Chapter Convenes Roundtable Discussion to Focus on Long Term Impact of 9/11
by Robert S. Schachter, DSW, ACSW
The NYC Chapter's Mental Health Task Force and the Disaster Trauma Working Group convened a discussion group of leading social workers that represent organizations in the forefront of responding to the World Trade Center disaster. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together service providers that cut across a wide range of sectors with the goal of learning about the work they have been doing in response to the disaster, their perspectives regarding long-term needs, and to discuss the role of NASW-NYC in supporting their efforts.
The organizations represented included, the Children's Aid Society, Project Liberty, NYU Downtown Hospital, the Transit Authority, the Department of Mental Health, Safe Horizons, Columbia University School of Social Work, the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, Board of Education social workers, the Federation of Employment and Guidance Centers, Northside Center for Child Development, Corporate Counseling, ACS and the Central Labor Council.
A number of themes emerged during the discussion. With respect to social work practice, the importance of social workers being available to reach out to people in the community was emphasized. For example, some organizations have sent social workers to talk to people in local bodegas and stores, beauty salons, and churches. In addition, social workers need to be sensitive to the fact that people may be indirectly affected by the disaster. This awareness begins at intake and requires the ability to assess for increased risk for addiction, family and domestic violence, and medical emergencies. Many people who have a pre-existing psychiatric condition, history of prior trauma or who struggle with multiple psychosocial stressors are at heightened risk. Within this context, it was suggested that pyschoeducation about the disaster and its insidious effects is an important tool.
Issues related to training and public education were identified as key. Many of the organizations represented implemented training for their staff and also worked to address feelings that staff had about the attack, primarily feelings of loss, anxiety, anger, and fear.
Resources were a central topic. The funding for disaster services was seen as restrictive and many social work services are not reimbursable. Keeping the mental health infrastructure healthy was also noted as key.
Everyone in the room spoke about how unprepared they were for a disaster of this magnitude. The loss and stress for social workers who responded to the disaster was profound and in some settings, not adequately attended to by the agency's administration. Some organizations provided training but it was seen as insufficient and ongoing training was identified as essential to enable staff do this difficult work.
Sadly, the discussion focused on what to do in the event of another attack. Can we anticipate a next time? Participants discussed the importance of learning from this disaster and agreed that the need to be more prepared is crucial.
Participants said that it was extremely helpful for them to have an opportunity to come together and share experiences and knowledge about disaster responses. NASW was identified as pivotal in its ability to bring together such a diverse group of service providers. NASW-NYC will work to provide support to the social service community and to social workers in the aftermath of September 11th.