On September 11, 2001, approximately 25,000 children were living or attending school in lower Manhattan, some in close proximity to the WTC.
Within hours of the disaster, the New York City Board of Education (now the Department of Education [DOE]) provided principals and teachers with guidance on addressing the immediate needs of students. The Board recognized, however, that children in public schools needed immediate, expanded mental health services—including grief counseling, early intervention for post-traumatic stress disorder, and assistance managing fear, anxiety and anger—that could not be provided by the existing staff of school-based mental health professionals.
In the first year after the terrorist attack, DOE used a $4 million federal grant to expand mental health services for students and school staff. For the next two years, DOE participated in the federally funded Project Liberty program, administered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in collaboration with the New York State Office of Mental Health. Through a combination of federal and city funding 400,000 members of the school community received mental health services, including individual and group crisis counseling, public education and referrals for more intensive and long-term care.
In 2004, as Project Liberty services were ending, DOE received another $4 million federal grant to address the continuing 9/11 needs of the City’s school children. A year later, the American Red Cross provided substantial funding for student and staff-focused mental health services, including a $1 million grant to Community School District 2.
While this federal and private support now has ended, it assisted lower Manhattan schools in addressing ongoing student needs by enhancing the capacity of in-house staff to assist with conflict resolution and to refer students who still may be experiencing serious WTC-related psychological distress to mental health services. For those students and school staff who cannot afford to pay for such services, the city has funded a mental health benefit to ensure that they get the help they need through a licensed provider.
More than 3,000 children who were under the age of 18 on September 11, 2001 were enrolled by their parents in the WTC Health Registry. By 2004, their parents had completed a comprehensive survey that asked them about:
- their children’s level of exposure on the day of the attack and in the days and weeks that followed
- if their children had incurred any injuries on September 11th
- how their children’s physical health before the attacks compared to their physical health at the time of the survey
- the state of their children’s mental health in the 30 days prior to the survey
The results of this survey are significant for two reasons—they provide epidemiologically valid research about children and students and they provide researchers with a basis of comparison (or “baseline”) for surveys about the health of these individuals over the long term.
Besides the Registry’s baseline survey findings, there have been few findings about the impact of 9/11 on children. However, a study of New York public school children showed high rates of probable mental health problems 6 months after the attacks. In December 2008 , the Registry completed follow-up health surveys of child and adolescent enrollees. The follow-up surveys will help determine to what extent physical and mental health conditions have persisted among children after 9/11, and whether any new symptoms and conditions have emerged.
The Health Department also published clinical guidelines for treating children exposed to the WTC disaster.