Experts note that problems to be expected in children who have experienced such a traumatic event include sleep disorders, problems with appetite and strong emotional reactions such as sadness, anger or fear, which manifest themselves depending on the child’s age, Ombudswoman Helenca Pirnat-Dragičević, who has visited the earthquake-hit area several times, said in an interview with Hina.
Pirnat-Dragičević said that around 70,000 people, including 13,000 children, had been directly affected by the 6.2 magnitude earthquake which claimed seven lives and caused extensive material damage.
She noted that according to information from the Red Cross, the number of children staying in temporary accommodation was varying on a weekly basis as families were returning to the area close to their homes – to stay in mobile housing units or with their relatives.
She said that she did not have complete data on the number of children who have left the earthquake-hit area, but was aware that many families had found accommodation in the regions of Istria and Primorje, staying with their relatives or friends, and that some had left for other countries.
Pirnat-Dragičević said the most affected were children left without a roof over their heads as well as those who had been growing up in poverty before the earthquake and children in need of special care due to developmental problems or disease.
She said that experts in mental health had prepared ample material for parents with information on what kind of responses can be expected in children who have experienced an earthquake and live in the time of a pandemic and information on how to help them cope.
Parents have also been instructed when to seek professional help and both they and children have been given phone numbers which they can contact for advice on mental health issues, Pirnat-Dragičević said.
She noted that the need for mental health care both in adults and in children was certain to increase in the coming period and underlined the importance of systematic, available and adequate care and support for all who need it.
She pointed to the insufficient number of mental health experts who work with children as well as lack of expert psychological help for children who live outside urban areas, a problem that has existed for years, noting that the recent crises and traumatic events had made those problems visible and that now was the time to address them systematically.
Speaking of the resumption of children’s usual activities, including online classes, Pirnat-Dragičević said that one should first establish if all children in the earthquake-hit area had the necessary conditions for online classes.
In some communities, such as those in the areas of Glina and Hrvatska Kostajnica, there are serious problems with signal strength and children would have difficulty following online classes, she said.
The ombudswoman also underlined the importance of psychological assistance to adults who take care of children – parents, grandparents and teachers, noting that webinars had been organised for teachers in Sisak-Moslavina County and the City of Zagreb and that additional workshops were being planned to follow up on their needs. Similar support is planned also for day-care workers, she said.