Dragonfly Diaries: The Role Emergency Response and Recovery Plays in Child Care

By Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D.

As part of Child Care Aware® of America’s 30th anniversary celebration, I am pleased to share the first in a series of blog posts titled the Dragonfly Diaries. This series is designed to create a forum for thought leaders to spark innovative ideas by positing questions about the challenges and opportunities in finding effective solutions to quality child care for all.  Each month’s post will include a thought-provoking question that is intended to generate questions, discussion, and actionable solutions as a community. I encourage you to include your comments in the section below this blog post.

Weather is at the forefront of everyone’s mind this month as the United States has experienced a catastrophic start to the hurricane season. With Hurricane Harvey leaving a wake of destruction in Texas and Hurricane Irma bringing devastation to Puerto Rico and Florida, many are asking—how can we be better prepared for these disasters, and (perhaps more importantly) how do we recover in the aftermath.

“I immediately starting posting to Facebook, ‘We are ok, we are safe, the kids are safe,’ because there was no cell service.” – Miss Jill, Family Child Care Provider, Kokomo, Indiana

Emergency preparedness, response, and recovery plays an important role in the child care infrastructure—both for parents and child care providers. The horrific damage caused by Hurricane Harvey on the Texas gulf coast and Hurricane Irma to Florida reminds us of the profound impact that disasters have on children and adults, resulting in feelings of uncertainty for everyone. Young children do best when their lives have predictable caregivers, schedules, and surroundings. A disaster can throw all of those things off balance, causing emotional stress and developmental challenges for children.

“[Following the tornado] we just started singing songs. Our routines really helped that day.” – Miss Jill, Family Child Care Provider, Kokomo, Indiana

“I was starting to panic about the loss of income from having to close my family child care business, so we focused on the child care space. After a lot of hard work, and with the child care space made safe, cleaned, and carpeted, my licensor approved me to re-open. I believe I was closed for two weeks. The school very kindly offered my displaced families a temporary place in the extended day program until I could open again.” – Christine, Child Care Provider, Hugo, Minnesota

Both hurricanes provide a good case study. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has made disaster declarations for 58 counties, and more than 2.5 million children (birth to age 14) are in areas impacted by Harvey. It is projected that Hurricane Irma has the potential to impact 60,000 providers serving 2.2 million children. Child Care Aware® of America’s emergency preparedness team has been coordinating with partners and child care resource and referral agencies (CCR&Rs) leading up to and following the impact of both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Responses to outreach to child care providers in areas that have been impacted are humbling.

“Thank you for caring.”

“We were blessed. If we can be of any assistance, please let us know.”

“We would be happy to accommodate any children who need child care or who have been displaced.”

“Thank you for checking on my. I need these things so I can open up.”

“We are working the best we can in order to get back up and running. I have a few parents that need immediate care so they can go back to work.”

“We were able to salvage only about 15% of the furniture and items in our school.  The water damage is extensive, and will have to rebuild.”

“We lost everything.”

Learn more about CCAoA’s efforts here. We have also developed a resources webpage designed to provide resources to aid the child care providers and families impacted by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma—including information on food safety, water damage, damage assessment, and disaster assistance. The majority of this work requires coordination and collaboration to ensure we are sharing a consistent message with parents and child care providers on how they can get help following a disaster. So how do we create this type of network?

“An organization called Camp Noah contacted me. They travel around to areas hit by natural disasters and offer a 5-day day camp to help kids process and heal. By the end of the week, the kids were learning about how to be prepared for weather. They gave each child a backpack. The kids packed them with items that they had talked about: water bottle, first aid kit, something to stay busy (coloring book and crayons). They came home on the last day feeling empowered! I realized that was the key to getting over this disaster, and to curb anxiety in the future. Being prepared helps a person to feel like they have a little bit of control in such a random violent event.” – Christine, Child Care Provider, Hugo, Minnesota

There are an infinite number of organizations that provide information and resources concerning emergency preparedness response and recovery, and even more resources are available. Initiatives like National Preparedness Month (which just so happens to be taking place this month) are also an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of being prepared for all emergencies. But how do we make emergency preparedness a priority for parents and child care providers year round? According to a recent national survey conducted by CCAoA, one-third of CCR&R staff respondents reported having little or no knowledge about recovery from emergencies (i.e., activities following disaster response, which may include helping families locate temporary child care, conducting damage assessments, and accessing funds for child care recovery).

With potential threats ranging from flooding and hurricanes to earthquakes and heat waves, it is essential that we prepare CCR&Rs before a disaster and give them access to resources that help them recover. This requires collaboration, a pooling of resources, and coordination across organizations. So now I ask the following questions of you:

  • What type of emergency preparedness support (both pre and post disaster) do parents and child care providers need?
  • Why are you uniquely positioned to be responsive to these needs?
  • If you aren’t, should you be—either in program partnerships or as an advocate for children?
  • What challenges you to meet the needs?
  • How have you addressed the challenges in ensuring you are at the table for generating solutions?

Please share your comments in the section below this blog post.

Learn more about Child Care Aware® of America’s emergency preparedness work at www.childcareprepare.org.

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