Psychological Science Faculty Publications and Presentations

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Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, becoming the most devastating storm to impact the island in almost a century. Natural disasters have been shown to adversely impact children’s emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning and schools provide an ideal setting in which to implement wide-reaching interventions that can bolster resiliency and promote psychological recovery. Yet there is limited-to-non existent literature describing the actual implementation process of an evidence-based, trauma-informed intervention model within a school system after a natural disaster. This paper describes the process by which our team established a partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PR-DE) to implement the Puerto Rico Outreach Model in Schools-Esperanza (PROMISE), beginning shortly after Hurricane Maria made landfall. We describe our multi-phase, trauma-focused intervention model implemented with Puerto Rico school personnel using a Community Based Participatory Approach. PROMISE included 3 phases: 1) Phase 1 (three weeks post-hurricane): Providing Psychological First Aid training for school teachers and staff to meet the needs of all students affected by the hurricane through classroom-based intervention; 2) Phase 2 (six months post-hurricane): Providing Skills for Psychological Recovery training for school social workers and psychologists to meet the needs of students with sub-clinical trauma-related concerns and; 3) Phase 3 (one year post- hurricane): Providing Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training for school psychologists to address higher level and unremitting trauma-related symptoms in students. We describe the process by which key partnerships were established, the step-by-step implementation process of each phase, lessons learned from the field, and implications for practice, training, policy, and future research.

Key Take Away Points

  • Natural disasters adversely impact children’s emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning. Schools provide an ideal setting in which to implement wide-reaching interventions that can bolster resiliency and promote psychological recovery after a disaster.
  • A Community Based Participatory Approach, in which key stakeholders offer their concerns, needs, ideas, and help co-design a project together with the implementing team, offers a fruitful and respectful approach to post-disaster intervention planning.
  • Implementation of a multi-phase, trauma-focused intervention model within the school system of Puerto Rico post hurricane Maria was feasible and acceptable. The lessons learned outlined in the current paper can help inform future post-disaster intervention efforts.

Publication Title

Journal of Family Strengths

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Psychology Commons



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