What About the Children?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

THE NATIONAL Commission on Children and Disasters will finally hold its first meeting today -- nine months after Congress gave it statutory life and three years after Hurricane Katrina laid waste the Gulf Coast and exposed the stunning lack of forethought about or preparation for the evacuation, shelter and repatriation of children and their families. The experience of families during Hurricane Ike only highlighted the necessity of this effort.

The commission will have 16 months to develop regulatory and legislative recommendations for the president and Congress. These steps were taken for pets two years ago: In the wake of Katrina, federal authorities moved speedily to require disaster plans for states and localities to include plans for pets and service animals. They also made federal funds available to provide for the "rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs" of pets and their owners. Children and their families deserve the same consideration.

According to a field report by Save the Children from San Antonio, a cavernous warehouse used as a shelter during Hurricane Ike was not exactly suitable for families with children. There were no portable cribs for infants and small children. As a result, little ones were free to roam the huge facility. One was seen near a busy road. Many of the cots were far from restrooms, which were portable toilets outside the facility. The showers were in the parking lot. The lack of planning for the needs of families and small children added enormous strain to an already stressful situation.

The first children's commission meeting is expected to focus on a broad variety of issues, including long-term housing and mental health. Another issue to be examined is child care. The lack of it hurts working parents and plays a role in keeping them from returning home or getting back into the workforce. This could have particular resonance in Galveston, Tex. Two out of 30 child-care centers reopened last Tuesday, a month after the barrier island was clobbered by Hurricane Ike. The sooner the commission can get recommendations to Congress and those proposals become law, the sooner children will no longer be afterthoughts to the officials charged with providing for their safety.

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