Trauma-informed schools: Child disaster exposure, community violence and somatic symptoms

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BACKGROUND: Given the increasing prevalence of natural disasters, trauma-informed school settings should include efficient methods for assessing child health and mental health in post-disaster environments. To develop such methods, factors that contribute to children's vulnerability and key signs of distress reactions after disasters need to be understood. To address these issues, we evaluated pre-disaster community violence exposure as a vulnerability factor for children's post-disaster reactions and somatic symptoms as a key post-disaster outcome. METHODS: We evaluated 426 children exposed to Hurricane Katrina at two timepoints (3-7 months and 13-17 months post-disaster). Structural equation models evaluated community violence exposure, hurricane exposure, and posttraumatic stress and somatic symptoms. RESULTS: Community violence exposure was associated with increased levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms among disaster-impacted youth, and did not moderate the relationship between disaster exposure and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Posttraumatic stress symptoms were associated with somatic symptoms in the short-term recovery period (3-7 months), but not associated with somatic symptoms during the longer-term recovery period (13-17 months). LIMITATIONS: This study did not include school-level factors, and somatic symptoms were based on parent reports. The study did not include parent functioning information or distinguish between whether somatic symptoms were medical or functional in nature. CONCLUSIONS: Post-disaster school-based screeners may need to incorporate questions related to children's past exposure to community violence and their somatic symptoms to provide trauma-informed care for children.

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Journal of affective disorders

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