Gulf Watch: Mental health problems still plague Katrina's children

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the U.S. Gulf Coast more than two years ago, but the storms are still taking a toll on the lives of the region's children.

At least 46,600 children in the Gulf are still experiencing mental health and other serious problems as a result of the back-to-back 2005 disasters, according to a new report [PDF] from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and the Children's Health Fund.

The study used data collected by the government and researchers to determine that the storms displaced about 163,000 children from the region, about 81,000 to 95,000 of whom have since returned to Louisiana or Mississippi. The researchers have been closely following about 1,250 displaced families and extrapolated from their experiences to draw conclusions about the region.

The report estimates that more than half of the 46,000 to 64,000 displaced children in Louisiana (55.4 percent) and nearly half in Mississippi (47.1 percent) exhibit one of three risk factors that can seriously impact their lives: a substantial drop in academic achievement, lost access to health care, or clinically diagnosed depression, anxiety or behavioral disorders.

"The time is long overdue for President Bush to demand an appropriate and humane case management protocol from FEMA and other agencies that ensures access to schools, social support services and a medical home, and to call on all governors to provide relocation opportunities for the tens of thousands of families who still do not have adequate permanent housing," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of the Children's Health Fund and director of the Mailman School's National Center for Disaster Preparedness.

(FEMA photo by Keith Riggs)