SOURCE: Save the Children

September 15, 2008 10:56 ET

States Must Do More to Help Day Care Centers Prepare for Emergencies, Says New Save the Children Report

When Disaster Strikes, How Safe Are Day Care Centers?

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - September 15, 2008) - Three years after Hurricane Katrina focused national attention on the need for disaster preparedness, most states and the District of Columbia have failed to set minimum standards to ensure that thousands of child-care facilities are prepared to respond to the needs of children in a disaster, according to a new report issued today by Save the Children.

For the full report, go to http://www.savethechildren.org/newsroom/2008/many-us-states-unprepared.html

"More than 90 percent of our nation's children live in areas that are at risk of some type of disaster," said Mark Shriver, Vice President and Managing Director of Save the Children's U.S. programs. "Yet only four states have set basic standards for child-care facilities, and 18 states are still behind in setting minimum emergency preparedness standards for schools."

Commissioned by Save the Children and conducted by the Mississippi State University Early Childhood Institute, the research reviewed standards in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and found that only four states -- Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington -- had mandated four basic emergency preparedness requirements for schools and child-care facilities.

Shriver noted that some states including Kentucky have made some progress in addressing licensing issues since the survey was completed in April. "We stand ready to assist states in helping create these standards."

The report also found that only nine states require licensed child-care facilities to have a designated relocation site and evacuation route in the event of a disaster.

"Save the Children is issuing a challenge to states to review their standards for schools and child-care centers and take steps immediately to ensure these facilities plan for the needs of children in emergencies," said Shriver, who has become one of the nation's leading advocates on providing greater assistance to children in domestic emergencies.

Save the Children is urging states to meet the following minimum requirements for child-care licensing:

--  Maintain written disaster plans that are coordinated with local
    emergency responders
--  Conduct evacuation drills in conjunction with local communities
--  Develop reunification plans for children and families
--  Develop written procedures to provide for children with special needs
    

In addition, Shriver noted, all states should require K-12 schools to have written emergency procedures that are coordinated with local emergency responders.

"When a child-care facility does not have a relocation site or evacuation route, staff members and children evacuating a building may not know where to go or the most direct route to safety," said Shriver. "This can lead to confusion and panic. It is common sense that states require child-care facilities and schools to have such plans."

Shriver was recently selected as chair of a new national commission on children and disasters. Created by Congress with members appointed by the President and Congress, the National Commission on Children and Disasters is expected to recommend changes that federal, state, and local governments need to make to meet the needs of children in emergencies.

"We are hopeful that this new report will assist the commission in its efforts to improve the way governments at all levels are meeting the needs of children during disasters," Shriver said.

A number of state officials across the country have expressed support for the report and the need for states to do more regarding licensing procedures for schools and day-care facilities. Some examples:

Maryland State Senator Brian Frosh:

"Protecting children has to be one of the nation's highest priorities. Save the Children has done a terrific service by highlighting the need to ensure children's safety during domestic emergencies. I'm glad to see that Maryland did well on Save the Children's scorecard. But we can do better, and I plan to work during the upcoming legislative session to make sure we do."

Arkansas State Senator Hank Wilkins:

"Making sure children are protected during natural disasters is a top priority. The Save the Children report raises some very important issues about the readiness of states to deal with children in emergencies. I am encouraged to hear that the Arkansas Department of Human Services is taking proactive steps to strengthen childcare disaster planning. I plan to pursue legislation this coming session to address any unmet needs or fill any gaps that may still remain."

Gordon Hickey, spokesman for Virginia Governor Tim Kaine:

"One of the lessons learned from hurricane Katrina is that evacuation plans must account for our most vulnerable citizens, including children. That's why in Virginia we have paid special attention to ensure every school and daycare has an evacuation plan."