If a ground war erupts in the Persian Gulf, U.S. military bases that receive casualties also will have to deal with families of the wounded -- and frightened and bewildered young children.
The Cooperative Disaster Child Care Program, based at the New Windsor Service Center, is preparing to deal with those children at the request of the RedCross. Volunteers will staff each base's family service center, set up to house relatives of the injured.
"The military expects a ground war to create a lot of immediate casualties," said program director Lydia H. Walker, 53. "The desert hospitals are not equipped for long-term care and will send the seriously wounded home. Their families will be there to meet them."
The CDCC program, started in 1980, trains volunteers to meet the needs of children in crisis. Workers assisted young victims of Hurricane Hugo and the San Francisco earthquake in 1989. In the event of a ground war, volunteers would care for children arriving at the service centers.
From its headquarters here, the staff can mobilize about 900 volunteers across the country within 24 hours.
"Our part is to offer a place of security and safety," said Walker, who added that volunteers work primarily with children from infancy through age 7. "Stressed and grieving relatives often have no time to deal with children. We give them 100 percent of our attention."
If a young child suffers trauma, a developmental crisis could occur, she said. Trained to be aware of a child's stress signals, the volunteers first meet the basicsurvival and security needs of an upset child separated from an injured mom or dad.
Once a child feels safe, volunteers provide activities designed to comfort. Playing in water or sand and re-enacting experiences with puppets often help children make sense out of their experiences.
After the 1989 hurricane, volunteers helped children in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, draw "Hugo -- All Messed Up," a huge mural on the walls of their center.
"We offer whatever the child needs, whether it's a lap, a snack, a nap or some time alone," said Walker.
Before the war broke out, Walker, who has five grown children of her own, wrote "When Children Ask About War," a pamphlet to help parents deal with a child's fears. Television has made most children aware of the events in the gulf region, whether or not they have a relative there, she said.
"Every child is impacted in some way by the war," she said. "Often the child will reflect a parent's emotions. When parents are stressed, so are children."
Walker, whose background is in psychology and education, used material from the volunteers' training program in offering "the best of what we know about whathappens to children under stress."
Young children don't understand politics and have difficulty dealing with facts and abstracts, she said. Parents should reassure children that they will be protected. She also advised against making a monster out of Saddam Hussein.
"Everybody is a victim of this war in some way," she said. "The children are our future, though. We must turn our attention to caring for them."
Copies of the pamphlet are available by calling the center at635-8734. Anyone interested in the training program for volunteers can also contact the center.
PARENTS CAN HELP CHILDREN COPE
* Talk with your child, providing simple, accurate information to questions.
* Talk with your child about your own feelings.
* Listen to what your child says and how your child says it. Is there fear, anxiety, insecurity? Repeating the child's words may help clarify feelings.
* Reassure your child.
* Repeat information and reassurances frequently.
* Hold the child and provide comfort. Touching is important.
* Spend extra time putting your child to bed. Leave a night light on.
* Observe your child at play. Listen to what he says.
Children often express feelings of fear or anger while playing.
* Provide play experiences to relieve tension. Work with modeling clay,paint or water. If children need to hit or kick, give them somethingsafe, like a pillow, ball or balloon.
* If your child lost a meaningful toy or blanket, allow the child to mourn and grieve. In time, you may want to replace the lost object.
* If you need help, contact your community human services agency or a religious adviser.
Prepared by the Cooperative Disaster Child Care Program