COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As school starts Aug. 17, members of crisis counseling teams dedicated to working with children are in each school to assist tornado-impacted students in adjusting to their new settings.
The work with children and youth in the aftermath of the May 22 tornado is made possible through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) approval of an Immediate Services Program (ISP) grant for more than $1.5 million to the Missouri Department of Mental Health for crisis counseling services for survivors of the recent severe storms, flooding and tornadoes.
Healing Joplin, a community collaboration led by Ozark Center, the behavioral health division of Freeman Health System, offers emotional first aid for children, adults and senior citizens by providing links to appropriate services and community resources as well as individual crisis counseling.
A recent shopping experience allowed children, accompanied by crisis counselors, to select school clothing from donated items. Another opportunity was a hair-a-thon where children could get free haircuts. Many businesses have donated backpacks, glasses, vaccinations, school supplies and other needed back-to-school items and services.
"The Joplin community has been very responsive to the needs of these children and youth," said Debbie Fitzgerald, project manager.
Fitzgerald explained that one of the therapies for children involves acting out stressful feelings with stuffed dolls and providing them with Project Linus blankets (to wrap around them) and soft toys. These items were donated, some from as far away as California.
Members of the crisis counseling teams visited all the licensed day care centers in Jasper and Newark counties to observe the children at play. They also visited boys and girls camps, the YMCA and many Vacation Bible Schools where they observed and offered needed counseling services.
Ozark Center crisis workers attended the community memorial service and balloon launch. They also conducted post-event counseling and soft toy distribution at the time of President Barrack Obama's visit.
"Sometimes when there are cloudy skies children are reminded of the tornado -- even young children," said Fitzgerald. She described one case where a 2-year-old was in the car with her mother at the time of the tornado. Later, the child refused to get in her car seat and did not want to leave her mother's side.
"After several sessions with counselors during which play therapy was conducted, the child seems to be much better," Fitzgerald said.
Parents are advised to be alert for these child responses following the tornado:
- Worry that another tornado will come
- Concern for the safety of others, especially pets
- Developmental regression, such as thumb sucking or bed wetting
- Easily startled
- Fear of darkness, rain or thunder
- Loss or increase in appetite
- Clinging to parents
- Nightmares or sleep disturbances
- Irritability or whining
- Headaches or other vague aches and pains
- Poor concentration
- Anger, aggression, and/or rebellion
"If your children suffer from any of these responses, make sure they return to their normal routine as much as possible,"Fitzgerald said. "Be a role model -- children are influenced by how their parents and caregivers cope. Remain calm and answer their questions honestly about the tornado and its emotional effects."
For more information about Healing Joplin crisis counseling services, call 800-247-0661 or 417-347-7070.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). Those ...