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Schools and Natural Disaster Recovery: The Unique and Vital Role That Teachers and Education Professionals Play in Ensuring the Mental Health of Students Following Natural Disasters

There is growing evidence that children are vulnerable to poor psychological outcomes following exposure to a range of potentially traumatic events. Teachers are in a unique and well-placed position to provide vital support to children following potentially traumatic events and to also provide a vital role in helping to identify children who may be experiencing ongoing psychosocial difficulties. This research presents a review of mental health trauma resources available for use in educational settings within Australia and New Zealand, with a primary focus on post-disaster resources. Authors describe the design, development, and dissemination of our resources and training package, Childhood Trauma Reactions: A Guide for Educators from Preschool to Year 12, and present data on how these resources were received.

 Trauma-informed practices within the school and classroom will enable better outcomes in the immediate post-trauma environment and beyond for all children. Their model focuses on:

 1) increasing awareness and understanding of children’s post-trauma reactions,

 2) exploring effective strategies for teachers within the classroom, and

 3) developing policy and procedures for the identification and referral of children who may be at risk. More funding is required to help distribute training and resources and to make mental health following trauma a higher priority.

 To complement the development of the resources, a training package was also developed. The training package is in the form of a 2- to 3-hour workshop engaging teachers and school personnel as well as community child mental health specialists. Bringing professionals from each of these sectors together helps to develop local networks, aids in the communication between the two sectors, and helps to establish a stronger foundation for future disaster preparedness, planning, and post-disaster recovery. The training package aims to achieve three key outcomes:

a) to make the post-disaster experience in the classroom more attuned to recovery and better social, academic, and behavioral outcomes for children;

b) to improve awareness of the appropriate channels for referrals that will improve the confidence of teachers to manage such potentially difficult situations and lead to better outcomes; and

c) to increase teachers’ awareness of their own needs and how to manage their own responses in the potentially demanding and unusual conditions that follow a natural disaster.

 In reviewing the available online trauma resources and programs, a number of common themes become apparent. First, there are now a number of well researched, well-written and available resources for teachers, parents, and schools for responding to trauma reactions in children within the school context.

Second, the resources are designed to train teachers and education professionals about the possible effects of trauma once the trauma has happened.

Finally, it is important to point out that few of the resources cater specifically for early childhood centers, or look to address trauma in preschool-aged children or infants.


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