Supporting social and emotional skills after a disaster: Findings from a mixed methods study.


Disasters can affect a youth’s physical and emotional well-being. They disrupt everyday life by displacing individuals and families, destroying homes, and splintering communities (Gewirtz et al. in J Marital Fam Ther 34(2):177-192, 2008; La Greca and Silverman in Child Dev Perspect 3(1):4-10, 2009). School-based interventions are one approach to mitigate emotional distress in youth who have experienced a disaster, as schools are one of the most common venues for youth to receive mental health services (Greenberg et al. in Am Psychol 58:466-474, 2003). This paper explores the impact of a school-based psychosocial curriculum entitled Journey of Hope (JoH). This eight-session intervention attempts to reduce the impact of a disaster by enhancing protective factors such as social support, coping, and psycho-education. The evaluation study was conducted in the 2014-2015 school year after an EF5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma. As a result of the tornado, 24 people were killed, 377 injured, and two schools were destroyed (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, 2014). This mixed methods study employed quantitative and qualitative measures to examine the impact of the JoH intervention. Quantitative measures examined coping, general self-efficacy, prosocial behaviors, and overall distress. Qualitative data were obtained through interviews with N = 16 students after participation in the JoH. Semi-structured interview guides were used to determine what children learned, liked, and felt was beneficial from taking part in the JoH. A two-way repeated-measures ANOVA was used to assess the differences between the experimental and control group at baseline and posttest. Results indicated a significant increase in positive coping skills including communication and tension management and prosocial behaviors from baseline to posttest for the Journey of Hope group. No significant differences were found on self-efficacy or overall distress. Content analysis was conducted to determine qualitative results. Themes that emerged from the qualitative interviews suggested participation in the Journey of Hope enhanced peer relationships and helped participants identify how to manage emotions such as anger, anxiety, and grief. Findings from this evaluation study suggest that participation in a broadly accessible psycho-educational program may help children cope with traumatic events such as a natural disaster. Further research should be conducted to assess whether the Journey of Hope is transferrable across disaster contexts.