The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 16, 2011

Joplin schools ready to help students cope with tornado trauma

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin School District is teaming up with area mental health agencies to make extra counseling available for students as a result of the May 22 tornado.

Five additional mental health professionals and five case managers who are trauma specialists will help the district work with families and students who are struggling emotionally.

“We can build buildings, but the emotional damage that this storm has caused is of a very significant concern and something we’re going to be watching closely for months, if not years,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said.

Discussion about the emotional impact on children and the need for counseling began the day after the tornado, Huff said.

In early July, Gov. Jay Nixon announced plans for the Joplin Child Trauma Treatment Center, using $2 million in state money. The center will provide mental health services to children and families affected by the tornado. Several local groups joined in the effort, including the school district; Ozark Center, which is the behavioral health division of Freeman Health System; the Missouri Department of Mental Health; the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri; the Missouri Institute of Mental Health; and St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

Christen Stark, spokeswoman for Freeman Health System, said Ozark Center’s crisis hot line has seen a 12 percent increase in calls from children and teenagers since the tornado.

Janet Earl, who is coordinating mental health support for Joplin students, said about 50 of the 1,500 students enrolled in summer school showed some trauma symptoms, and two or three of those needed extensive support.

“A lot of these kids need someone who needs to understand, listen and help them talk through what they feel and experience, and help with a structure that is supportive and lets them move on,” Earl said. “About 90 percent are going to move on successfully.”

For the other 10 percent, Earl said, it is important that someone identify the children, link them to services and then make sure those services are available.

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