19 Sep How Disasters Impact Our Most Vulnerable – The Plight of Our Communities’ Children
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, more than 160,000 children were displaced from their homes.
Along with their families, these children experienced all of the chaos and extreme upheaval of that historic disaster: the deadly flooding, the weeks and months of unpredictability, and the lingering post-traumatic stress.
According to an extensive study of 1,079 households affected by the hurricane, more than one in three children (37 percent) were eventually diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or behavior disorder. The survey found that kids exposed to Katrina were nearly five times as likely to experience serious emotional disturbance compared to their pre-Katrina counterparts.
“Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to the effects of disaster,” the researchers wrote. “They have limited capacity to independently mobilize resources to help them adapt to stressful post-disaster circumstances, and are instead dependent upon others to make choices that will influence their household, neighborhood, school, and larger social environment.”
The authors called these disaster-affected children “bellwethers of recovery.” The idea is that if the mental and physical health of children are well served by institutions and safety nets after a disaster, it’s likely that adult populations would fare just as well. The reverse would also be true: If children are left to suffer post-disaster, it doesn’t bode well for everyone else, adults included.
Unfortunately, the immediate and long-term wellbeing of children often isn’t considered as part of emergency management plans for dealing with major disasters. At Good360, we are committed to addressing this critical gap in disaster planning, mainly through our support of nonprofit organizations that provide services to children and families.
Among these organizations is Child Care Aware of America, which works with state and local agencies to improve the quality and availability of childcare for families across the country. One of its major initiatives is educating stakeholders about the importance of considering children and child care in disaster planning.
Following a disaster, parents have to face the reality that childcare facilities may be unavailable for days and weeks, and possibly months. According to Andrew Roszak, senior director of emergency preparedness for Child Care Aware, the lack of child care is the biggest impediment to adults returning to work after a disaster, besides finding stable housing.
In one notable example, Hurricane Sandy shut down 11,500 child care programs in New York — more than half of the total programs in the entire state. The disaster forced the long-term closures of 700 child care facilities. Some stayed shut for as long as eight months. Some never reopened.
“The untold story of many disasters is the displaced children and the impact on their parents in terms of returning to work and normalcy,” Roszak said.
As families cope with the business of rebuilding, Good360 works with nonprofit organizations such as Child Care Aware to understand the actual needs of the communities and respond with the appropriate products. Often, this means providing new clothes, bedding, hygiene products, and cleaning supplies. Meanwhile, children have their own requirements.
“What happens frequently is that we’ll get donations that are well-intentioned but aren’t appropriate for children at all,” Roszak said. “I get the feeling that many people, even some emergency management professionals, think of children as if they’re little adults. They’re not. They have their own special needs.”
Three big areas of need in most disasters are age-appropriate bedding, toys, and hygiene products. Babies and young infants need safe, portable cribs, not the typical bedding arrangement that’s available in many makeshift shelters.
“You can’t have an infant rolling off a Red Cross cot and knocking their head on the floor,” Roszak said.
Toys and board games are always welcome distractions for children and families who are coping with disaster. Needless to say, these toys should be safe to use (no small parts for young children) and lead-free.
A “comfort toy” such as a stuffed critter can go a long ways toward easing a child’s trauma, Roszak said.
Through Good360’s partnership with the Hasbro Children’s Fund, the philanthropic arm of Hasbro, Inc., we have distributed “PlayRelief” kits to emergency shelters and daycare facilities in disaster zones, including those recently devastated by Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Harvey, and the Louisiana flooding of 2016. These kits contain a number of Hasbro games, including classics such as Chutes and Ladders, Trouble, and Sorry.
We have also partnered with Domtar Corporation to meet another critical need for children during a disaster: diapers. In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, people are displaced from their homes and don’t have easy access to critically needed hygiene products at this stage. They are also critical for long-term recovery because impacted families are forced to spend money on rebuilding and may need to cut corners on day-to-day needs.
During Hurricane Harvey, we distributed 135,000 Domtar baby diapers in Houston and other cities where people had sought shelter from the devastating storm. We’ve also gave away 2,800 cases of Domtar diapers to families still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, months after the disaster hit Robeson County.
Yet another overlooked issue in disaster response is the plight of children belonging to first responders themselves. Because their parents need to show up for duty at a moment’s notice, these children must cope with the upheaval of natural disasters and other catastrophes, even if they’re not anywhere near the affected zones.
Children of first responders traumatized by events can face “secondary traumatization.” A study of EMT workers found that their children showed high rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
The need to include children during disaster planning is an ongoing challenge. Every day in the U.S., some 69 million children are separated from their parents or other caregivers to attend school or daycare. Children under 18 make up a quarter of the American population. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children are affected by public health emergencies and natural disasters each year throughout the U.S.
If you are a nonprofit organization that serves children and families, and are in need of products, including use in disasters, you can learn more about a becoming Good360 member here.