Press Releases

Katrina and the Children: Press Statement of Linda K. Smith

February 14, 2006

Six months after Hurricane Katrina, America has all but forgotten the children affected by the storm - especially its' infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers. There were more than 400,000 children under the age of five living in areas designated by FEMA as disaster areas. We know that Katrina literally left thousands of small children homeless and traumatized.

Since the onslaught of the storm, the government has failed on many counts:

  • First, they failed to identify first-responders equipped to work with young children. This was graphically apparent in the days after the storm, when Katrina's parents, who were waiting in line for food, water and emergency funds, were forced to watch their children play in make-shift pens without qualified supervision or cling to their parent's legs as they stood in line in the hot sun. Why? Because child care was not considered "essential," and experts weren't allowed in to help. FEMA needed a "children's expert" to move the bureaucracy, and serve the children.
  • Second, they have failed to fund the clean-up and reconstruction of child care facilities. In some counties in Mississippi, over 95 percent of the child care programs were destroyed. Most are still closed. Today, in New Orleans, only 15 percent of child care programs have re-opened.
  • Third, they failed to train child care teachers to work with traumatized children. As traumatic as the storm was for grown-ups, imagine what it must have been like for children. Child care teachers, who are in general, under-trained, were at a loss for how to deal with children's comprehension of the storm and the damage it brought. Most were dealing with their own personal crises.
  • Finally, they have failed to provide adequate child care financial support for parents, to help them get back on their feet. Parents need child care in order to clean-up, re-build, and get back to work. But -- they still don't have it, because the infrastructure has been destroyed and child care subsidies have run out.

Efforts to rebuild child care have lagged far behind other facilities. Many child care programs couldn't afford insurance. That means that rebuilding is simply out of the question, unless assistance is provided. And, let me emphasize - we won't be able to rebuild businesses unless parents have child care.

Since Katrina hit, NACCRRA has been asking FEMA for help with child care reconstruction. However, we are caught in a vicious cycle. Here in Washington, FEMA officials tell us that child care qualifies for disaster assistance. But, programs at the local level are being denied assistance because local FEMA representatives say child care is not authorized. This can be fixed immediately! FEMA can clarify guidance authorizing the use of emergency funds for reconstruction and repair of child care facilities.

And what can we do for parents? Think of the traumatized 2- year-old left in a strange place afraid that their parents won't come back for them - how utterly frightening. Parents need peace of mind that child care teachers have the training and support of mental health professionals as they work with children.

Finally, housing and wage incentive programs for child care teachers are essential. Most child care teachers who evacuated after the storm have not returned because they lack housing and there is no financial incentive to go back. If they do return, there is more incentive to work in a fast food restaurant than in child care. Fast food restaurants are offering $3,000 signing bonuses and paying $10 an hour ... double the $5.15 earned by child care teachers.

The treatment of children in the aftermath of Katrina can only be described as a "a second disaster" - one we will pay for in years to come - and one that will affect more than the children, themselves.

H

As we approach the six-month anniversary of Katrina, NACCRRA calls on Congress, the President, FEMA and state governments to pay attention to children by creating an office designated to support children during disasters and supporting the reconstruction of high quality child care in the Gulf Coast region.