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Long Island

Experts concerned about Sandy's impact on young kids

Early childhood experts are concerned about a prolonged impact on young children displaced by superstorm Sandy and are on the lookout for an emotional toll, participants in a forum held at Molloy College said Thursday.

Ensuring that children returned as quickly as possible to their usual child-care centers was important, said Robin Beller, manager of the Long Island Regional Office (Child Care Services) of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

"The ultimate goal is the familiarity for the children," she said at the forum presented by The Early Years Institute of Plainview and held at Molloy's Suffolk Center in Farmingdale.

Experts spoke of the emotional costs to children, including the trauma of witnessing storm-damaged toys and family possessions piled on the curb.

The late October storm caused logistical and financial issues for hundreds of child-care providers and regulators in vulnerable areas, who scrambled to reopen centers.

Only about 525 regulated child-care programs on the Island -- out of a total of 1,870 -- were operating in the first week after the storm, Beller said. About 70 programs, including several in Long Beach, operated in buildings that were destroyed or suffered significant damage.

Seventeen programs are not operating, and about 10 have relocated to approved alternate sites.

Some providers who didn't have structural damage lost thousands of dollars in revenue because of days-long closures due to loss of power.

Deb Lyons, mental health specialist with the Bethpage-based Coalition Against Child Abuse and Neglect, suggested ways parents can help children, such as creating a safe place to process the experience, reducing exposure to storm images in the media and fostering routines.

She issued an early warning about the storm's first-year anniversary next fall.

"Unfortunately, this happened at Halloween," she said of Sandy, which struck on Oct. 29 and was followed by a damaging nor'easter the same week. "We are definitely keeping an eye for next year and preparing families for changes in behavior around that time."

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