A Toolkit for Child Welfare Agencies to Help Young People Heal and Thrive During and After Natural Disasters

September 28, 2021
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14%

Approximately 14 percent of children and youth have experienced at least one natural disaster prior to age 18, and most children and youth have been affected by a pandemic—COVID-19.

The United States is among the top five countries in the world that are most affected by natural disasters, with an average of over 20 natural disasters per year from 2010-2020. Approximately 14 percent of children and youth have experienced at least one natural disaster prior to age 18 and the majority of children and youth have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the circumstances surrounding natural disasters and COVID-19 are different, the physical and emotional impacts on children, youth, and families can be similar.

Young people are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of natural disasters, and those who are involved in the child welfare system are at particularly high risk for experiencing disaster-related traumatic stress and other mental health and behavioral challenges. However, all children and youth have the capacity for resilience and healing when they receive the right types of supports.

This Toolkit is for child welfare staff, supervisors, and administrators who work with and on behalf of children, youth, and families who experience a natural disaster. The information and resources included in the Toolkit provide evidence- and trauma-informed guidance for promoting positive outcomes for children and youth who experience natural disasters.

The complete version of this toolkit, including full references, is available in English or Spanish.

This Toolkit has three sections:

  • Section 1, Recommendations for Promoting Healing and Resilience Among Children and Youth Involved in Child Welfare Who Experience Natural Disasters: Provides actionable recommendations for administrators, supervisors, and staff to prepare for natural disasters and respond to children and youth involved in these systems who experience a natural disaster.

    Go to Recommendations
  • Section 2, Promoting Healing and Resilience After Natural Disasters for Children and Youth Involved in Child Welfare: Provides an overview of trauma-informed care and resilience for children and youth involved in the child welfare system who experience a natural disaster.

    Go to Healing and Resilience
  • Section 3, Interventions to Support Healing and Resilience Among Children, Youth, and Families Who Experience a Natural Disaster: Provides an overview of promising and evidence-based, trauma-informed frameworks and interventions to support children and youth who experience a natural disaster.

    Go to Interventions

Section 1

Recommendations for Promoting Healing and Resilience Among Children and Youth Involved in Child Welfare Who Experience Natural Disasters

This section includes actionable recommendations for child welfare administrators and for supervisors and staff to support children, youth, and families involved in the child welfare system who have experienced a natural disaster. Many of these recommendations may also be useful for responding to a pandemic. Recommendations are organized by timing of implementation—before a disaster occurs, during or immediately afterward, or for the intermediate and long-term recovery.

How to prepare BEFORE a natural disaster occurs

Ensuring that your agency is prepared and trauma-informed can go a long way to help children and youth recover and heal from a natural disaster. Below are recommendations for administrators, supervisors, and staff to prepare for how to promote healing and resilience among youth when a natural disaster occurs.

Recommendation 1: Establish trauma-informed, agency-wide and system-wide plans and policies for natural disasters.

Natural disasters can place additional demands on child welfare agencies to respond to family safety concerns and needs. Not only is it best practice for child welfare agencies to prepare for natural disasters before they occur, but federal law also requires state child welfare agencies to establish disaster plans. Use trauma-informed care and emotional well-being principles in disaster plans, policies, and procedures at the state, tribal, territory, and local level to help children, youth, and their families recover from a natural disaster.

Recommendation 1 for Administrators:

Child welfare administrators should establish natural disaster-specific plans and policies that align with trauma-informed care and prioritize the emotional and physical well-being of children and youth.

  • Ensure that natural disaster planning includes specific information about how to address child, youth, and staff emotional well-being and trauma. Consider establishing memorandums of understanding with mental health agencies to assist in resource sharing and recovery.

  • Develop partnerships with community agencies, organizations that tailor resources to specific populations (e.g., children or youth who are immigrants or from families of immigrants, LGBTQ+), and religious organizations for assisting families with basic needs (e.g., clothing, food pantries).

  • Engage in formal partnerships with local emergency response and community agencies to ensure the child welfare agency and system is included in community preparedness.

  • Share comprehensive disaster plans widely within the child welfare agency and with community partners to ensure all stakeholders have access to disaster response information. Practice and review disaster plan implementation regularly with staff, including drills and evaluation of the drills (e.g., identifying lessons learned, amending plan as needed). Sharing and practicing disaster plans in advance of a natural disaster helps agencies collaborate and implement plans more effectively when the disaster does occur.

Recommendation 1 for Supervisors and Staff:

Child welfare supervisors and staff should work together with children, youth, and their families to develop emergency plans before a natural disaster occurs and ensure the plan aligns with a trauma-informed approach and prioritizes the emotional well-being of children and youth.

  • Partner with children, youth, and their families to develop a family preparedness, safety, and communication plan and review the plan regularly. The plan should include measures for ensuring physical safety when a disaster occurs (e.g., shelter in place, escape routes), tailored to the type(s) of disaster that occur in the local area. The plan should also address what to do when children are at home and school. Include plans for communication if a child or youth is separated from parents or other caregiver(s) during the disaster, including easily accessible contact information for family members, caseworkers, therapists, and other supports. Identify alternative, safe placement options, in combination with a plan for reunification. Review the plan every few months, particularly for children and youth who may experience changes in placement or who may be transitioning out of care. For a sample family preparedness, safety, and communication plan, download the NCTSN family preparedness plan and wallet card.

  • Ensure that children, youth, and their families are informed about the nature and timing of common disasters and pandemics in your area (i.e., what time of year they tend to occur), common reactions among children and youth (particularly those with trauma histories), and how to access updated official disaster information.

  • Assemble an emergency supply kit and plans for meeting the child, youth, and family’s basic needs when a disaster occurs. Children and youth should have access to enough water, food, and other emergency supplies for at least three days and secure access to medications for at least seven days. Help children, youth, and their caregivers identify resources for basic needs after emergency supplies have been used, including whom to call for support. For a list of resources and templates for family emergency planning, go to https://www.ready.gov.

Recommendation 2: As a foundation for natural disaster response, build a trauma-informed child welfare agency and system focused on healing and resilience.

For child welfare agencies and systems to provide a trauma-informed response to natural disasters, it is critical to establish an agency-wide and system-wide commitment to trauma-informed policies and daily practices before a natural disaster occurs. A trauma-informed child welfare system is one that is healing- and resilience-focused, with children and youth having access to the supports and services they need. Child welfare systems that are trauma-informed before a natural disaster occurs are better able to address the needs of children, youth, and families, resulting in better outcomes, such as reduced use of long-term behavioral health services, fewer transitions in placements, and reduced use of psychotropic medications.

Recommendation 2 for Administrators:

Child welfare administrators should implement or enhance comprehensive, agency-wide, and system-wide policies, procedures, and infrastructure that are trauma-informed and prioritize the emotional and physical well-being of children and youth.

  • Include trauma-informed principles and language in agency-wide and system-wide policies and procedures, identifying exposure to natural disaster as a type of adversity that can lead to trauma.

  • Conduct an organizational self-assessment for trauma-informed organizations. To get started, see the Put It Into Practice #4 resource.

  • Implement training using an evidence- and trauma-informed curriculum tailored to the needs of children, youth, and families in the child welfare system; the curriculum should be implemented systemwide within the agency and throughout state, local, territory, and tribal child welfare systems (e.g., National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit).

  • Conduct universal screening using a valid, reliable, age-appropriate, and culturally sensitive universal screening tool to identify types of adversity exposure and symptoms of trauma in response to a natural disaster (e.g., UCLA Brief COVID-19 Screen for Child/Adolescent PTSD; Child PTSD Symptom Scale). Screening for adversity and trauma should be conducted as one component of a comprehensive, developmentally sensitive approach to assessing strengths and needs, including resilience and protective factors (e.g., PACEs Questionnaire).

  • Develop strong partnerships with mental health and community service organizations, as well as a system for referral and follow-up (see Section 3 of this Toolkit for a list of evidence-informed trauma and mental health interventions).

Recommendation 2 for Supervisors and Staff:

Child welfare supervisors and staff should seek out and participate in trauma-informed and natural disaster-specific training and professional development to support engagement in practices that promote social and emotional well-being and positive development and behavior among children and youth who have experienced trauma.

  • Engage in comprehensive training and professional development opportunities in trauma-informed practices for child welfare supervisors and staff, such as the Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit.

  • Complete training in evidence-informed models for natural disaster preparedness and response, such as Psychological First Aid (PFA). For more information on these models, see Section 3 of this toolkit.

  • Conduct universal screening for adversity and trauma symptoms with children and youth on your caseload, using a valid, reliable, and developmentally- and culturally- sensitive tool (e.g., UCLA Brief COVID-19 Screen for Child/Adolescent PTSD; Child PTSD Symptom Scale; Young Child PTSD Screener).

  • Become familiar with evidence-based treatments and supports for children and youth experiencing trauma; develop relationships with providers, community agencies, and schools that offer these types of services and supports; and make appropriate referrals to support the emotional well-being of children and youth. For a list of these approaches, see Section 2 of this toolkit and reference intervention registries, such as the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (www.cebc4cw.org) or Blueprints for Health Youth Development (www.blueprintsprograms.org), to obtain specific information on types of interventions, their level of evidence, for whom interventions were designed, and eligibility for federal reimbursement.

Recommendation 3: Ensure natural disaster plans, policies, and practices are culturally inclusive and intentionally address disproportionality.

Black, Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, and LGBTQ+ youth experience disproportionate exposure to adversity and trauma and are overrepresented in the child welfare system. To be effective in disaster response and promote child and youth well-being, child welfare agency policies must incorporate anti-racist, anti-oppression guidance for administrators, supervisors, and staff to actively protect children, youth, and families from institutional racism and discrimination, which can cause further trauma, including during a natural disaster.

Recommendation 3 for Administrators:

Child welfare administrators should ensure that disaster policies and procedures that incorporate anti-racist, anti-oppression guidance address the needs of children and youth who are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters and other adversities, and/or who are overrepresented in the child welfare system, including Black, Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, and LGBTQ+ children and youth.

  • Create a senior management position dedicated to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at the organizational level and ensure the individual in this position participates in disaster preparedness and response planning.

  • Actively partner with children, youth, and families (e.g., through interviews, focus groups, committees and councils, or other approaches) to develop language, review and assess information on disparate impact, and utilize equity-focused resources to guide disaster response planning. Ensure you partner with groups who are overrepresented in child welfare.

  • Incorporate anti-racist and anti-discrimination policies and procedures within disaster plans and policies to reduce inequities in the child welfare system using a systematic approach, such as a racial equity impact analysis (REIA). Establish a policy review team to conduct the REIA of disaster plans and policies, ensuring representation of impacted groups on the team.

  • Incorporate LGBTQ+ responsive language and approaches in disaster plans and policies and explicitly outline strategies for staff to affirm LGBTQ+ identities and strengths during a natural disaster. Ensure supports are applicable to both families of choice and families of origin for LGBTQ+ youth.

  • Partner with schools, early childhood programs, mental health agencies, crisis response teams, and other community agencies that are committed to culturally responsive, anti-racist, and/or LGBTQ-affirming practices. Partner with agencies and interpreters that can provide services and resources in the child/youth’s preferred language.

Recommendation 3 for Supervisors and Staff:

Child welfare supervisors and staff should engage in professional development and practices that are anti-racist and anti-oppressive, and that address disproportionality of representation in the child welfare system.

  • Seek out and participate in training and professional development on racial diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly regarding disproportionality in the child welfare system. The California Evidence Based Clearinghouse has rated several models on their evidence for reducing disproportionality (e.g., Family Assessment Response, Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard)—become familiar with these models and their practices.

  • Seek out and participate in training on the needs of LGBTQ+ children and youth using formalized resources and models. Use identity-affirming language when working with children and youth, ensure that resources are LGBTQ+ focused and affirming, and identify LGBTQ+-affirming referrals for outside services.

  • Talk and raise awareness about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Explicitly ask staff about discrimination and racism they have experienced and seek ways to address and prevent future harm. Engage in meaningful conversations with supervisors and colleagues about racial and ethnic diversity in the workforce. These discussions should be intentional and semi-structured. Group discussions should be moderated by a leader with expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion and should follow best practices for discussing these topics.

Recommendation 4: Establish natural disaster communication protocols and plans for staff and families.

When a natural disaster occurs, there are often short- or long-term challenges with maintaining regular communication with family, friends, and other supports. Child welfare agencies should identify and use alternative communication and monitoring strategies, including virtual meetings, electronic communication, and telephone contact, when in-person contact with children, youth, or families is not possible. Building an infrastructure, including supplying both staff and families with the necessary equipment, for alternative methods of communication before a natural disaster is critical for a seamless transition during an emergency.

Recommendation 4 for Administrators:

Child welfare administrators should establish staff protocols for maintaining regular contact with children, youth, and families during and after a natural disaster occurs.

  • Establish formal protocols for frequent and ongoing contact with children, youth, and families during and after a natural disaster occurs to monitor their physical and emotional risk, safety, and well-being and to keep them informed about the disaster and available resources while following safety guidelines.

  • Build agency capacity for a seamless transition to virtual services (e.g., telehealth) before a natural disaster and continuously monitor opportunities for emergency and grant funding for virtual services and technology supports.

  • Develop electronic and printable resource libraries for staff to quickly access and provide information to children, youth, and their caregivers on natural disasters, their effects, and approaches to addressing the physical and emotional needs of children and youth.

Recommendation 4 for Supervisors and Staff:

Child welfare supervisors and staff should partner with children, youth, and families to establish communication plans in the event of a natural disaster and review the plan regularly.

  • Incorporate disaster communication plans into regular goal setting and service planning with children, youth, and families, including contingency plans for when in-person contact is unavailable, methods for getting in touch with loved ones within and outside the home or residential setting, and alternative emergency contacts and supports when electronic communication may be limited.

  • Review the disaster communication plan regularly or any time a placement changes or another major transition occurs.

  • Identify and become familiar with natural disaster-related resources for families and consider keeping printable copies of resource lists easily accessible to staff, children, youth, and their caregivers. Include information on natural disasters, their effects, and approaches to addressing the physical and emotional needs of children, youth, and their families.

Recommendation 5: Proactively identify and address staff needs related to secondary traumatic stress and well-being.

Child welfare staff can be directly impacted by a natural disaster and as essential workers may be separated from their families and support systems or experience property loss and displacement. In addition, due to the nature and demand of their work, child welfare staff are at risk for experiencing secondary traumatic stress, burnout, and poor emotional and physical well-being. Staff well-being contributes to productivity, self-compassion and compassion for others, and positive engagement with children, youth, and families. Child welfare agencies and systems must proactively identify and address staff well-being before a natural disaster occurs and make concerted efforts to monitor secondary traumatic stress reactions during times of emergency.

Recommendation 5 for Administrators:

Child welfare administrators should establish an organizational culture that prioritizes the physical and emotional well-being of staff and administrators.<br />

  • If staff were directly impacted by the disaster, take immediate steps to support their physical and emotional well-being by connecting staff with available supports within the agency/system and in the community.

  • Formalize strategies for preventing, identifying, and addressing secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma among child welfare staff and administrators by creating and implementing a workforce wellness plan that promotes high-quality, trauma-informed services and reduces staff burnout and turnover.

  • Model self-care and work-life balance for supervisors and staff throughout the organization.

  • Increase staff awareness of the potential impacts of working with traumatized individuals on their own well-being, and emphasize the importance of prioritizing self-care (e.g., mindfulness, exercise, good nutrition, rest, social support, counseling).

  • Assess staff well-being by routinely screening for secondary traumatic stress among staff (e.g., Professional Quality of Life Measure; Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment Tool) and in the organization (e.g., Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment), and offer information for self-care activities, employee assistance, or obtaining external sources of support.

  • Create “trauma-free zones” or “self-care rooms” to provide a space for mental and physical nourishment (i.e., snacks, water), including wellness activities (e.g., mindfulness, yoga, exercise, quiet time, time to connect with supportive colleagues) and resources on trauma, healing, and resilience for staff, supervisors, and administrators.

Recommendation 5 for Supervisors and Staff:

Child welfare supervisors and staff should prioritize self-care and physical and emotional well-being in their work through regular, routine activities and practices.

  • Identify sources of social support and enjoyable activities outside of the workplace, such as spending time with family, spiritual/religious groups, clubs, or hobbies and make a routine for spending time engaging in them each week. The best way to make a routine into a habit is to share your intentions with someone else who can help encourage you in your goals.

  • Reach out to supportive colleagues and supervisors about work-related stress or when you have a tough day or when a case does not end well.

  • Remember the importance of your work and your reason for working in child welfare, centering your thoughts on the beneficial aspects of your work.

  • Keep an eye out for unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking too much alcohol, substance use, increased arguments or tension with family or friends, or losing too much sleep. Be aware of community resources and employee assistance programs to support you with these needs if they arise. Share these resources with a colleague who may benefit from them and follow-up to check if they were successfully connected.

Recommendation 6: Administrators should coordinate and collaborate with community and other service organizations before a natural disaster occurs to support preparedness, healing, and resilience.

Providing an effective, trauma-informed response to natural disasters by child welfare agencies requires collaborative leadership from administrators. Partnering with community agencies and other services organizations before a disaster occurs is a best practice in child welfare. During a natural disaster, these collaborations become even more critical for mobilizing an effective and timely response.

  • Closely monitor changes in federal, state, territory, tribal, and county child welfare policies designed to address disaster-related challenges and to support child, youth, family, and staff well-being.

  • Engage in cross-system collaboration and disaster planning with other national, state, and local child- and family-serving organizations, community organizations, and emergency systems (e.g., Red Cross, FEMA, law enforcement, schools) to coordinate a trauma-informed response.

How to respond DURING and AFTER a natural disaster occurs

Experiencing a natural disaster can result in anxiety, stress, and fear among children and youth in the child welfare system, all of whom have already experienced some form of adversity or trauma. Natural disasters can pose new challenges, such as displacement, death or injury to a parent/caregiver or a pet, loss of possessions, or loss of contact with social supports. As with all types of trauma, children and youth experience a range of emotions and reactions to natural disasters, with many recovering and healing without ongoing formal intervention. Age, prior experiences of trauma, support from a primary caregiver and other social supports, and the severity of impact of the natural disaster are all important factors in child and youth response.

There are several strategies and supports child welfare systems can use to help children and youth recover. Many of these strategies will be implemented primarily by direct service supervisors and staff who work with children and youth on a day-to-day basis. However, in addition to mobilizing an agency and system-wide response, there are several specific actions administrators can also take during and after a natural disaster to promote emotional well-being for children and youth. This section outlines broad natural disaster response recommendations for administrators, followed by more specific recommendations for direct service supervisors and staff.

Recommendation 7: Administrators should continually monitor safety protocols and support staff and families to cope with uncertainty and maintain routines even if evacuation occurs. <br />

When a natural disaster occurs, administrators are also faced with rapidly changing landscapes and must closely monitor changes in policies, recommendations for best practices, and funding opportunities.

  • Monitor updates to best practices for safety monitoring and emerging, promising approaches to addressing disaster-related trauma, in addition to existing evidence-informed approaches (see Section 3).

  • Establish protocol and procedures for identifying and addressing primary and secondary trauma reactions among staff, particularly those regularly working in the field with children, youth, and families. Connect staff with supports for coping with uncertainty and encourage maintenance of routines, even in the event of displacement or evacuation.

  • Monitor emergency and related funding opportunities to build agency infrastructure to respond to disaster-related needs for children and youth and maintain consistent service delivery (e.g., investing in telehealth, mental health training/consultation).

Recommendation 8: Supervisors and staff should use and refer to evidence- and trauma-informed training, services, and supports for children, youth, and families who experience a natural disaster.

Using evidence-informed, trauma-focused approaches to respond to children and youth involved in child welfare who experience a natural disaster is important for preventing and mitigating the long-term negative impacts and for promoting healing and resilience. Engaging parents and caregivers in emergency response, particularly for young children, is imperative to processing and recovering from a natural disaster. Research shows that parent and caregiver response during and after a natural disaster are correlated with child and youth response.

Because children and youth rely on their caregivers for information, basic needs, and support, it is important to talk with parents and caregivers about modeling calm reactions and taking their own time to process what has happened. Supporting parents and caregivers to develop family emergency and communication plans and to learn common reactions to natural disasters, how to support themselves, and how to respond to children and youth in their care are all critical components to a trauma-informed disaster response in child welfare systems.

  • In the days and weeks after a natural disaster occurs, use an evidence-informed approach to support children and youth (e.g., Psychological First Aid). Before asking questions or collecting information from children, youth, and their families, begin by establishing regular contact and engaging with children and youth on your caseload; assessing for physical and emotional risk and safety; offering ways to provide support and comfort; and connecting the child or youth to resources for stabilization, if there is ongoing crisis (e.g., loss of home). For additional tips on how to respond to a natural disaster in the immediate aftermath, see the Put It Into Practice #5 resource. For additional information on Psychological First Aid, see Section 3 of this toolkit.

  • Encourage parents and caregivers to develop awareness and skills for supporting children and youth in their care during and after a natural disaster. Parents/caregivers should provide factual information on what has happened and what to expect after a natural disaster; discourage over-exposure to media about the natural disaster; download the Help Kids Cope app developed by the NCTSN for tips on talking to children and youth about natural disasters; and encourage engaging in regular routines as much as possible to instill a sense of normalcy. Visit www.nctsn.org for additional disaster-specific resources for parents/caregivers and staff, which are updated regularly for major disasters.

  • Avoid using “debriefing” techniques by having children and youth talk about the details of the natural disaster in the immediate aftermath, as these approaches can actually increase risk for ongoing posttraumatic stress. If a child or youth shows ongoing reactions of trauma, referral to a structured, trauma-focused intervention is warranted. See Section 3 of this toolkit for a list of evidence-based, trauma-informed models for children and youth in child welfare who have experienced a natural disaster.

  • After initial contact is made and support and stabilization services have been provided (if necessary), begin gathering information about the needs of the child, youth, and families. Remember to discuss practical assistance with basic needs and supports, in addition to connection with social supports, information on coping with common reactions, and linkage to outside services if necessary. Psychological First Aid offers several guides, handouts, and resources for talking about coping and common reactions with children and youth (see Section 3). For additional tips for talking to children and youth about natural disasters, see the Put It Into Practice resources for this section. For discussion guides on talking with parents/caregivers of young children about several types of natural disasters in a variety of language, see the Trinka and Sam books developed by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Recommendation 9: Supervisors and staff should maintain close and regular contact with children, youth, and families in the weeks and months following a natural disaster to provide them with information and support.<br />

Providing consistent social support during and after adversity and trauma is one of the most effective ways to prevent or reduce long-term, trauma-related mental health concerns and to promote healing and resilience. To effectively provide a vehicle for children, youth, and families to share their disaster-related needs, child welfare supervisors and staff must initiate and maintain regular contact with children and youth during and after a natural disaster.

  • Maintain weekly or biweekly contact with children, youth, and families in the weeks and months following a natural disaster and provide information on common reactions and supports. Ensure that children and youth have a way to get in touch with you in a timely manner.

  • When in-person contact is not possible, it is essential to identify alternative ways to connect with children and youth and to help them establish and maintain contact with others in their support network, including through the use of technology (e.g., telephone, text messaging, virtual meetings, WhatsApp).

  • Tailor strategies to the child’s age and developmental stage. For young children, case planning and implementation requires close contact with their primary caregivers. Ensure that older children, adolescents, and transition-age youth have contact with peers, siblings, caring adults, and/or other social supports.

Recommendation 10: Recognize that certain family challenges, such as child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and parental mental health and substance abuse problems, tend to increase during natural disasters, and be prepared to identify and respond with appropriate supports.

Research shows that violence in the home and child maltreatment increase during and shortly after natural disasters. Proactively conducting risk and safety assessments, trauma-focused screenings, and referrals to trauma-informed, culturally sensitive services and supports increases the chances that children and youth will recover from a natural disaster.

  • Actively monitor the well-being, strengths, and needs of children, youth, and their parents/caregivers. Screen children and youth for disaster-related and other trauma symptoms using a valid, reliable, and developmentally- and culturally- sensitive tool (e.g., UCLA Brief COVID-19 Screen for Child/Adolescent PTSD; Child PTSD Symptom Scale, Young Child PTSD Screener; SAMHSA Child/Youth and Adult Assessment and Referral Tools).

  • Conduct developmental screenings of children and youth to identify their strengths and needs and to inform effective intervention.

  • For children and youth experiencing moderate levels of distress in the weeks following a natural disaster, consider using a short-term, evidence-based model to promote coping with natural disasters, such as Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR). See Section 3 of this toolkit for more information on SPR.

  • For children and youth experiencing severe distress or who have not shown improvement six weeks after a natural disaster, refer them for formal evidence-based, trauma-informed treatment. For a list of evidence-based treatments that have been used with youth in child welfare and/or in response to natural disasters, see Section 3 of this toolkit.

Recommendation 11: Monitor staff well-being for signs of secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma, and create regular opportunities for staff to engage in self-care and to improve their work-life balance.

When a natural disaster occurs, child welfare supervisors and staff often experience similar stressors and events as the children and youth in their care. Monitoring and addressing signs of burnout and secondary traumatic stress are critical for sustaining the emotional well-being of the child welfare workforce, and it becomes even more critical during times of emergency.

  • Learn about the signs of secondary and vicarious trauma and monitor yourself for these signs during and after a natural disaster. Try using a standardized tool to check your reactions (e.g., PROQoL; Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale).

  • Use strategies and activities to prevent or reduce trauma symptoms, such as relaxation (e.g., deep breathing, visual imagery), engaging in enjoyable activities or socialization, and processing and expressing feelings (e.g., through journaling, art, music). If symptoms persist, talk to your supervisor, colleagues, or employee assistance to obtain additional support and consider reaching out to a mental health provider.

Put It Into Practice:

1. Five Ways to Support Children and Youth in Child Welfare Who Experience a Natural Disaster (PDF)
Use this resource DURING and IMMEDIATELY AFTER a natural disaster occurs

2. Dos and Don’ts for Talking with Children and Youth About a Natural Disaster (PDF)
Use this resource AFTER a natural disaster occurs, once the child or youth is ready to receive support

3. Questions for Older Children and Youth About Their Strengths and Needs (PDF)
Use this resource DURING and AFTER a natural disaster occurs

Child Welfare Resource Library 1: Recommendations for Promoting Healing and Resilience Among Children and Youth Involved in Child Welfare Who Experience Natural Disasters

Bounce Back Now App National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Disaster Planning for Child Welfare Agencies Child Welfare Information Gateway

Family Preparedness: Thinking Ahead National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Family Preparedness Wallet Card National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Help Kids Cope App National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Racial Equity Discussion Guide U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Race Matters: Racial Equity Impact Analysis The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Toolkit to Support Child Welfare Agencies in Serving LGBTQ Children, Youth, and Families U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Trinka and Sam Book Series (available or multiple types of disaster) National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Well-being of the Workforce U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Section 2

Promoting Healing and Resilience After Natural Disasters

This second section of the toolkit provides foundational concepts and research on the impact of trauma from natural disasters on children and youth in the child welfare system. It also describes how integrating trauma-informed care systemwide in state, county, tribal, and territory child welfare systems can support healing, resilience, and equitable outcomes for all children, youth, and families after a natural disaster.

Both natural disasters and child maltreatment constitute forms of adversity that can be traumatizing to young people of all ages. Most children receiving child welfare services have already experienced abuse or neglect by caregivers, in addition to the natural disaster and secondary adversities associated with these experiences. The combination of these adversities place children and youth receiving child welfare services at especially high risk for trauma and related hardships, such as mental and physical health challenges, difficulties forming healthy relationships, poor school performance, and limited educational and occupational success. Black, Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) children and youth experience higher rates of secondary adversity related to natural disaster (e.g., displacement, property loss) and are overrepresented in the child welfare system. Thus, child welfare agencies must use an anti-bias, anti-racist approach focused on child, youth, and family strengths along with trauma-informed care (TIC) to be truly effective in natural disaster response. In addition, services must address the specific needs of each child, youth, and family, accounting for their age and developmental stage, racial and ethnic background, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Given the extent of exposure to trauma, loss, separation, and other adversities among families involved in the child welfare system, staff, supervisors, and administrators must be proactive in preventing and mitigating trauma from natural disasters. As a foundation for best practice, trauma-informed care is increasingly recognized as an effective approach to promoting healing and resilience in the child welfare system.,, As Casey Family Programs noted, child welfare agencies must be trauma-informed because, “Perhaps no other child-serving system encounters a higher percentage of children and parents with trauma histories than child protection agencies.”

The good news is that, with the right supports, all children and youth have the capacity to thrive after adversity or trauma, including after natural disasters. Child welfare agencies are best equipped to partner with young people to support their well-being during and after natural disasters when they incorporate the best evidence to date on trauma, healing, and resilience into their policies and daily practices.

Put It Into Practice:

4. Organizational Self-Assessment: How Trauma-Informed is Your Agency, Organization, or System? (PDF)
Use this resource BEFORE a natural disaster occurs

Child Welfare Resource Library 2: Promoting Healing and Resilience After Natural disasters

Age-related Reactions to a Traumatic Event [caregiver resource] National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Child Welfare Practice to Address Racial Disproportionality and Disparity Child Welfare Information Gateway

Healthy Organizations: Why Should Child Welfare Agencies Be Trauma-Informed? Casey Family Foundation

Identifying the Intersection of Trauma and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity National Child Traumatic Stress Network

SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Understanding the Impacts of Natural Disasters on Children Society for Research on Child Development

What is a Trauma-informed Child and Family Service System? National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Trauma Informed Child Welfare Systems—A Rapid Evidence Review Bunting et al., 2019

Creating Trauma-Informed Child Welfare Systems: A Guide for Administrators (2nd ed.) Chadwick Trauma-Informed Systems Dissemination and Implementation Project

The Importance of a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System Child Welfare Information Gateway

Section 3

Interventions to Support Healing and Resilience Among Children, Youth, and Families Who Experience a Natural Disaster

There are several evidence-informed, trauma-focused models and interventions to support children and youth who have experienced natural disasters and promote healing. Many of these models and interventions share core components, and thus have considerable overlap with one another in their content and approach. Some models have been used specifically with children and youth involved in child welfare , while others have been used with a broader population of children and youth. Models may vary in the timing of implementation—some are used during or immediately after the natural disaster, others are used in the intermediate or long-term.

When choosing which models and interventions to use, it is important to consider whether the model or intervention:

  • Targets the goals or outcomes valued by children, youth, and families (e.g., providing immediate relief and referral to basic resources, reducing posttraumatic stress and other distress reactions).
  • Can be realistically implemented given the specific child, youth, family, agency, and community context, including local resources available, and following federal, state, and county policies.
  • Is appropriate for the age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation of children, youth, and their families and their cultural and historical context (e.g., living in a foster home or group home, history of complex or historical trauma, cultural background).

The good news is that most children and youth show signs of resilience after exposure to natural disasters and return to normal functioning without receiving formal intervention—including those receiving child welfare services. For a smaller number of children and youth, clinical services are needed, specifically young people who experience significant mental health and behavioral problems that are best addressed through formal trauma- and grief-focused treatment with a mental health provider. Formal treatment is more likely to be needed following severe exposures, secondary adversities (e.g., severe injury/illness, other trauma and losses, housing instability), and pre-existing or co-occurring risk factors (e.g., prior trauma or mental health conditions). Making decisions about the appropriate level of support, services, and interventions following a natural disaster should follow a tiered approach, tailoring the intensity of the intervention to the needs of each child, youth, and family.

Child Welfare Resource Library 3: Interventions to Support Healing and Resilience Among Children, Youth, and Families Who Experience a Natural Disaster

Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development

California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare Rady’s Children’s Hospital San Diego, California Department of Social Services, & Office of Child Abuse Prevention

Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit (3rd ed.) National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Culture and Trauma National Child Traumatic Stress Network

New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research, Chapter 6: Interventions and Service Delivery Systems Institute of Medicine and National Research Council

Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guide (2nd ed.) National Center for PTSD and National Child Traumatic Stress Network

PREPaRE National Association of School Psychologists

SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin: Disaster Behavioral Health Interventions Inventory Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR) Field Operations Guide National Center for PTSD and National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse Abt Associates

Trauma-informed Strategies for Supporting Children and Youth in the Child Welfare System During COVID-19 Child Trends

Treatment for Traumatized Children, Youth, and Families Child Welfare Information Gateway

Natural Disaster Response Resources

Psychoeducational Materials

Mobile Apps

Online Course

My Disaster Recovery

Hotlines

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Call (800) 273-8255
  • Disaster Distress Helpline, Call or text (800)985-5990 (For Spanish, press “2”) to be connected to a trained counselor 24/7/365
  • The JED Foundation (for emotional health and suicide prevention), Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “START” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project (for LGBTQ+ youth), Call 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678-678

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