Policy Priorities

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Children in Disasters

CDF Director of Early Childhood Development Joins Senators in Announcing Bill to Help Children in Disasters

On December 18, 2009, Dr. Cathy Grace, director of Early Childhood Development at the Children’s Defense Fund, joined Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) along with representatives from the National Commission on Children and Disasters at a press conference on Capitol Hill to announce the introduction of the Child Safety, Care, and Education Continuity Act of 2010. The bill creates a framework to address children’s needs in the event of a catastrophic disaster and incorporates recommendations made by the National Commission on Children and Disasters (NCDD) report released in October.


Titles III and IV of the Act specifically address the needs of infants, toddlers and young children in the event of a disaster. The legislation would:

  • Authorize counseling for pre-k students affected by a disaster through Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
  • Increase access to child care services for disaster-affected families through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which provides subsidies to assist low-income families in obtaining child care so that parents can work or participate in education or training activities.
  • Require child care centers that receive CCDBG funds to develop emergency plans for evacuation, reunification, special needs, and temporary operating standards, and encourage states and localities to address child care facilities in their response plans.

The bill also addresses the unique educational and health care needs of children of all ages, by:

  • Authorizing tuition reimbursement for displaced students, funding for host community schools, and aid to disaster area schools to restart operations.
  • Granting the Secretary of Education the authority to waive regulations on student financial assistance programs (i.e., Pell Grants) and other grants to higher education institutions within the disaster area.
  • Requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to assist states in developing disaster guidance for Medicaid and CHIP providers. This will ensure that doctors know how to apply for reimbursement and will increase their willingness to treat out-of-state evacuees.

Acknowledging that the legislation is a product of the lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Senator Alexander noted that “This bill is an excellent textbook example of Congress learning from history and getting ahead of the curve to help communities restart and children return to life as usual after the next major disaster.”

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the lead sponsor of the bill, highlighted the importance of caring for children during and after a catastrophic event:  “Kids are the focal point of a family, and in the aftermath of a disaster, the first concern of any parent is getting their children as close to their normal life as possible. The most important aspect of returning children to their regular routine is getting them back into school or child care. Not only does that help children in the aftermath of a disaster, it also allows parents to focus on returning to work and beginning to rebuild.”

Dr. Cathy Grace is currently serving as CDF’s Early Childhood Development Director while on sabbatical from Mississippi State University, where she directs the Early Childhood Institute. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Dr. Grace spearheaded a multi-million dollar effort to rebuild and equip damaged and destroyed early childhood programs in the Mississippi Katrina region.  At the press conference, Dr. Grace praised the Senators for their leadership: “Time was our enemy in the days following Katrina.  Hopefully the passage of this bill will ensure a quick response so a natural disaster is not compounded by man-made failure to use the country’s resources to help its children. Senator Landrieu, Senator Alexander… Thank you from the families living on the Gulf Coast. Thank you from America’s children.”

Read full text of the legislation.