EDITORIAL: Caring for kids in a disaster
|Editor's note: This is a third-party editorial that does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of EMS1.com.|
Copyright 2007 Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — President Bush said the one thing he would have taken, had he been a New Orleans resident forced to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina, would have been his dog, Barney. That's a lovely story of furry fidelity. Lucky for Barney, the federal government last year followed up with legislation providing protection for pets during disasters.
The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act requires emergency preparedness authorities to include in their plans accommodations for Fido and Muffin. Fido's law has teeth, too. States and communities that don't follow through can kiss federal disaster relief funds goodbye.
That's good. Now how about more attention on what happens to children in such disasters?
A study conducted by physicians at the University of Arkansas for Medical Services and Arkansas Hospital found most local medical emergency service agencies across the country have no specific, written plan for the care of children in a mass tragedy. Most agencies have not met with schools or child-care centers to discuss emergency planning.
Children need special equipment, diapers, formula, baby food, safe shelter, counseling, child care, constructive activities and schooling. When they get separated from parents in a disaster, they need to be identified so families can be reunited. Parents contending with loss and tragedy need occasional respite from their kids. Parents, teachers, social workers and anyone else connecting with children after a disaster need training to recognize symptoms of trauma; that can manifest itself in unusual clinginess or irritability in very young children, or withdrawal and extra risk-taking by teenagers.
"People need to be educated on trauma and the effects of trauma on children of different ages," said Joy Osofsky, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Louisiana State University's Health Sciences Center. Osofsky worked with children and families of first responders after the Katrina disaster.
The House this week approved a resolution creating the National Commission on Children and Disasters, a panel of child, family and emergency experts that would recommend ways to address children's needs. The cost: $2 million a year. The Senate should adopt this soon.
The number of major emergencies in the U.S., the kind that prompt a presidential disaster declaration, has been growing. The U.S. saw an average of 38 disasters a year in the 1980s. That jumped to 46 a year in the 1990s and 52 a year from 2000 to 2005.