Westport, Conn. — Despite a record disaster year and high-profile school tragedies, most states still fail to meet basic child-safety measures endorsed by a national commission after Hurricane Katrina, Save the Children reported Wednesday.
Upon the release of its annual disaster report card, Save the Children congratulated four states that took action to protect children over the past year: New Jersey, Tennessee, Nebraska and Utah.
But the nation's leading child-focused emergency response organization faulted 28 states and the District of Columbia for failing to meet minimum standards to protect children in child care and schools.
"Since we released our last report card, our nation has experienced the second costliest disaster year on record and hundreds of thousands of children have faced enormous risks. They've lost their homes, schools, child care centers and even their lives," said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children.
"The devastation left by Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, the Oklahoma tornadoes and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School should be a wake-up call, but too many states won't budge. It's like they're stuck in a pre-Katrina world where the gaps in protecting children weren't so clear," Miles said.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina showed the United States how unprepared the nation was for major disaster. Children were extremely vulnerable, often unprotected, and it took six months to reunite the last child with her family. Out of that experience, a presidentially-appointed National Commission on Children and Disaster led by Save the Children recommended minimum standards to protect children.
Save the Children's disaster report card tracks progress on four critical standards: that states require all child care centers to have 1) an evacuation plan, 2) a family reunification plan, and 3) a plan for children with special needs, and 4) that states require all schools to have disaster plans that account for multiple types of hazards.
Since Save the Children issued its first disaster report card in 2008, the number of states to meet all standards has risen from four to 22. But most states and the nation's capital still fall short.
"Every workday, 68 million children are separated from their parents," Miles said. "We owe it to these children to protect them before the next disaster strikes."
Save the Children's new report, "Unaccounted For: A National Report Card on Protecting Children in Disaster," outlines glaring gaps in emergency preparedness, response and recovery, underscored by a remarkable year of domestic disaster. Too often, the unique needs of children remain unaccounted for around emergencies, the report says.
In response, Save the Children is calling on Americans to urge their governors to either meet the report card standards or make sure child-focused emergency plans are in place and practiced once required. The agency is also launching a new preparedness initiative called "Get Ready. Get Safe." to help families and communities protect children at times of disaster.
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