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Hurricane Sandy Nightmare Still Lingers for Some Children

PHOTO: Homes in the Far Rockaways were damaged by storm surge from Hurricane Sandy. Six months later, counselors are still dealing with the effects on the emotional health of some Long Island children. Courtesy FEMA.
PHOTO: Homes in the Far Rockaways were damaged by storm surge from Hurricane Sandy. Six months later, counselors are still dealing with the effects on the emotional health of some Long Island children. Courtesy FEMA.
May 8, 2013

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - Professionals offering free mental-health counseling to young victims of Hurricane Sandy say they're still dealing with children badly shaken by the "super storm."

Dr. Robert Motta, director of the Child and Family Trauma Institute at Hofstra University, estimates that about 10 young storm victims have received free counseling there. It isn't so much the wind, waves or forced dislocation that has traumatized the children he sees, he said; it's how they take their emotional cues from their parents.

"Their stability, their world, is shaken when they see the parents shaken, when they see the parents unable to cope," he said. "Is that associated with the wind and the rain? Absolutely. But if their parents were really cool about it, I guarantee you the children would be far, far less traumatized."

Another source of free post-Sandy counseling for children, Family Service League, says it has treated about 10 children as well. Robyn Berger-Gaston, the league's division director for youth, senior and intergenerational services, said Family Service League has seen a recent increase in requests more than six months after Sandy.

"Their parents or guardians will contact us and tell us that their child can't sleep, they may be having nightmares, that they're preoccupied with it every time it rains," she said.

Berger-Gaston said the situation isn't helped by the fact that many families are experiencing delays in getting the money to rebuild homes.

"We know that in most of these cases, what helps these kids and adults most is being able to return to their normal routine," she said. "So, if that's disturbed in some way, that could make the recovery more challenging."

Motta said the arrival of summer weather should also help, which will bring children and families back to beaches that are much less threatening than last October.

"It's really that you're now associating the water, the sun, the waves, the sand, et cetera, with something pleasant," he said, "whereas before, you were associating it with your parents freaking out and water coming into your living room."

Both say they're not seeing a tapering off yet in the number of children needing counseling.

More information is online at hofstra.edu and fsl-li.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY