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Mental health services still needed in wake of recent storms

May 20, 2019

Even though Hurricane Harvey struck Texas almost two years ago, Communities in Schools (CIS) of Houston, are still providing mental health services related to the hurricane, and are seeing a need to keep those services going.

According to cishouston.org, CIS is a campus-based dropout prevention program. CIS works with the school system on campuses to provide direct social services to at-risk students and connect students with available community resources.

“Our Harvey work has been continuous and an expansion of our mental health work. It might be a death, it might be a parent dealing with alcohol, and it could be a storm. Harvey was an unfortunate vehicle to expand our work. It enabled more work and more students to benefit from it,” said Lisa Descant, CEO of CIS of Houston.

Spring Branch Independent School District is one of the Houston area districts that has CIS at their Title I schools. At Spring Branch ISD, the need for CIS for storm related help has come full circle.

“History repeats its self,” Linda Buchman, communications director for Spring Branch ISD, said. “In the beginning, when several of our schools opted to spend Title I dollars to have CIS, students came to Spring Branch after Hurricane Katrina.”

Buchman continued, “The few schools that had CIS at the time, they were taking care of the families. The schools were rocking along. For campuses that had no support, they were doing everything in their power, but with no CIS network, it wasn’t as easy to make social services and support connections.”

Seeing that difference is what helped make the decision to have CIS on every Title 1 campus in the district.

Now, in the long-term aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Buchman says that they are seeing secondary trauma.

“As time went by, and things started to settle down you started seeing more anxiety and fear of not knowing and that evolving into depressive symptoms,” Buchman said.

Buchman noted that those feelings are still relevant, due to recent heavy rains.

“With the storms that blew in, and with school being canceled, I am sure feelings of ‘Oh my goodness is another one happening,’ are coming up again,” Buchman said.

Going forward, Buchman says that the school is always looking for more training for the CIS team.

“There are so many initiatives around the city and funding coming from the state. Whether it’s from a storm or not our kids are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and mental health issues. We can never let our guard down in terms of getting support,” Buchman said.

Descant says that CIS is focusing on being mindful through meditation, and they have even brought yoga to some campuses.

“It’s really helping kids be in the moment with the stressors. They can put aside those thoughts and that allows them to be better focused,” Descant said.

Descant notes that there are families that are still displaced from Harvey, and some have not yet had the chance to process their experience.

“They are still too vulnerable to touch the real hurt and stress. We will need to be prepared to open space for them to process what many of us have already processed. I hope that we are able to give them the support,” Descant said.

The CIS team is also gearing up for the upcoming hurricane season, and current storms, by helping students and their parents with safety plans.

“We are empowering them. If water does come in, they feel equipped to do something and not feel stuck,” Descant said.

“Because we have lived this so personally, we will be doing more of the preparedness work. We have strengthened our partnerships with the city and county, and we are putting that in the hands of parents. We are little more assertive of sharing that information,” Descant said.

rebecca.hazen@chron.com

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