Save the Children Report Finds U.S. Children Still at Risk 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina

Washington, D.C. (July 14, 2015) — Ten years after Hurricane Katrina exposed the widespread neglect of children in U.S. emergency planning, most recommendations of the national commission created to address those gaps remain unfulfilled, a new Save the Children report shows.

Nearly four in five of the recommendations issued by the National Commission on Children and Disasters in its 2010 final report have not been fully met, according to the new national disaster report card, titled: “Still at Risk: U.S. Children 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina.”

Hurricane Katrina had a devastating impact on children, displacing hundreds of thousands of kids from their homes, schools and communities, stranding many in unsafe sheltering and temporary housing conditions -- sometimes separated from their families for weeks at a time -- and leaving tens of thousands of traumatized children without adequate services to help them recover.

A subsequent investigation by the bipartisan National Commission on Children and Disasters, appointed by President George W. Bush and Congress, identified major gaps in the nation’s ability to protect U.S. children across 11 areas of disaster planning – including mental health, emergency medical services, child care, education, sheltering, housing and evacuation.

In the first comprehensive review of the commission’s 81 recommendations to address those gaps, the new report finds that only 17 have been fully met, with an additional 44 still a work in progress. The remaining recommendations – 20 in all – have not been addressed.

Hurricane Katrina Lessons Lost?

“A decade after the nation’s Katrina wake-up call, it’s unacceptable that children across the country still face unnecessary risks to their safety, health, emotional wellbeing and long-term development should disaster strike,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. “We know children’s unique needs make them especially vulnerable during and after emergencies. Our nation’s children deserve better without further delay.”

Despite important efforts to address children’s disaster-related needs at federal agencies, the new report concludes that more significant progress on the commission’s recommendations has been hampered by 1) a lack of leadership on children in disasters, including designated point-people at every relevant federal agency, 2) inadequate Congressional funding and 3) insufficient coordination between federal, state and local governments.

Action Needed

Among the most urgently needed federal actions cited by the new report:

  • Improve national and regional leadership and coordination of emergency pediatric health and transport so that health systems are fully prepared to manage large numbers of injured or sick children following a massive emergency. Currently less than half of all hospitals specifically address the care of children in their emergency planning.
  • Restore Congressional cuts and strengthen support of mental health programs in communities and schools that can offer distressed children immediate and continued access to counseling and guidance following a major disaster.
  • Encourage greater inclusion of children’s needs and child-serving institutions in state emergency planning. States have dedicated less than one penny for every of federal preparedness grants toward children’s needs in recent years.
  • Widely disseminate new guidance to communities that will help them quickly reunite families with their children after a major emergency. After Hurricane Katrina, more than 5,000 cases of missing children were reported and it was seven months before the last child was reunited with her family. Daily, 69 million children are separated from their parents while at school or child care.
  • Appoint an interagency children’s disaster coordinator embedded in the White House to reduce duplication of effort and ensure a more focused, coordinated approach to disaster planning for children among federal agencies.

Important Progress in States and Beyond

The report finds some significant progress on the commission’s recommendations, including improvements in emergency planning at the nation’s schools and child care. This year, three new states – Kansas, Oregon and South Carolina – meet all four minimum planning standards for schools and child care providers that Save the Children has tracked annually. That brings the total up to 32 states from 4 since 2008. Iowa is now the only state that fails to meet any of the four standards.

Furthermore, Congressional action last October is expected to move the number of states meeting the three child care preparedness standards – focused on evacuation planning, family reunification and children with special needs – from 32 to 50 by September 2016.

In addition, the report noted progress in key areas including:

  • A major increase in the number of states meeting emergency preparedness standards for schools. Today, only the District of Columbia and three states – Iowa, Missouri and North Dakota –still fail to require K-12 schools to have written, multi-hazard preparedness plans. However, the report also finds that cuts to school emergency planning grants has hampered implementation.
  • New standards to protect children’s physical safety and to support their recovery in emergency shelters, including specific guidance on providing age-appropriate supplies for infants and toddlers, such as diapers, formula and cribs. However, the report finds these standards are not always implemented smoothly and shelter managers still do not routinely count children upon registration.
  • The development of several new specialized units and advisory boards focusing on children’s emergency health needs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • FEMA-funded efforts by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to create a new, searchable Unaccompanied Minors Registry to better facilitate family reunification. However, barriers to data-sharing between various patient and evacuation tracking systems remain.

“Even 10 years later, many young people continue to struggle with the deep and enduring impact Hurricane Katrina had on their childhood,” Miles said. “The commission created a national roadmap to better protect children from disaster and to help them bounce back. Our leaders must finish the job.”

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1 billion children. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share. Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.


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