Washington, DC - Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have directly affected over 6.5 million people, who live in or who have fled from, disaster areas designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), including nearly 1.5 million children age 14 and younger. Many of these families need food, shelter, clothing, and in numerous cases, trauma counseling to begin to heal and put their lives back together. The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) has heard from numerous communities and parents who are also in desperate need for child care assistance so that their children are safe while they turn to the task at hand – either cleaning up debris or looking for and getting a job.
"Nearly half a million children under 5 were directly affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said Linda Smith, Executive Director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), "Our primary concern is that these children are in safe places while their parents do whatever is necessary to rebuild their lives. Whether parents are trying to find a new job, rebuild a devastated business, or clean up their home and neighborhood, access to safe child care for their children is absolutely essential."
"I am very concerned that children will be left alone with disastrous consequences. It was reported to us this week from Mobile, Alabama that a two year old child had died after being left alone in a van, presumably under the care of some well-meaning volunteers," said Smith. "We don't know the details and we understand that the situation is under investigation. But what is concerning is that well-meaning volunteers may have accidentally enabled this tragedy to happen."
"We are all grateful for volunteers to help out in times of emergency. At the same time, parents want to know that their children are safe," said Smith. "Child care is a critical support that families with children need in order to restore their lives. Parents simply can't leave their children home alone at a shelter or with complete strangers. Parents need to know, particularly after a traumatic situation, that their children are well cared for."
Across the country, local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies are working to help displaced families find child care and connect formerly employed child care workers with those who need care. NACCRRA is calling on Congress to provide sufficient funds to ensure that any family who lives in a disaster area or has fled from a disaster area, can access the child care they need.
"There are really two things we need to do in alleviating the child care problem facing families affected by the Hurricanes," explains Smith, "First, we need to ensure that safe child care is available and second, that the supply of child care actually exists."
"In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas many child care facilities have been completely destroyed. Others have been severely damaged or closed due to public health problems such as rapidly growing mold," said Smith. "Nonprofit child care centers and local Resource & Referral Agencies that help parents find child care need access to grants to repair, renovate, or rebuild child care facilities. In communities where the child care supply has been wiped out, FEMA grants ought to be able to be used to build temporary child care facilities," said Smith. "In areas experiencing a large influx of evacuated families, communities ought to have access to FEMA funds to construct temporary child care facilities."
"What we are concerned about is that states should not have to choose between their current working poor families and newly evacuated or storm-impacted families who both have a great need for child care assistance," said Smith. "Congress must make sure that addressing the child care needs of families and communities is part of any Katrina relief package. "
To understand the magnitude of the affect on children, NACCRRA looked at the number of children in FEMA declared disaster areas as a result of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. The following table shows the number of children in various age groups affected in each of the stricken states.
About Child Care Resource and Referral: Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies help families find, select, and pay for child care, as well as provide training and support to child care providers and help communities and states meet their child care and parenting needs. Through the Child Care Aware® program, funded through a cooperative agreement with the Child Care Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half a million families each year are connected to their community Child Care Resource and Referral agencies through the national hotline and Web site, http://www.ChildCareAware.org
About NACCRRA: NACCRRA exists to improve the development and learning of all children by providing leadership and support to state and community Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and promoting national policies and partnerships that facilitate universal access to quality child care. NACCRRA is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington , D.C. , representing a network of more than 850 state and local Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies across the country. To find out more information about NACCRRA, go to http://www.naccrra.org