Storm Clouds Remain For Houston's Most Vulnerable Children
One Year After Hurricane Harvey, Children Of Incarcerated Parents Still Feel Impact
A Message from Jackie Grant, No More Victims Committee Chair
It has been more than a year since Hurricane Harvey battered Houston and the rest of the Texas Gulf Coast. The 50 or so inches of rain are long-gone. Most evacuees are home again, even if they are still trying to get repairs finished.
But that doesn’t mean the damage is behind us, especially for at-risk children, like the high school students in our No More Victims program. Our teens come from families where one or both parents have been incarcerated. They have experienced some of the worst emotional trauma that children can go through – violence, abandonment, abuse and crushing poverty.
After Harvey, many of our students wound up in shelters, sleeping in cars or couch-surfing in friend’s apartments. As Cherish Our Children International, we scrambled to find housing and basic necessities for our students and their families. We helped them get through the initial shock of the storm.
However, we know the impact of the storm will linger for a long time. We know that because of another Gulf Coast Hurricane, Katrina. After that hurricane wiped out New Orleans, a lot of studies looked at the longer-term impact on children. The results are alarming, especially for at-risk children. One particularly important study showed that more than 60% of high school students from the New Orleans area still suffered Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) up to 18 months after the hurricane hit. Other studies show that, while PTSD does diminish for most children over time, kids who are already under stress take longer to recover.
Why is that important for No More Victims students? Child psychologists know that risk factors are cumulative. The more a child is exposed to violence, abuse, the ravages of poverty, and fear, the more vulnerable they are violent outbursts, depression and, at worst, suicide.
Brain scientists are also learning a lot about how stress changes adolescent brain development. The short version is that the part of a teenager’s brain that processes stress is still developing. When teens are overloaded with stress, it creates a “perfect storm in their brains,” as one study describes it. What might be a manageable level of stress pushes them over the edge.
What we offer: No More Victims provides the safe space where students can voice their anger, deepest fears, and, ultimately, their dreams for the future. It relies on peer-support and the loving guidance of an adult facilitator. For 25 years, No More Victims founder, Marilyn Gambrell, has helped the children of incarcerated parents rise above their environment and go on to productive, valuable lives, free from incarceration. As one sign of our success, we have a nearly 100% graduation rate among our students.
Harvey hit our kids very hard, as it hit more than 20,000 other Houston children. We expect the impacts to be long-lasting and hidden beneath the surface of our students’ emotions. However, we know that our approach works and that it gives students the tools to survive and thrive, no matter what hits them.
Won’t you help us change the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in our society?