Being Prepared: Helping Child Welfare Agencies with Disaster Planning

By Gnatt, Randall L. | Policy & Practice, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Being Prepared: Helping Child Welfare Agencies with Disaster Planning


Gnatt, Randall L., Policy & Practice


Disasters are inevitable and increasing in frequency. Over the past few years, we have witnessed 100-year-floods in the Midwest, major earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, earthquakes coupled with devastating tsunamis in Japan and American Samoa, the public health emergency caused by the H1N1 outbreak and the unprecedented oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Given that disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, it is essential that human service agencies and professionals be prepared to respond and provide critical services and assistance to affected citizens. In its 2010 Report to the President and Congress, the National Commission on Children and Disasters recommended more than 100 actions for federal, state and local partners, including steps to improve child care and child welfare preparedness.

Child Care

With more than 12 million children under the age of six in child care each week, child care emergency preparedness is crucial to ensuring a safe environment for children during and after a disaster. However, according to a 2010 report by Save the Children, only 14 states have laws or regulations requiring licensed child care providers to develop written disaster plans for addressing general evacuation processes, reunification efforts, and accommodation of children with disabilities or other special needs.

Following a disaster, child care also is essential to restoring the economic health of a community as the ability of residents to return to work depends on the availability of child care. However, child care services have often been slow to recover after major disasters, placing further economic stress on families and communities.

Maintaining the safety of children in child care and the continuity of child care services requires advance planning by child care providers and state child care administrators. The commission recommended that state administrators collaborate with emergency management, public health and the provider community to develop statewide child care disaster plans. State administrators can play an important role by helping to better prepare providers, by supporting providers after a disaster to help them recover and by providing emergency child care services for children and families.

In March 2011, the Administration for Children and Families' Office of Child Care (OCC), in collaboration with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the commission, issued comprehensive guidance to assist state child care administrators in developing, exercising and maintaining child care emergency preparedness and response plans. The OCC's stated goal is that each state develops and maintains a written, comprehensive, multi-hazard plan. The Information Memorandum on Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning for Child Care can be accessed at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ccb/law/guidance/current/im2011-01/im2011-01.htm.

Also in March 2011, Save the Children and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies jointly released detailed disaster planning standards for child care providers. In addition to guidance for providers, the resource contains recommended disaster preparedness licensing standards for states to adopt for their providers. Protecting Children in Child Care During Emergencies: Recommended State and National Regulatory and Accreditation Standards for Family Child Care Homes and Child Care Centers and Supporting Rationale can be accessed at http://www.naccrra.org/publications/naccrra-publications/publications/8960503_Disaster%20 Report-SAVE_MECH.pdf.

In response to the commission's concerns about the availability of child care services following a disaster, FEMA recently revised its public assistance policy to permit reimbursement to state and local governments for the provision of emergency child care services that coincide with the emergency sheltering period in the immediate aftermath of a federally declared disaster. …

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Being Prepared: Helping Child Welfare Agencies with Disaster Planning
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