In the Public Interest

One aftermath of terrorism is its dreadful unpredictability, providing a context for omnipresent danger for everyone. Clearly, there are noticeable changes in the national mood as fear and anxiety pervade throughout the country. Here, it would seem to be helpful to focus on children and some ways in which they are affected by these terrorist acts.

Some children have been traumatized by crashes and loss of life. Others have been affected by the palpable fears of adults to whom they usually turn for protection and feelings of security. Many children had parents and other caregivers at the crash sites and are traumatized by losing these important adults. Certainly the challenges for orphaned or displaced children are at the extreme end of the psychological continuum. Adjustments and readjustments will be many as they must come to grips with losses, living with relatives or strangers, or grappling with a young person's understanding of events.

It is in a situation such as this that one grows to understand how often the needs of children are overlooked in disaster situations. While there is a need for immediate attention, a need for immediate support, it is quite likely that months beyond the actual event, the needs will be as great, if not greater, for care and reassurance.

A role for APA

APA has had a role in responding to disasters for many years. Perhaps most visible is the Disaster Response Network (DRN), in which psychologists, as volunteers to the Red Cross, provide a range of useful services to disaster victims. Other psychologists find other ways to provide services to persons affected by volunteers. The association has also enacted policy on the psychological needs of children in disasters, and although that is a step in the right direction, we can do more.

In 1995, the APA Council of Representatives adopted a policy recommended by the Committee on Children, Youth and Families entitled, "Resolution on the Psychological Needs of Children Exposed to Disasters." The resolution, among other things, addressed the vulnerability of children to the effects of disasters--natural or human-made--because of their reliance on adults to care for them and keep them safe.

The resolution was developed following a series of disastrous events, and one of its introductory statements acknowledges the need for more attention to children's traumatizations because:

"...disasters are increasing sources of human dysfunction...as technology expands the potential for accidents...and as the rise in international terrorism increases the probability the U.S. sites will be targeted."

Other statements highlighted the minimal resources and information available in public and private agencies to assist children impacted by disasters, showed how federal agencies were slow in responding to the needs of children and noted the need for additional research to inform policies and procedures.

The major position endorsed by APA's Council of Representatives was that:

"APA finds and declares that the development and implementation of a national strategy to prevent and treat the psychological dysfunction resulting from exposure of children and their families to disaster is a matter of highest priority, and supports the establishment of policies to maintain their psychological well-being."

APA's Board of Directors provided contingency funds to support efforts to acquire long-range funding of initiatives contained within the resolution. Those efforts were not successful. Had they been, it is likely that psychology would have had more to say and could have provided more psychological support to the nation and more research to inform policy in this time of crisis.

However, it is not too late to advocate again for needed resources as this is certainly not the last disaster to befall children and their families nor, sad to say, is this likely to be the last instance in which they will be affected by terrorism perpetrated on the nation.