Black and other ethnic-minority children in the aftermath of crises like Hurricane Katrina may hide their fears behind a tough or withdrawn facade, warned psychologist Portia Hunt, PhD, a Temple University counseling psychology professor, at a Nov. 16 congressional briefing.
Organized by APA's Public Policy Office staff and co-sponsored with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the briefing informed congressional staff about how psychology can help counter the psychological effects of traumatic events on ethnic-minority children.
Katrina-displaced children, Hunt said, may be reluctant to tell adults if children in their new schools tease them because they're from a different region, a different race or have fewer possessions than their peers. And their typical means of coping-finding comfort in their friends and neighborhoods-are no longer accessible.
The key to easing the problems, Hunt said, is for the displaced children's schools to have culturally competent service providers who understand Southern black culture.
Hunt suggested that the government "short-circuit the bureaucratic red tape to put mental health and community structures in place to facilitate smooth transitions into the new locations." She also emphasized the importance of educating parents about their children's mental health and the need to include evacuees in planning, training and programming.
Luis Vazquez, PhD, the New Mexico State University psychology department head, added that Hispanics are also in need of culturally competent, Spanish-speaking disaster responders. With some estimates suggesting that the Hispanic population will triple by 2055, Vazquez suggested that lawmakers pay attention to the large numbers of Hispanic children living in poverty. Nearly 88 percent of Hispanic children do not receive necessary mental health care, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Vazquez said that school-based mental health programs that integrate health- care services with the educational environment, as well as increasing interpreter services, could help reduce the problems.
Also at the briefing, which APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, moderated, three other psychologists made presentations:
Barbara Bonner, PhD, director of the Indian Country Child Trauma Center, emphasized the need for innovative evidence-based practices to cope with American Indian children's increased risk for suicide, depression and substance abuse.
Larke Nahme Huang, PhD, managing research scientist at the American Institutes for Research, noted that by building relationships across agencies and ethnic community groups and encouraging language and cultural services during noncrisis times, communities could counteract the growing number of children that are exposed to trauma at early ages.
Alicia Lieberman, PhD, director of the San Francisco General Hospital's Child Trauma Research Project, called for federal policies that address minority children and their families' educational and health disparities.
- Z. Stambor