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August 31, 2010 > Five years after Katrina, children remain vulnerable during disasters

Five years after Katrina, children remain vulnerable during disasters

Submitted By Save the Children

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.

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 Hurricane's 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's 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.

To view a copy of Save the Children's report, please visit: http://www.savethechildren.org/publications/reports/2010-Disaster-Report.pdf

Save the Children's report is the second disaster preparedness report released by the organization. The 2010 year report found that 38 states and the District of Columbia did not meet all four basic standards, and seven states met zero. Only 12 states meet all four standards, including Mississippi and Alabama, which is five more than the 2009 report.

The five states that met all four standards in 2010 for the first time worked with Save the Children's U.S. Programs to meet them and, in many cases, adopted the exact same language as in the 2009 report.

Commissioned by Save the Children and conducted by Brown Buckley Tucker, the report reviewed four key standards identified by Save the Children, including plans for evacuation, reunification with families and evacuation for kids with special needs at child care facilities, as well as evacuation plans at schools.

About Save the Children's U.S. Programs:
Save the Children's U.S. programs has worked to break the cycle of poverty and improve the lives of children by ensuring they have the resources they need - like access to a quality education, healthy foods and opportunities to grow and develop in a safe environment. Save the Children's early childhood education, literacy, and physical activity and nutrition programs reached more than 50,000 children in the United States last year alone. Combined with emergency response work, the organization reached more than 60,000 children. For more information visit: http://www.savethechildren.org/us

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