Lessons Learned for Protecting and Educating Children after the Gulf Coast Hurricanes

GAO-06-680R: Published: May 11, 2006. Publicly Released: May 11, 2006.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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In August and September 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused devastating damage to states along the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath of the storms, many questions were raised about the status of the thousands of children living in the affected areas. We prepared this preliminary information under the Comptroller General's authority to learn more about (1) the number of missing children and the challenges and lessons learned in locating them; (2) the number of foster and other children receiving child welfare services in Louisiana, in particular, who were affected by the storm, and the challenges and lessons learned in locating and serving them; and (3) the number of schoolchildren displaced by the storm, the damage to their schools, and the challenges and lessons learned for educating displaced school-aged children.

Gulf Coast state and local officials and others throughout the country have worked hard to protect and support children affected by the hurricanes. However, a number of lessons learned from these hurricanes could improve future responses to catastrophic events and, in some cases, to other disasters as well. State and local disaster plans could better protect children if they integrated the needs of child welfare and education agencies. For example, schools can reopen more quickly when local relief officials work with school personnel to coordinate how resources will be allocated. With schools in operation, communities can focus on recovery. Moreover, child welfare and education agencies can better prepare for and respond to large-scale disasters by maintaining emergency contact information for staff and foster parents and developing evacuation instructions. Children could benefit from data-sharing agreements among organizations. Agreements to share data on displaced children and families could help speed efforts to locate them. Flexibility in certain federal reporting requirements can allow states and localities to focus more attention on recovery efforts.

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