Four years later, children still traumatized by Katrina

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "My sister, who's going through a divorce," one counselor said, as she posted a name on a poster board.

"We lost our mom about three years right before Katrina, so she's just lost right now," another counselor said about her sister.

On Thursday, mental health counselors and social workers in the Biloxi School District learned to share personal thoughts about the people in their lives who are going through tough times. The exercises gave them a new perspective about their role in helping children cope with the lingering pain from Katrina.

"I can't save every child. I can't fix everything, so remembering that," said a counselor.

"Allow yourself to think about what is this triggering in you," said Dr. Naomi Baum.

Baum is the director of the training program, called "Project Resilience."  The Mental Health Association of Mississippi started the program in 2006.

"When teachers reflect about how they're doing, they're able to open up their ears and listen to kids," said Dr. Baum.

Baum is from Israel and has worked with children there who have been traumatized by violence and disasters.  She has trained social workers, school nurses, and counselors across Harrison County.  She made her seventh trip to the gulf coast this week, to continue the training and share plans to expand the program.

"I think we have certainly left our mark. We've trained over 100 trainers and they are in all different walks of life here working with children on the gulf coast," said Baum.

Phase I of Project Resilience is now coming to an end, and the director is ready to launch Phase II. However, she needs to raise at least $850,000.  The money would be used to hire additional mental health experts to go into the schools to screen children for emotional problems.

"What we hope to do is train local mental health professionals to do in-school group treatments with those children, so they can go on with their lives and won't suffer the after effects," said Baum.

The first phase of the program has been funded by the United Jewish Communities. If additional funding is in place, the director hopes to start phase two sometime in December.

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