The trauma specialists working in Butte County schools knew they'd start seeing kids act out around six months after the deadly Camp Fire, since anniversaries are known to trigger survivors into reliving moments of the traumatic event.
But there aren't enough counselors to help all of the students, teachers and staff dealing with this second wave of trauma.
“We have six schools that have requested help, and we can't bring help to them,” said Roy Applegate, who helps coordinate Recovery Trauma Services for the Butte County Office of Education. “It’s a little bit like rain in the desert in the summer: As soon as it hits the ground, it disappears. We can give our counselors as many hours as they need, and they're full up all the time. They're working to the max.”
Just like during the fire itself, different people are dealing with different levels of trauma.
"It depends on whether or not they've secured some basic levels of need: housing, food, routine access to resources," said Dena Kapsalis, director of student services for the Paradise Unified School District.
But regardless of their situation, all families may notice their kids exhibiting unusual behavior.
"We're seeing lots and lots of manifestations of trauma," Kapsalis said. "A lot of acting out, tiredness, inability to focus, shutting down, being unable to maintain relationships with adults or peers.”
While it may be distressing for parents to see their kids struggling, Kapsalis says counselors try to instead view this acting out as a form of communication.
“The gift of being with kids is that they don't second-guess themselves typically. So we're afforded the ability to have more transparent responses and communication from them,” Kapsalis said. “So they're communicating loss, they're communicating a need for help, a need for support.”