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SOS Children helps Haiti orphans cope with trauma

The traumatic experiences of quake-affected children in Haiti and how children can be cared for in this state of shock, mourning and emotional paralysis.

What does a child feel in a situation like this?

Haiti boyChildren in the devastated areas in Haiti have been affected in many ways by this traumatic event. They have been directly confronted with destruction and death; many children suffer serious physical injuries but equally serious emotional injuries. Many have undergone personal losses such as being separated from their families; many may have lost family members, one parent or even both, many more have lost their homes. A wide range of responses and emotions can be brought forth by such experiences: Reactions directly following the event can be characterized as shock. Because the traumatic experience is so dramatic, extreme, sudden, and possibly even life-threatening, it is imprinted on the child's memory. This deeply embedded event is a disturbance that the child carries with him or her at all times, memories of the event can control the child's thoughts and feelings. Long-term consequences include fear, vulnerability, depression, anger and sleep disorders, as well as the repeated and uncontrollable reliving of the event itself.

A child who has suffered from this extreme traumatic experience is particularly susceptible to the development of pathological symptoms. His or her life quality can diminish if the psychological trauma is not treated. Thus long-term professional psychological care and examination of the trauma should be initiated as soon as possible; the questions are what and how?

Clinical experience and modern research show what to do in such situations

First of all, the children's direct physical and medical survival is to be ensured by first aid measures; if a child has been separated from its parent(s) it is essential to immediately determine all possibilities of reunion with the family (parents, grandparents and/or other relatives). Furthermore, the child needs extensive and sustainable psychological guidance. Dealing almost simultaneously with all of these support levels is one of SOS Children's Villages' main principles in such situations.

Beyond that, what else does SOS Children's Villages provide?

Experts agree that traumatized children can be helped when one confronts them with the situations that induce their emotional reactions and encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings about the traumatic experience etched on their memory. It is important to integrate the experiences and the feelings attached to them into their everyday lives in a well-guided manner in order for them to be able to live constructive and fulfilling future lives. Several methods that may help children convey what they have experienced can also be applied by non-experts, teachers and other adults who work and deal with children. These include verbalization / active listening, scenic drawing, games and playing, writing and exercising religion. Additionally, there are more specific methods that can only be utilized by experts. SOS Children's Villages has a lot of expertise in that field of work and provide individually adapted services for affected children. Furthermore SOS co-workers have to assume responsibility for approaching the child, for becoming active themselves, and for giving the child the chance to confront and deal with these extreme experiences. It is equally important, however, to provide the child with breaks, so that he or she does not speak continuously about the event, to give the child time to "forget" and moments to simply be a child in "normal" circumstances. That means it is important to provide a little bit of "normality" in a protected and safe environment. It is vital that people who live with, care for or provide therapy to traumatized children understand the causes and impacts of childhood traumas, as well as that they continue to develop their skills and competences in supporting and treating traumatized children. This is also a specific focus in the various SOS Children's Village training programmes.

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