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Senate looks at children in post-terrorism world

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. Senate subcommittee Friday began to grapple with the traumatic effects of the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the anthrax crisis on the nation's children.

"Twenty percent of our population is made up of children, yet children are 100 percent of our future," said Senator Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut, who chairs the Subcommittee on Children and Families.

The panel looked at both the psychological and physical impacts that acts of terrorism have on children.

Bernard S. Arons, director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said difficulties children may have sleeping or doing other routine activities should be expected for a time.

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"If there are persistent sleep problems, if there are behavior problems that persist after that," Arons said, "if a child is refusing or unwilling to go to school as they were before, these are all important signs" that an assessment may be necessary.

But he stressed that an assessment doesn't by itself mean that there is an illness or that treatment is necessary.

Schools are entering uncharted waters when it comes to monitoring student behavior in the wake of September 11, said Cindy Dickinson, crisis coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

"All of us need training in dealing with traumatic and critical incidents," she said. "Traumatic events training is much different than the general crisis management. We provided the counseling that was necessary but we have new threats and new worries. Our headlines tell us everyday that new and persistent and worrisome things might come our way."

Nikki Atkinson, a high school student in Springfield, Virginia, and the daughter of a military officer working at the Pentagon, testified with a panel of experts on child behavior.

"Things have changed at my school," Atkinson said. "The moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance have become more important. My guy friends have talked about enlisting. Students are worried about anthrax and having another possible attack. Many of us are rethinking our career options, and life just seems different."

She said the message that the country is on a war footing hit home when her father began going to work in fatigues instead of a dress uniform.

Dodd worried that children are not only more vulnerable psychologically to the attacks, but also physically.

"Because they breathe more times per minute than adults, they are more susceptible to biological or chemical agents," Dodd said. "Because their skin is thinner than that of adults, they are more susceptible to toxic agents that can pass through skin."

Dr. Joseph Wright, representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, testified, "Children have specific medical, psychosocial and logistical needs that must be met during and after a disaster. We can not assume that those needs will be met just because we have developed plans that work for adults."

Among the recommendations that AAP made to the subcommittee:

-- Ensure ambulances and emergency departments have child size equipment such as oxygen masks, IV tubes and neck braces.

-- Provide additional training to health-care professionals who care for children and help them recognize symptoms of biological or chemical agents in children.

-- Have school child care and after-school care facilities prepare disaster plans.


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