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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 30, 2008

Expert on school safety, crisis counseling to speak Oct. 6

Marleen Wong, Ph.D., a national expert on school safety programs and crisis counseling, will present a seminar on the University of Iowa campus from 3 to 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6, in Room 2117 of the Medical Education and Research Facility. Her lecture, "The Aftermath of School Violence, Disasters and Terrorism: Evidence-Based Practices that Help Children Cope from Traumatic Events," is free and open to the public.

Wong is assistant dean, clinical professor and director of field education at the University of Southern California School of Social Work. She also directs a center that provides national leadership to increase access to psychological trauma care for students exposed to school or community violence.

For more than 30 years, Wong has provided counseling and training services to children, families, educators and mental health professionals. She has authored Federal Emergency Management Agency crisis counseling programs for schools following the 1994 Northridge earthquake; the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo.; and community violence during the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 2002 sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C. area.

Internationally, she has advised school and government officials on the effects of psychological trauma on school children and adults after devastating earthquakes in Kobe, Japan. In May 2008, she was invited to Sichuan Province in China to assist with post-earthquake recovery efforts.

During her visit to the UI, Wong will conduct a training session with school nurses and discuss what is known about psychological trauma in children and what adults, schools and communities can do to offer early intervention. The Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in the UI College of Public Health and the UI Injury Prevention Research Center are sponsoring her visit.

Children differ from adults in the way they process a traumatic event, according to Wong.

"Both tend to have the same cluster of symptoms, but adults are much more mature cognitively and mentally," Wong said. "Children have less experience and often can't put their feelings into words."

What's more, adults often miss -- or misinterpret -- the signs of distress in children after a crisis.

"Older male children are far more likely to act out or exhibit hostile behavior. Females may become withdrawn, quiet and isolated," Wong said. "We need to find out the true cause of why they're acting that way. Parents and teachers love their kids, but often are poor identifiers of children who have been traumatized."

One example of intervention is "Psychological First Aid for Students and Teachers: Listen, Protect, Connect - Model and Teach," a brochure Wong co-authored for teachers during a time of disaster or school crises.

"'Psychological First Aid' is intended to prevent children from suffering from acute psychological harm or post-traumatic stress," Wong said. "The 'Listen, Protect, Connect' model provides simple, step-by-step guidance for parents and educators who are not mental health professionals."

The model has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is available at

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications and External Relations, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647,