Parent-Reported Child Reactions to the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center Attacks (New York USA) in Relation to Parent Post-Disaster Psychopathology Three Years after the Event

Betty Pfefferbaum, Zorica Simic, Carol S North

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


IntroductionParents are a primary support for children following disasters, even though they face numerous challenges in addressing the physical and social consequences of an event. Parents who are directly exposed to a disaster and those who develop psychiatric disorders post-event are likely to be especially challenged and may be limited in their ability to support their children. This Brief Report describes a pilot study of survivors of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center (New York USA) attacks who reported their own psychosocial consequences and the reactions of their children three years post-event.HypothesesThe primary hypothesis of the study was that children's September 11th reactions would be associated with their parents' psychiatric status. Secondary hypotheses were that the children's disaster reactions would be associated with direct exposure to the disaster in children and/or their parents, parent-child separation due to the disaster, and disaster-related school absence.MethodsApproximately three years after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, 116 parents recruited from disaster-affected or disaster-related organizations were assessed using structured diagnostic interviews and queried about their children's (188 youths, aged three to 17 years at the time of the attacks) posttraumatic stress symptoms and behavioral changes.ResultsAlmost one-half of the parents had a post-disaster psychiatric disorder, including major depression in 27% and disaster-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 11%. More than three-fourths of the children had at least one disaster-related posttraumatic stress symptom, and more than one-half experienced at least one post-disaster behavior change. A minority of the children were reported to have increased school behavior problems or a decline in their grades. Key correlates of children's disaster-related posttraumatic stress symptoms and post-disaster behavior changes were parent-child separation due to the disaster and parental post-disaster psychiatric disorders.ConclusionBecause parents provide primary caretaking and support for children post-disaster, addressing the needs of parents is critical to their ability to assist their children. Reducing parents' symptoms should increase their emotional availability and enhance their ability to address the needs of their children. Given the challenges in providing disaster interventions directly to children, especially when resources are limited, addressing parent psychopathology and distress (even in the absence of focusing on children's symptoms) may benefit children.Pfefferbaum B, Simic Z, North CS. Parent-reported child reactions to the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks (New York USA) in relation to parent post-disaster psychopathology three years after the event.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018


  • children
  • disaster
  • parents
  • September 11 attacks
  • terrorism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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