School-Based Disaster Recovery: Promotion of Children's Mental Health Over the Long Haul

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The February 2010 earthquake and tsunamis destroyed 80% of the coastal town of Dichato, Chile, displacing over 400 families for nearly 4 years. The coalition Recupera Chile (RC) participated in the town's integrated recovery process from January 2011 to the present with a focus on children's mental health. The multidisciplinary RC coalition emphasized community-led post-disaster recovery, economic capacity rebuilding, and community health promotion (www.recuperachile.org). RC's child health team fostered partnerships between the local elementary school, health clinic, Universidad de Concepcion, and Boston Children's Hospital. The team responded to priorities identified by the town with a three-pronged approach of (1) case management, (2) resource development, and (3) monitoring and evaluation. This work resulted in the development of a model school-based program: La Escuela Basada en Realidad, which encompassed (1) health and mental health, (2) language and literacy, and (3) love of the sea. Post-disaster programs targeting mental health require a multi-year approach that extends beyond the completion of the physical reconstruction. Recovery is an organic process that cannot be prescripted and depends on solutions that emerge from the community. Finally, partnerships between schools and universities can foster resiliency and sustainability of programs for children and families.