Ensuring Children Are Not Forgotten During Natural Disasters

It’s been one year since Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, swept through the Caribbean and Florida, leaving behind a path of destruction and a wide spectrum of psychological distress.

As an emergency aid worker with Save the Children Canada, I was seconded to Florida in November of last year as part of Save the Children’s recovery efforts. Working with our team in the U.S., I travelled the state speaking with children, teachers, social workers and other caregivers about the psycho-social impact of the storm.

I was there just two months after the hurricane made landfall in September. Miami was back to business as usual; the only remaining signs of the storm in the bustling metropolis were weary looking palm trees. However, when I travelled a few hundred kilometres south of the city, the effects of the storm were far more evident. Fallen trees and destroyed buildings littered Highway 1 to Key West. Though again, for the most part, life had returned to what many would call “normal.”

While the state of Florida and its infrastructure had appeared to have recovered from the storm, its people had not. The emotional consequences of Hurricane Irma were widespread. Children and their caregivers were among those hardest hit.

During my time in Florida, almost a year ago, our team worked with local partners to implement our signature emergency recovery program: Journey of Hope. The program is a 10-week curriculum that helps children identify, communicate and process their emotions, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

It was clear during our programming that trauma, stress and grief were acutely felt by many of the children, particularly those in the south of the state where the storm was strongest. Tragically, many of the people I spoke to had relocated to Florida from Puerto Rico, where they recently had their homes and livelihoods destroyed by Hurricane Maria. This was a devastating second blow for many of them.

Children and young people react differently to traumatic events than adults. At all stages of a crisis situation, children are particularly vulnerable. Without the appropriate social and emotional support, children can be left feeling helpless. This is why psychosocial support is integrated into our children’s resilience programming.

As climate change quickly affects more of our everyday lives, extreme weather and hazards – such as hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts – are becoming more frequent and intense. Not only is it essential that we work with children and their caregivers to build resilience, we also need a renewed focus on their recovery from traumatic events. Disasters like these will happen however, we can change the course of action during the chaos to ensure children don’t have to live with the effects for their lifetime.

Save the Children is still on the ground supporting the affected children and families of Florida in their long-term recovery. Learn how Save the Children is helping children in Canada become more resilient to natural disasters before they happen.

By Lewis Archer, Program Manager at Save the Children Canada