Friday, February 02, 2007

Jabari and Terrence, Christmas 2004

When I read the story that follows, I thought immediately of our dear young friends, Terrence and Jabari, both of whom have had a rough time since the storm. Terrence calls us regularly, and sometimes I feel like one of the depressed parents the story mentions. Sometimes I don;t answer, and Terrence will leave a thoroughly pathetic message that makes me feel even worse.

Before the storm, Terrence and Jabari knew everyone in the neighborhood. It's funny, because the Bywater/Marigny was already pretty thoroughly gentrified, so black folks, and black kids, especially, were a rare sight in our 'hood. Terrence and his parents or cousins would regularly hang out on the corner and greet passers-by. Perhaps the sheer numbers of black people together is what freaked out some neighbors. In any case, many of our neighbors made it clear that they wished that Terrence and his family would leave, and they've practically celebrated their loss, post-K. Simon told me about one member of the neighborhood association saying weren't we glad that family is gone--always hanging out on the porch and whatnot. To them, Terrence's loss has been their gain--their hike in property value. Hooray.

This is one reason why we want to move. No, we are not glad that Terrence and his family was forced to move. We are not glad that Jabari had no school to attend and so was forced to move to Houston to live with Terrence's family and attend school. No we are not glad that this neighborhood is even less diverse. This was their home, too.

I need to call Terrence. Last year we were working hard to find a place for his family to rent, but it was embarrassing to have to call them with rentals that even we can't afford. We gave up, and so did they.

I miss my Terrence. I hardly see kids here at all, any more.

This is Terrence's poem, which I published on my blog way back when, and which deserves second post:

"I Wanna Go Home"

I wanna go home.

A summer day has come and gone.

Texas is wrong.

I wanna go home.

Report: Up to 35,000 kids still having major Katrina problems
2/2/2007, 2:44 p.m. CT
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Up to 35,000 children — one-third of those across the Gulf Coast still displaced by Hurricane Katrina — are having major problems with mental health, behavior or school, a new study indicates.

To make things worse, many of their parents are depressed as well, leaving them less able to help the children, said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness and president of the Children's Health Fund, which conducted the study together.

More than 60 percent of the parents and caregivers tested high for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the report said. That is well above what is usually seen among people with debilitating chronic diseases, and even higher than Louisiana caregivers reported six months after the storm, it said.

"I've been doing advocacy and direct services for kids for more than 30 years. I've never seen anything like this," Redlener said in an interview Friday.

Every day in the continued post-Katrina instability many are living through damages their chances of recovery, he said.

"What I'm concerned about is the long-term consequences for these kids will be horrendous in terms of academic achievement, mental health conditions and long-term ability to recover," he said.

The Columbia/CHF report said more than half the parents and caregivers interviewed reported that at least one child had emotional or behavioral problems since the hurricane. That is an even higher rate than displaced Louisiana residents reported six months after Katrina, it said.

"Furthermore, there was a near fourfold increase in the clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety in children after the hurricane, and the prevalence of behavioral or conduct problems doubled," the report said.

The study released Friday includes findings of a recent Mississippi follow-up to a study done in Louisiana and reported last year by The Associated Press. Taken together, they indicate that between one-quarter and one-third of the displaced children are having serious problems, Redlener said.

The total number of children still living in FEMA trailers — not only in trailer parks, which he described as essentially refugee camps, but in the front yards of devastated neighborhoods — is somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000, Redlener said.

He said he is "quite comfortable" with an estimate that 25,000 to 35,000 (the report itself said 30,000) of them are in serious trouble.

At a guess, he said, about two-thirds are in Louisiana and the rest in Mississippi and other states — with most of the remaining one-third in Mississippi.

The first study looked at 668 randomly chosen households in Louisiana's FEMA trailer parks and FEMA-subsidized hotel rooms; the follow-up looked at 576 Mississippi househoulds in FEMA trailer parks. Together, they represent more than 26,000 households in the two states.

The new study also found that:
_The working class and the working poor were hurt worst: in more than half the households earning less than $10,000 a year, people had lost their jobs, compared to 15 percent of those earning more than $20,000 a year.
_One in six children who needed medical care for an illness or injury had not seen a doctor.
_Three times as many children were without health insurance after Katrina than before the hurricane; Mississippi children were twice as likely as those in Louisiana to be uninsured.
_Nearly one-third of children aged 6 to 11 years had missed at least 10 days of school in one month during the last quarter of the spring 2006 semester. Four out of 10 teenagers missed that much school.

Other health organizations also see signs of problems among children following Katrina. Joy Osofsky, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, said more than one-third of the children screened at schools in New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes show serious problems.

They used a national screening test for children and adolescents who have been through hurricanes. In the winter following the August 2005 storm and in spring 2006, about 49 percent met the cutoff score for mental health referral; this past fall, the figure had dropped to 41 percent, she said.

"We're certainly not seeing a huge dropoff in mental health symptoms and problems," she said.

The federally funded Louisiana Spirit crisis counseling program saw at least 150,000 adults and children over its first year, said Dr. Tony Speier, director of disaster mental health operations for the state Office of Mental Health.

He said about 500 counselors work in the program.

"Five-hundred counselors, at one level, sounds like a lot of counselors, which it is. But when you stretch that across 64 parishes and the whole population grid — unfortunately, we could use a lot more."

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