By 30 September 2016, all states will be required to create child care disaster plans under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, which include procedures for facilities to: evacuate; relocate; shelter-in-place; lock-down; communicate; reunify families; continue operations; and accommodate infants, toddlers, and children with additional physical, mental, or medical needs.
Children make up nearly 25 percent of the population in the United States. Yet, in the aftermath of almost every major disaster, the need to further improve policies and procedures for children during and after a disaster is noted. One of the most prominent examples was during the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, which caused more than 5,000 children to become separated from their families. Further, the comprehensive report issued in 2010 by the National Commission on Children and Disasters detailed numerous issues and recommendations, the vast majority of which are still outstanding.
Adding to the need to increase preparedness for children is the way in which employment has changed in the United States. According to the Child Care Aware® of America’s 2015 report “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care,” substantial changes have occurred in the availability of child care. Half of all mothers, and only a third of mothers with children less than three years old, worked outside the home 40 years ago. Today, nearly 75 percent of mothers are in the labor force, including 61 percent of mothers with children less than three years old. As a result of this trend, more children are receiving out-of-home care than ever before. Throughout the nation, nearly 11 million children under the age of five receive child care. Most children spend an average of 36 hours each week in child care.
Current & Future Legislation
Given these figures, emergency preparedness efforts at the child care level are becoming increasingly important. Congress recently sought to increase child care emergency preparedness efforts through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014, signed into law by President Barack Obama on 19 November 2014. This law reauthorized the CCDBG Program, the primary federal funding for child care assistance for families. The reauthorization included several new requirements, with a new focus on disaster preparedness. Under the 2014 CCDBG law, states must create a child care disaster plan that includes:
“Evacuation, relocation, shelter-in-place, and lock-down procedures, and procedures for communication and reunification with families, continuity of operations, and accommodation of infants and toddlers, children with disabilities, and children with chronic medical conditions.”
“Guidelines for the continuation of child care services in the period following the emergency or disaster, which may include the provision of emergency and temporary child care services, and temporary operating standards for child care providers during that period; and procedures for staff and volunteer emergency preparedness training and practice drills.”
States are required to create these plans by 30 September 2016.
The CCDBG Act of 2014 was not the only time Congress had emergency preparedness for children on its radar. Also of note, on 10 December 2015, H.R.2795 – First Responderentification of Emergency Needs in Disaster Situations passed the House of Representatives. If passed in the Senate, the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a report on the preparedness and protection of first responders. The H.R.2795 report would examine a variety of policies and procedures, including “the presence of a first responder’s family in an area impacted by a terrorist attack.” Given this language, the report would seemingly examine access to child care for first responders.
The Link Between Child Care & the Economy
Ensuring the continued availability of child care within a community is a tremendous driver of a community’s economic health and viability, as access to child care is a prerequisite for many before they can return to work. Communities that ensure the availability of continued child care services during and in the aftermath of a disaster can expedite reopening businesses and reestablishing essential services. This also allows first responders to return to work more quickly, without delaying to find a new source for child care. This further provides a benefit to children, as they can return to a normal schedule and become reunited with their peers, thus restoring stability and familiarity.
A December 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG), “The Response to Superstorm Sandy Highlights the Importance of Recovery Planning for Child Care Nationwide,” provides further insight on these issues, and highlights the challenges faced by child care providers in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. As in past disasters, many child care facilities struggled with continuity of operations, and had difficulty navigating the disaster assistance process after the storm, causing additional delays in business restoration.
In sum, there is still much to do to increase preparedness for children in the United States, which include but are not limited to: ensuring timely, accurate information is sent to parents; developing and testing evacuation and shelter-in-place plans; and recognizing and caring for the unique mental health needs of children post-disaster.
Thanks to the generous support of an anonymous funder, Child Care Aware® of America launched a new emergency preparedness program in 2015. The program will focus on training Child Care Resource and Referral staff and child care providers, providing technical assistance, developing resources, engaging with key stakeholders, and advancing the national dialogue on the important role of child care before, during, and after emergencies.
Through the recent actions by Congress, the efforts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children and Families, the Federal Emergency Management Agencies’ focus on children and disaster, and the establishment of an emergency preparedness program at Child Care Aware® of America will lead to broader discussion and collaboration on children’s unique needs within the preparedness community.
Andrew R. Roszak
Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-P, serves as the executive director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness and as an advisor for the Domestic Preparedness Journal. He is the author of the Preparing for the Unexpected Series of books, which includes “Preschool Preparedness for an Active Shooter.” He has spent over 20 years working on emergency preparedness, response, and recovery issues. He is admitted to the Illinois and District of Columbia Bars and is admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court. Find him on Twitter: @AndyRoszak.