Six months after Hurricane Katrina, America has all but forgotten the children affected by the storm - especially its' infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers. There were more than 400,000 children under the age of five living in areas designated by FEMA as disaster areas. We know that Katrina literally left thousands of small children homeless and traumatized.
Since the onslaught of the storm, the government has failed on many counts:
Efforts to rebuild child care have lagged far behind other facilities. Many child care programs couldn't afford insurance. That means that rebuilding is simply out of the question, unless assistance is provided. And, let me emphasize - we won't be able to rebuild businesses unless parents have child care.
Since Katrina hit, NACCRRA has been asking FEMA for help with child care reconstruction. However, we are caught in a vicious cycle. Here in Washington, FEMA officials tell us that child care qualifies for disaster assistance. But, programs at the local level are being denied assistance because local FEMA representatives say child care is not authorized. This can be fixed immediately! FEMA can clarify guidance authorizing the use of emergency funds for reconstruction and repair of child care facilities.
And what can we do for parents? Think of the traumatized 2- year-old left in a strange place afraid that their parents won't come back for them - how utterly frightening. Parents need peace of mind that child care teachers have the training and support of mental health professionals as they work with children.
Finally, housing and wage incentive programs for child care teachers are essential. Most child care teachers who evacuated after the storm have not returned because they lack housing and there is no financial incentive to go back. If they do return, there is more incentive to work in a fast food restaurant than in child care. Fast food restaurants are offering $3,000 signing bonuses and paying $10 an hour ... double the $5.15 earned by child care teachers.
The treatment of children in the aftermath of Katrina can only be described as a "a second disaster" - one we will pay for in years to come - and one that will affect more than the children, themselves.
As we approach the six-month anniversary of Katrina, NACCRRA calls on Congress, the President, FEMA and state governments to pay attention to children by creating an office designated to support children during disasters and supporting the reconstruction of high quality child care in the Gulf Coast region.