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Caring for tykes after disaster strikes

July 7th, 2011 11:31 pm by Rex Barber

MILLIGAN COLLEGE –– Police, firefighters, doctors, insurers and carpenters are all needed in the aftermath of a disaster, but so are child care providers, according to one Milligan College professor who helped write national guidelines on how child care centers could better prepare for a disaster.
Beverly Schmalzried, a nationally known child care advocate and professor of the practice of education at Milligan, wrote the guidelines that were recently released by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and Save the Children’s U.S. programs. She is the senior strategic adviser for the NACCRRA.
Schmalzried said there are about 12 million children in the United States who are enrolled each week in some kind of child care setting. Most of these children spend about 36 hours in the care of someone other than their parents or guardians each week.
“So it’s very likely a disaster could occur while they’re in care,” Schmalzried said. “So child care centers need to be prepared in case they need to evacuate. ... Or sometimes they need to lock down when there’s an intruder or someone trying to get in from outside.”
Many natural disasters have happened in the United States this year, including here in Northeast Tennessee where a tornado outbreak this spring destroyed many homes and killed people.
“As you know there’s been a lot of disasters in the last decade in the United States, especially this last year,” Schmalzried said, referencing 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and more recently the flooding of the Mississippi River.
The analysis of child care needs after a disaster began following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As New Orleans and much of the rest of the Gulf Coast rebuilt, one thing missing was adequate child care for emergency responders and parents trying to meet with insurance agents, contractors and aid workers.
There were 3,000 child care centers affected by Katrina. One year later less than half of those centers had reopened, leaving a large gap in child care services.
In that case local employers, including many oil companies, helped rebuild child care centers so adults could go back to work.
That situation was what prompted the formation of a study group with experts who analyzed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing. Schmalzried, who had spent decades as director of the Air Force early childhood program, was part of that group.
“So we thought it was a good idea to come up with some national standards that would not be enforced at the national level but promoted as a model for states to go by,” Schmalzried said.
Over the years the NACCRRA has released several guides. The overall goal is to encourage planning. For instance, Schmalzried said it is a good idea for child care centers to have at least 72 hours worth of supplies necessary for children on hand at all times. Child care providers should also know where they will take children in the event of an evacuation and how to contact parents should they be forced to move to another location.
Additionally, child care centers should think about how to re-establish operations following a disaster, Schmalzried said. Many child care centers have no plan to deal with a disaster situation and do not reopen after a disaster, arguably one of the most necessary times for such services as parents are dealing with various relief organizations.
“Child care operates on a very narrow margin, and if they don’t protect their resources and think about how to reopen, it may take a long time before they can reopen and provide child care,” Schmalzried said.
But it is not just guidelines for child care centers the NACCRRA has recommended. Children must also be able to cope with their world following a disaster, a world that may seem scary.
“For young children, of course, it can be traumatic and we have a list of books, for example, that people can read to children to help them understand what’s happened,” Schmalzried said.
According to Schmalzried, most states do not require child care centers to provide an emergency plan. But since the NACCRRA has been addressing the issue attention has been turning toward disaster planning.
“I think some are beginning to but very few states don’t require child care centers to think about this ahead of time,” Schmalzried said.

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