New Reports Reveal Millions of Children Vulnerable Should Disaster Strike
WASHINGTON, D.C., (August 23, 2010) — New reports from Save the Children and the National Commission on Children and Disasters reveal that the federal government and a vast majority of states are still not fully prepared to protect children in disasters, five years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.
Children participate in a Save the Children program following Hurricane Katrina intended to build community and self-esteem and strengthen resilience.
According to Save the Children's report, fewer than one quarter of all states and the District of Columbia have enacted four basic safeguards to protect kids who are in school or child care during disasters, such as requiring all licensed child care centers to have a plan to reunite children with their families and requiring schools to have a clear written evacuation plan in place.
A report approved today by the National Commission on Children and Disasters shows modest progress at the federal level to accommodate the needs of children should a disaster strike. Among the findings are seriously underfunded federal programs for school disaster preparedness, inadequate coordination among federal, state and local agencies and lack of preparedness in our private health care system, including a disturbing finding that only six percent of hospital emergency rooms carry essential pediatric equipment.
Hurricane Katrina revealed the harm children and families experience when kids are not accounted for in disaster planning:
- The storm displaced nearly 200,000 children from the Gulf Region.
- Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it took six months for all of the 5,192 children separated from their families to be reunited.
- About 50,000 Louisiana and Mississippi children missed school in the 2005-2006 school year and approximately 15,000 did not attend in the 2006-2007 school year.
- More than a third of Louisiana children affected by the storm experienced clinically-diagnosed depression, anxiety, or another behavior disorder.
"Parents assume that their children are taken care of when they drop them off at school or child care,” said Mark Shriver, Save the Children U.S. Programs senior vice president, “But many schools and child care facilities are not required to meet basic standards to protect kids should a disaster strike. For the 67 million kids separated from their families on any given day, this is unacceptable. If we're not prepared to protect kids, we're not prepared to protect America."
The BP Oil Spill this summer also revealed a major lack of preparation. Families recovering from this man-made disaster are experiencing similar issues that families face in the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural disaster. The spill has had catastrophic effects on the local economy and the community, and has placed enormous strain on parents, who are forced to pull their kids out of child care because they cannot afford it. Struggling parents frequently must bring their kids with them to BP claim centers, where they face long lines outside in the summer heat, putting children at risk for heat exposure.
In order to better prepare our nation to protect kids in an emergency, Save the Children urges the adoption of all four standards outlined in the report by states as well as federal passage of the Child Safety, Care, and Education Continuity Act of 2010 (H.R. 5240/S. 2898), which would require states to adhere to many of the same standards. Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL) is the sponsor of the House legislation, and Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are the sponsors of the Senate measure.