Child Watch® Column: "Another Call to Conscience and Action for Katrina's Children"

Release Date: March 16, 2007

Marian Wright Edelman

Katrina's children are still waiting for their country to come to their rescue with life and hope giving health and mental health care and a secure place called home.

Over a year and a half after the storm flooded their houses, schools and neighborhoods and took away their family members, pets, sense of safety, trust in their nation and belief in the future, tens of thousands of children, teenagers and Katrina survivors are languishing in a purgatory of uncertainty.  No doctors.  No mental health counseling. No school space. No safe place to play.   No affordable decent housing.  Few family jobs.  A dearth of after school programs.  Few summer alternatives to the streets.  And too little child care when parents work.  No light at the end of a long dark tunnel plastered with broken promises from their political leaders in the richest nation on earth.  

 While Iraq's terrifying quagmire dominates the news and Congress' current attention, Katrina's terrifying quagmire has become yesterday's story for too many political, policy, media leaders and citizens.  What kind of nation turns its back on its children and families who have gone through one of the worst natural disasters in our history? How are children to believe in the values of a nation that values them so little?  What kind of nation leaves hundreds of thousands of its children and teenage disaster survivors who have "experienced a level of loss, trauma and dislocation unprecedented in modern American history," as observer Julia Cass writes in the Children's Defense Fund's (CDF's) new report, Katrina's Children, Still Waiting, tossing about in a still raging sea of terror, uncertainty, fear, and unresolved loss in the aftermath of a disaster?  Surely America can do better!

In April 2006, CDF released Katrina's Children: A Call to Conscience and Action.  In the ensuing months, despite the valiant efforts of many organizations and individuals and much media attention, far too little has been done to protect children - and adults - whose chronic and acute post traumatic stress disorders continue.

 Thousands of Katrina's children are still scattered across our nation, uncertain whether they ever will be able to return home.  Many who remained in their storm devastated states are packed into flimsy, temporary, over crowded trailers in FEMA camps that are no place for children or any human being in this wealthy nation for any significant period of time, while housing reconstruction moves at a snail's pace and violence flares in New Orleans.

 CDF's April 2006 report made nine action recommendations.  While housing, jobs, safety and education are crucial to child, family and community wellbeing, we have just released an updated report that focuses on one achievable step that our Congress, President and political leaders can and must take in 2007:  guarantee comprehensive health and mental health coverage for every child wherever they live in America to meet the urgent unmet need of Katrina's children in their home states and across the land who desperately need health and mental health coverage.

There are over nine million uninsured children in America and millions more underinsured children.  Katrina's children are a case study for why a national floor of health and mental health decency is essential as they have faced 50 different state eligibility and procedural requirements including demands for health records washed away by the flood. Millions of children like Katrina's are eligible for coverage but are not enrolled in existing programs because of bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult to obtain or keep coverage.  Other children are excluded from programs or go uninsured when their parents change jobs.  Still others don't get health services they need because program benefits which vary from state to state are limited in their state.  Had we a simpler more uniform child health coverage and benefit system in place in America, Katrina's children would have received the help they urgently needed and still need.   

God did not make two classes of children and American policy that creates such inequities and legalized neglect must cease.  Please make your voice and your votes count for Katrina's children and all uninsured children over the next weeks and months with our political leaders in all parties.  It's time to say to our children we care for each of you and to honor the God we claim to trust on our currency.  I hope this reminder that Katrina's children are still waiting, still suffering, still looking to adults in our nation for protection and succor will make us all act now.