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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Post-9/11 Effects on Children – No Concern to DOE

According to the online newspaper Metro NY, a psychologist, Michael Cohen, was brought in by NY City in 2001 to study the effects of the 9/11 attacks on city school children. He found “significant mental health problems among students citywide”. Now, he reports that the city has refused his proposals to follow up on the study to see what ongoing effects the disaster may have had. Says Cohen, “I think the concerns about academic performance and outcomes overtook everything.” The only Department of Education response: “This is baseless.”

Meanwhile, a recent study finds that “35,000 to 70,000 people developed post traumatic stress disorder” after 9/11. The study encompassed largely adults who were directly exposed to the tragedy – people working in the area, rescue workers, and the like. But we know that there were numerous children exposed to it as well, at the very least those who attended schools in the area.

These were the ones most affected. But those of us in New York who lived through the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, even those who did not witness it directly, can attest to the fact that we were all profoundly affected by the events of that day. And in many ways we continue to experience, to one extent or another, a heightened anxiety that, while perhaps not reaching the level of PTSD, lingers as a daily reminder of what could happen again.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I can professionally attest to the effects of anxiety on families and children. It can interfere with anything from physical health to emotional development to school performance. And as a parent of two, I can attest to the anxieties that my children, my wife and I have felt since 9/11; anxieties that still linger eight years after the event, and that I know are shared by countless others across the city.

Whether people are suffering from PTSD, from other anxiety disorders, or are simply just not functioning up to par, one would think that a study on the effects of the 9/11 tragedy on our school children would warrant a follow up by the city and the DOE. But they seem no more likely to do this than they are to obey City Council law and allow children to carry cell phones to and from school so that parents and children could maintain this vital lifeline and provide some measure of safety and reassurance in this post 9/11 world.

The city could probably be sued for failure to follow the City Council law, or for policies or decisions that damage children’s mental or physical health. Perhaps someone will eventually bring such a lawsuit. But in the absence of legal action, these folks are only likely to change their policies if they have a real stake in that change. If, as Mr. Cohen postulates, their academic concerns are paramount, someone will probably have to prove that the exacerbation of children’s post 9/11 anxieties is leading to lower test scores. It’s not so far fetched, and unfortunately, based on their track record so far, it will be that, and not a concern for our children’s safety and well being, which would bring about such a change.


Anonymous said...

why doesnt school shut down???? >:(

Anonymous said...

I went to school with Fanny Cohen, haha good to hear about ya doc