Monday, October 26, 2015

Kids in Disasters Get Help from Red Cross Volunteers

American Red Cross volunteer Eric Oubre of Houston, Texas, gets down on the floor to talk to a youngster staying at a Red Cross shelter after flooding devastated many parts of South Carolina. 
Story and photos by Carl Manning, American Red Cross

A toddler who survived the South Carolina
flooding finds a moment of happiness
playing with a therapy dog at a multi-
agency resource center.
The little girl was so young she could barely walk. But when she saw Kodi the therapy dog, she immediately reached out to pet it. For her it was really a happy moment as she smiled and laughed.

Like many children in South Carolina, the toddler survived the South Carolina flooding and was with her grandmother seeking assistance from the American Red Cross. While she realized her life may have changed, like children her age she may not fully understand what happened.

For youngsters teetering on the edge of trauma, there are Red Cross volunteers trained to help in such cases. Help that could come from a simply gesture like volunteer sitting on the floor of a Red Cross shelter to show a kid how to play a video game so he can think about something other than he’s not  at home because he no longer has a home.

Red Cross volunteer Bill Martin, a clinical psychologist from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, helps people cope with disasters. He said the younger the child, the harder it is for them to clearly verbalize their feelings.

“Parents, as quickly as they can, need to get back to their normal routines as much as possible,” Bill said. “While not all of the children may be displaced, their routines have been blown. They don’t know what to do. They’re in a vacuum.”

Children might need to be more dependent, so parents giving more hugs, letting a child keep the light on at night or not sleep alone or accepting more clinging behavior is acceptable, he said. Some children may become withdrawn and unable to talk about what happened, while others may feel intensely sad and angry at times and could act as though nothing happened.

“Children’s moods in a disaster can change quickly, like being on a roller coaster,” Bill said. “These feelings can be intense but they don’t last long.”

Lorie Evans and her family were forced out their home and have been staying with relatives in a crowded three-bedroom house, something she finds trying. Her 12-year-old son, Damyen, quietly plays a computer game before declaring, “I’m ready to go home. It’s been hard on me sometimes.”

Red Cross volunteer Steve Smith
of Liberty, Missouri talks to children
displaced by the South Carolina
floods while their parents are
getting assistance at a multi-
agency resource center. 
Steve Smith from Liberty, Missouri, is a member of the Red Cross spiritual care team. At a multi-agency resource center, he talked to a young girl holding a stuffed toy.

“Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. They feed off the attitudes of their parents. The more freaking out the parents do, the more the kids do,” he said.

Steve’s style to talk, joke and try to make the children feel comfortable while their parents are getting assistance from the Red Cross and other agencies.

“Sometimes people need a short cartoon to give them a little diversion from what they’ve been going through,” Steve said. “If I’m able to give them a few minutes diversion from what they’ve been through, then I feel I’ve done some good.”

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