On the Edge: Children and Families Displaced by Hurricanes Katrina andRita Face a Looming Medical and Mental Health Crisis: Executive Summary

The individuals and families who were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and who have ended up in FEMA-subsidized community housing in Louisiana are facing a second crisis, one in which untreated and undertreated chronic medical problems and incipient mental health issues will overwhelm patients and providers. Among the displaced, children may be particularly vulnerable. In New Orleans alone, approximately 110,000 children under age eighteen — 85% of the pre-Katrina pediatric population — have not returned to the city since the hurricanes. These children, and others from outside of New Orleans, have been scattered throughout the Gulf Coast and across the fifty states. Louisiana’s school enrollment dropped by 70,000 students, many of whom have resettled in other states, some who have not yet returned to school in Louisiana. The Louisiana Child & Family Health Study focused on the displaced population living in FEMA-subsidized housing in Louisiana, and who may be among the most needy. According to interviews with adults in 665 randomly selected households at trailer communities and hotels throughout the state, this displaced group of children and families suffers from a constellation of serious medical and mental health problems. Parents report high rates of asthma, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities among their children. Despite that, access to continuous medical care, appropriate mental health care, medications, specialized medical equipment, and specialty medical care, is either fragmented at best, or absent altogether. The medical and mental health needs documented in this report may be regarded as the consequence of inadequately treated chronic diseases, psychological and emotional traumas secondary to the chaos and despair of a massive dislocation, and the social deprivations of the chronically-poor and the newly-impoverished. At a deeper level, though, the problems relate to the loss of stability in people’s lives: families that are increasingly fragile, children who are disengaged from schools, and the wholesale loss of community, workplace, and health care providers and institutions.