Remember the kids

Posted: Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced a bill this month that seeks to ensure that the needs of children are met in the event of disaster. Ensuring children's well-being requires special consideration that until now has been an afterthought.

The first three sections of the Child Safety, Care and Education Continuity Act would provide an array of financial assistance to schools and students from pre-kindergarten through college in the event of an emergency. There would be tuition reimbursement for displaced students. Funding would be provided to school districts that take in students from disaster areas. College loan requirements could be waived or modified for students or schools. And many rules regarding child care and Head Start would be waived in an effort to hold the safety net in place. These provisions would kick in only if 10 percent or more of students enrolled in public or private elementary school in the affected state were displaced for more than 60 days after a presidentially declared disaster.

Probably most important is a provision on emergency planning for child-care centers. We were alarmed to learn from a report by Save the Children in June that 29 states don't require licensed child-care facilities and schools to have both evacuation and reunification plans. This legislation would require federally funded child-care centers to develop emergency plans for evacuation, reunification and special needs. With 67 million children under the age of 18 in schools or child-care centers across the country on any given day, this is vital.

The legislation acts on many of the recommendations issued by the National Commission on Children and Disasters in September. The body was established by Congress in 2008 to look at the gaps in planning, response and recovery related to children that were exposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The commission has succeed in getting the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse local and state governments for the costs of training, planning and purchasing equipment for children. In addition, shelter designs and supply lists have been changed. Areas will now be designated for families with children and will be furnished with diapers, formula, cribs, baby wipes and other essentials.

The Landrieu-Alexander bill shows that more needs to be done. We hope Congress will move on this quickly in the new year. Emergency preparedness won't be complete without thinking of children.

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