Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Save The Children Disaster Report Card: a special needs FAIL
Today, Save the Children comes out with its 2013 National Report Card on Protecting Children During Disasters. It rates states on how prepared they are for handling children during disasters like hurricanes and tornados. Sadly, nearly half of states FAIL when it comes to preparation for children with special needs. The report's naming names, and so am I.
Good: The majority of states require schools to have plans for multiple kinds of disasters and child care centers to have reunification plans. Less good: Not all states demand that child care providers have evacuation and relocation plans. Totally awful: 24 states do not require all child care providers to make plans for children with disabilities and functional needs. It's not possible to count on rescues; according to Save The Children, child care centers are often overlooked during response and recovery efforts. First responders often don't have even an official list of child care centers, so they can't prioritize responses.
If you live in Delaware, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas or Virginia and have a child with special needs in child care, inquire about their disaster plans—those states don't require one for all child care providers. Ditto if you live in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas and Michigan. Oh, and those last four states lack requirements for all child care providers and schools to have plans to keep children safe during disasters. Eeep. Ack. Outrageous.
This lack of planning for children with special needs can actually affect all children. "If caregivers do not plan and practice ahead of time, it can be extremely difficult to strike the right balance in protecting children with a variety of needs," notes Rich Bland, Save the Children's Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy. "Children with disabilities or access and functional needs may wind up without enough support to get to safety. Or caregivers trying their best in the moment may wind up with too little time left to attend to other children. You don't want to have to figure things out on the fly."
See how your state rates in an interactive map at Save The Children's new site Get Ready. Get Safe. You'll also find exact questions to ask the child care center and school, plus checklists for what your family, school and child care center can do to protect children during disasters. You can send a letter to your governor asking for more protection of kids during disasters, and donate to the cause to help keep children safe before, during and after emergencies.
Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed new emergency preparation rules for child care providers receiving funding for low-income families, there is no accounting for kids with special needs. Save the Children, along with major groups including the Special Olympics, The Arc, Easter Seals and Best Buddies, sent a joint letter to HHS requesting a provision for children with special needs. As Rich Bland says, "Most leaders think that merely requiring emergency plans for all children will be sufficient. In our experience, it is not."
I know it's frightening stuff to think about, but the alternatives are even scarier. Last year was the second costliest year of the U.S. disaster destruction on record. September is National Preparedness Month, and now you know: The people who are supposed to keep our kids safe may be totally unprepared for disasters. As their parents, we can help change that.
This is the first post of a series on disaster planning for special needs families that I'll be posting this fall.
Image: Flickr/The National Guard