Hurricane Katrina exposed the widespread neglect of children in U.S. emergency planning. Ten years after Katrina a Save the Children’s 2015 National Report on Protecting Children in Disasters shows that little to no change has been made in policies that help protect children during natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina caused more than 1,800 deaths along the Gulf Coast and left about 80% of New Orleans underwater. Remarkably, few children died as a result of the storm, but the storm separated families leading to 5,000 reported cases of missing children. Children, who remain among the most vulnerable survivors of the storm, continue to suffer from serious emotional and developmental issues due to the trauma they experienced during and after Katrina.
Many advocacy groups including the American Red Cross, the Children’s Health Fund, and Save the Children have worked hard since Hurricane Katrina to make sure the needs of affected children are met. In response to advocacy efforts after Katrina, President George W. Bush and Congress created the National Commission on Children and Disasters (NCCD) to assess the gaps in federal planning that put children at risk, and to formulate recommendations that could guide a national movement to close those gaps and help states better protect young people.
In 2010, the NCCD released its report on disasters and their effect on children. The NCCD report stated its concern that “children’s mental and behavioral health needs are virtually ignored across federal and state disaster planning efforts, and training exercises neglect to test for pediatric mental health response capacity.” The NCCD report argued that addressing children’s needs in federal disaster planning has not been institutionalized, and as a result, may not continue under future administrations. The report also contained 81 recommendations aimed at ensuring children’s unique needs are accounted for in U.S. disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. The NCCD was dissolved on April 4, 201, due to a statutory provision requiring the commission be disbanded 180 days after its final report is issued.
In 2015, Save the Children conducted research to determine the progress made on the recommendations. The study finds that while the federal government has made progress in disaster planning, U.S. children remain unacceptably vulnerable during disasters. Save the Children’s research indicates the NCCD failed to address the major gaps in disaster planning concerning young people throughout the country.
Children’s mental and physical health are severely affected by disasters. First, kids have unique physical and medical needs, and are more susceptible to chemical, biological, and nuclear threats. Second, children face important developmental risks as disruption to their schooling, housing, friendships, and family networks can stunt their ability to advance emotionally, socially, and academically.
Research from the American Psychological Association indicates after a disaster many children experience academic failure, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, delinquency, and substance abuse. Without adequate adult support and guidance children may not receive the care, protection, shelter, and transportation they require during a disaster. A 2006 study by the Children’s Health Fund and the National Center for Disaster Preparedness warned that 20 percent of displaced children were either not enrolled in school or not attending regularly, missing an average of 10 days a month.
Save the Children’s 2015 National Report on Protecting Children in Disasters also highlights the need to improve national and regional leadership as well as coordination of emergency pediatric health and transportation around disasters. More child-serving institutions in state emergency planning are essential in dealing with the medical needs of children during a disaster. States have dedicated less than one penny for every $10 of general federal preparedness grants toward children’s needs in recent years, according to the report. Additionally, implementation of new policies and procedures are needed to insure families are quickly reunited with their displaced children after a major emergency. It took seven months for all every missing child to be reunited with his/her family following Hurricane Katrina.
In November 2014, Congress passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (S.1086), which was signed into law by President Obama. The Act revises and expands planning requirements regarding the needs of children before, during, and after a state of emergency. Nevertheless, advocates argue that more congressional action must be taken in order to adequately protect U.S. children during times of disaster.
On April 29, 2015, Save the Children visited Congress to promote their “Get Ready Get Safe Initiative” which aims to help U.S. communities prepare to protect and care for children during a time of crisis. House Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) commented, “There is still much work to be done to protect children and make sure their families get the services they need in times of crisis. I urge my colleagues to join me in making this a priority.” No bills have been introduced in the 114th Congress to protect children during disasters.
To download the full Save the Children’s 2015 National Report on Protecting Children in Disasters click here.
For more information on the report contact Michael May at Michael.May@warwickconsultants.net