, sadness, and worries about the future.

“Every time we get a storm or thunderstorm, there’s a lot of increased anxiety,” Ms. Osofsky said.

Depression Rises

The adolescents reported experiencing problems concentrating, and increases in headaches, irritability, and risk-taking behaviors, such as underage drinking and sexual activity.

“We’ve also been seeing, more recently, increases in depression because of the slowness of recovery,” Ms. Osofsky said, referring to efforts to restore the New Orleans region to its prestorm condition.

Also, 13 percent of that older group asked to see a counselor. “If you think about it, for a teenager to say they want to talk to somebody, that’s really something,” Ms. Osofsky said.

Still, the persisting need for mental-health services is not surprising, given the extent of disruption that children experienced, the researchers said.

While almost all the children had been displaced from their homes after Hurricane Katrina, one-third of the 4th to 12th graders and 17 percent of the younger children also were separated from a parent or some other primary caregiver at one point.

That’s particularly worrisome, the researchers said, because studies as far back as World War II show that children can better bear traumatic experiences with parents by their sides.

In the Osofskys’ study sample, the need for mental-health services was 9 percentage points greater among children who had experienced that kind of separation than it was for children who stayed with their families. “It’s important to know if … there were separations that could’ve been avoided,” Ms. Osofsky said.

The results also showed that young hurricane survivors attended an average of three different schools in the months following Katrina, with some enrolling in as many as nine schools.

Mr. Asmus’ statistics, meanwhile, indicated that, in New Orleans, two-thirds of students had missed at least 60 days of school; half had missed three months or more and had not been enrolled anywhere else during that period.

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Children Living Alone

The children who had attended school elsewhere reported having had mixed experiences, said researchers at the conference.

“Many were well accepted,” Dr. Osofsky said. “Others were not. In some schools, they were called trailer trash. Because their culture was different or they talked differently, they were often teased.”

Three-quarters of the children said a parent had been unemployed in the aftermath of the storm, and 11 percent said that a family member or a friend had died as a result of the disaster. Among the youngest children, nearly a third said they had been separated from a pet at some point as well.

The psychological distress also has not eased, the researchers said, because circumstances have not improved for many families in the year and a half since Katrina. In the fall surveys, 27 percent of the children in both age groups said they were still living in trailers.

“We also have to be aware that there are still some children living alone, ” Ms. Osofsky said.

All the researchers said their findings suggest a need for emergency officials to develop disaster-recovery plans that do a better job of coordinating information on children, providing services to families, and taking into account the needs of children.

>>> View more: A captain’s guilt: a verdict in the Exxon Valdez oil spill

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A captain’s guilt: a verdict in the Exxon Valdez oil spill

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A captain’s guilt

Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez, a 987-foot supertanker carrying 1.3 million barrels of oil, ran aground in the icy, shallow waters of Bligh Reef, 25 miles south of Valdez, Alaska. Last week, two days short of a year later, Capt. Joseph Hazelwood, who was in charge of the Exxon Valdez that night, sat in an Anchorage courtroom awaiting a jury’s verdict on whether or not he was guilty of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, operating a vessel while intoxicated and negligent discharge of oil. Then, at 12:40 on Thursday afternoon, after deliberating for only 10-1/2 hours, the six-man, six-woman jury declared the 43-year-old Huntington, N.Y., resident guilty only of one of the least serious charges, negligent discharge of oil. One of Hazelwood’s lawyers, Richard Madson, called the decision a “victory” but said that he would appeal.

For his part, Hazelwood, who had barely uttered a word throughout the trial, smiled and said only that he was “relieved.” But the following day, Alaska Superior Court Judge Karl Johnstone ordered him to perform 1,000 hours of community service in helping to clean up the polluted beaches. The judge also ordered him to pay $58,500 in restitution to the state. As well, Johnstone sentenced Hazelwood to 90 days in jail and a $1,200 fine, the maximum under the misdemeanor conviction, but suspended both. Said Johnstone: “I am sure deep down he is very shameful.”

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The grounding of the Exxon Valdez, owned by New York City-based Exxon Corp., resulted in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. More than 240,000 barrels of oil spewed out of the damaged tanker, creating a slick across more than 500 square miles. Oil killed thousands of birds and marine animals and polluted hundreds of miles of shoreline. During the eight-week trial, much of the testimony focused on how Hazelwood had spent his time before he boarded the Exxon Valdez at about 8:30 p.m. The prosecution maintained that Hazelwood had spent more than four hours in a Valdez bar called the Pipeline Club and consumed several drinks containing vodka. As well, as U.S. Coast Guard investigator said that Hazelwood had alcohol on his breath 10 hours after the accident. But 21 witnesses, both for the prosecution and for the defence, testified that the captain did not appear to be impaired either when he left the bar or when he was onboard the ship.

The coast guard test rated the captain’s blood-alcohol level at 0.061–above the coast guard’s legal level of intoxication (0.04), but well below the state’s limit of 0.10. But Richard Prouty, chief forensic toxicologist for the state of Oklahoma, estimated that Hazelwood’s level was at least 0.14 when the tanker grounded–testimony that defense witness Michael Hlastala, a physiology professor at the University of Washington, later disputed. The prosecution portrayed Hazelwood as a man who made many reckless decisions, and he did not testify in his own defence.

The captain’s biggest mistake, the state argued, was turning the ship over to third mate Gregory Cousins and helmsman Robert Kagan. Cousins testified that he was not certified by the coast guard to pilot a ship through Prince William Sound, a narrow channel containing dangerous shoals and reefs. He also told the court that Kagan failed to follow his steering instructions, which, he said, would have prevented the accident. Chief mate James Kunkel testified that Kagan was not capable of steering the tanker–a fact, he added, that Hazelwood should have known.

But many people said that too much blame was placed on Hazelwood. after the jury delivered its verdict, juror Jeffrey Sage, a 28-year-old grocery store manager, told Maclean’s: “No law states Hazelwood had to be on the bridge. Hazelwood made no mistakes. His only bad judgment was leaving the bridge.”

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Madson conceded that Hazelwood may have made some mistakes, but not enough to be held criminally liable for the actions of his crew. He also argued that the coast guard was negligent because it failed to monitor the ship when it first went off course. “Capt. Hazelwood isn’t perfect and he made mistakes,” Madson said in his closing argument. “A lot of things went wrong that night.” He added: “No matter how many instruments there are on the bridge of a ship, it all comes down to people. And people are not perfect.”

In the year since the disaster occurred, Exxon has spent more than $2 billion cleaning up its results, but those efforts, environmentalist charge, have only been cosmetically successful so far. Exxon officials still face 150 lawsuits from environmentalists, native groups, fishermen and others. Clearly, the fallout of the spill, both to Exxon and to Alaskans, will continue long after the passing of the first anniversary of the Exxon Valdezhs ill-fated journey.

>>> View more: If Yeltsin only knew….

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If Yeltsin only knew….

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Warren Christopher made references to the US dissatisfaction with Russia’s military action in Chechnya, which is straining US relations with Russia. Andrei Kozyrev was hostile after these remarks and downplayed the Chechen war. The US is taking slight measures against Russia because of this war.

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When Warren Christopher arrived in Geneva on January 17 for two days of long-scheduled talks with his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, he told reporters: “The Russian leadership knows they have a problem.” He could have said the same about his own leadership.

The Chechen crisis had put the Clinton Administration in an exceedingly uncomfortable position. It was already under fire at home for its uncritical embrace of the Russian bear. Then the geopolitical and human-rights implications of Boris Yeltsin’s bloody crackdown in Chechnya only further discredited its Russia policy. The Administration’s initial reaction to Chechnya – to dismiss it (and excuse it) as an “internal affair of Russia” – only made things worse. Gradually, the Administration began making tougher-sounding statements, calling for military restraint or an end to the fighting. But it had to be pushed. The United States lagged well behind the usually cynical Europeans in its public criticism of Russian policy.

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The Geneva meeting had a full plate of contentious issues – not only Chechnya but also Russia’s resistance to NATO’s plans to expand into Central Europe, its eagerness to end the UN embargo on Iraq, its refusal to provide key data on its chemical-weapons programs, and its determination to sell submarines and nuclear reactors to Iran. All these issues were matters of growing controversy in the United States. Amid all this, the Russians had ostentatiously invited President Clinton to visit Moscow for a summit in May in conjunction with elaborate ceremonies planned there for the fiftieth anniversary of V-E Day. This would be a delicate matter for our relations with our German ally in the best of circumstances; with the fallout from the Chechen war, the sight of Bill Clinton in Moscow, clinking champagne glasses with Boris, promised to be a public-relations disaster.

The Russians didn’t make things any easier for Mr. Christopher. Before Geneva, Russian Foreign Ministry briefers played up the May summit with the press and declared that the Geneva meeting would include discussion of preparations for the wonderful Clinton visit to Moscow. They tried to keep Chechnya off the agenda. In the talks in Geneva and in news conferences afterward, Kozyrev rebuffed Christopher’s comments on Chechnya with his own counter-complaints, deploring the impact of the Republicans on U.S. foreign policy and claiming that American Presidents had used troops to quell domestic uprisings five times in the past twenty years. (No one on the U.S. side had any idea what he was referring to.) It all seemed too familiar: the propagandistic sparring, the Russian complaints that U.S. human-rights concerns constituted interference in their domestic affairs.

What made the whole episode even more depressing was the dirty little secret that began to leak out: that the Geneva conversations hadn’t really been as contentious as all that. Kozyrev had oozed reassurances that Chechnya was just a “transitional event,” and Christopher was impressed by Kozyrev’s sincerity. The Russians’ public blustering was excused by State Department onlookers as being due to Kozyrev’s need to protect his position back home. In fact, it became one of Christopher’s main goals to “reinforce Kozyrev’s position at home and abroad,” a State Department official told the New York Times.

Likewise, the Administration was still wedded to Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s democratic hope. “It’s hate the sin but love the sinner,” said a European diplomat. The debacle in Chechnya was attributed largely to the bad advice Yeltsin was getting from his coterie. If the Tsar only knew … If Stalin only knew …

Christopher remained convinced that Yeltsin and Kozyrev needed bolstering, not chastising, since the alternatives to them were worse. But as they more and more adopt the hard-line policies of their ultra-nationalist opponents, their preferability is shrinking fast.

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In fact, the Administration’s whole Russia policy is hanging by a thread. Kozyrev had it right: The Republicans are loaded for bear, so to speak, and losing their patience. On December 12 Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) announced a new foreign-aid policy that would reallocate some of the U.S. aid for Russia to Russia’s smaller neighbors, condition the remaining Russian aid on better behavior, and prepare the way for incorporation of the Central European democracies into NATO. Every day that the Chechen war continues is a rebuke to the Clinton Administration, strengthening the hand of the Republicans.

So far, Christopher has managed to use congressional pressure as a bogeyman to exert leverage on the Russians, much as Nixon and Kissinger used the prospect of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to pressure the Soviets to ease up on emigration. But the Administration risks losing control of the policy, much as Nixon and Kissinger did. When Christopher gave a speech at Harvard after the Geneva meeting, complaining publicly about the Russian sale of nuclear reactors to Iran, there was fear in the State Department that Congress would run away with the issue and insist on cancellation of the sale as yet another condition on Russian aid.

The May summit in Moscow, meanwhile, is on hold. Our President is withholding his commitment for now, hoping for the best.

>>> Click here: The aftermath of Oka: Indians learn new lessons on the barricades

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The aftermath of Oka: Indians learn new lessons on the barricades

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The aftermath of Oka

Indians learn new lessons on the barricades

Until this year, any group of Canadian natives holding a news conference in Ottawa was fortunate to attract even a handful of journalists. And, although the reporters asked questions and politely took notes, they usually paid little attention to the issues involved and seldom wrote stories. Then, last week, two months after Manitoba Cree MLA Elijah Harper played a central role in the death of the Meech Lake constitutional accord and seven weeks after Mohawk Indians began their blockades of the Quebec hamlet of Oka and a Montreal bridge, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations called a media briefing at the group’s Ottawa office. Georges Erasmus had no specific announcement to make. In fact, he cautioned reporters in advance that they would hear nothing more than a lecture on the history of native grievances. To his astonishment, more than 30 journalists showed up.

Their interest was a measure of the new influence that native concerns have won on the public agenda. Much of that stature can be traced directly to the native blockade of Oka. As attempts to resolve that standoff again faltered last week, senior federal and provincial politicians and bureaucrats alike were scrambling to devise new responses to the demands of native groups across Canada. And although Indian Affairs Minister Thomas Siddon continued to insist that he would not negotiate “at the point of a gun,” it was clear that Ottawa’s actions were aimed at stifling further native unrest–and at limiting the political damage to an already gravely shaken government.

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At the same time, Indians were also looking beyond Oka. For many of them, the Mohawks had become a potent example. Native groups across Canada who early in the Oka standoff threw up roadblocks in support of the Mohawk Warriors had, by last week, begun to erect barricades to further their own demands. And some of them said that the tactics of confrontation played out at Oka and the Mercier Bridge offered their people a last chance to escape decades of poverty, social disintegration and despair. “If we don’t do anything in the Nineties,” said Regina Crowchild, president of the Indian Association of Alberta, “we will be finished. Our leaders will have gone and our younger generation will be lost.”

For their part, the federal Conservatives faced a more immediate task. Said one senior official at the department of Indian affairs and northern development: “The government’s handling of the Oka situation has been a public relations disaster.” By last week, however, he and other senior Siddon aides were hastily assembling the outlines of what they termed a “good news” offensive that the Tories plan to launch in the fall. One early initiative will take place within weeks, when Siddon is expected to sign a federal-provincial agreement with his B.C. counterpart to jointly negotiate 17 comprehensive native land claims in the province.

Meanwhile, Maclean’s has learned that Siddon plans to seek quick approval from cabinet to eradicate a long-standing irritant to native groups. For decades, successive federal negotiators have insisted that Prairie Indian bands claiming additional land are entitled to base their claims only on the size of their populations when the lands in dispute were first surveyed. For their part, Indian bands have insisted that they now need enough additional land to support their larger present-day populations. Siddon will ask his cabinet colleagues to endorse the Indian position–at a likely cost of tens of millions of dollars. Although negotiations on that and other issues have been under way for years, senior officials acknowledge that they are now under pressure to complete them in time for announcement shortly after the resumption of Parliament on Sept. 24.

Whatever the final outcome at the barricades of Oka, Canada’s Indians are clearly at a crossroads. They must choose between adopting the radical militancy of the heavily armed, unflinching Mohawk Warriors or the patience-testing road of compromise and negotiation. But either way, native leaders predict that their people will emerge from the Oka crisis with renewed energies.

Some groups plainly find the Mohawks’ use of force compelling. Moderate native leaders in Nova Scotia expressed the fears of many last week when they voiced concern that a growing controversy over Micmac hunting and fishing rights, upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1985 but often disregarded, is leading some Indians in that province to form their own Warrior-like society. Noting that some Nova Scotia Micmacs have gone to Oka in a show of solidarity–and to pick up tips from the Warriors at first hand–Sulian Herney, a native activist from Cape Breton’s Eskasoni reserve, observed, “We are going to have to handle the situation with kid gloves.”

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At the very least, most native leaders say that the heated Indian summer of 1990 has dramatically advanced the public perception of native issues and served as a rallying point for a normally fractious community. There have been exceptions to that newfound solidarity: Chief Louis Stevenson of the Peguis reserve, 200 km north of Winnipeg, broke rank last week and called on native groups to dismantle their barricades in the face of growing disenchantment with the confrontations among non-native Canadians. But for the most part, increasingly restless native communities eyed anxious governments, as each warily awaited the other’s next move.

PHOTO : Erasmus: the crisis has given Canadian Indians new energy to pursue their goals

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