Disaster Planning Child Welfare Law Issues

Child/Family Needs Related to Disasters Materials and Resources

School Access for Relocated Children

  • The National Center for Homeless Education's Katrina website has information and resources on addressing the education needs of children in families displaced by disasters. There are links to the departments of education for the Katrina-affected states and the US Department of Education as well as resources listed by topic.

Information Available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Katrina Response Information from the Child Welfare League of America

  • There is very useful information on both tracking and serving foster children affected by Katrina at the CWLA website. After Katrina they placed information on federal policies put in effect, proposed federal legislation in response to Katrina, status reports on state and local child-serving agencies in the affected areas, and lots of useful links to other information. They also have written Talking to Children About Disasters and Violence which includes links to information that can help as you work with traumatized children - and your own as well – after a disaster.

Foster Care or Adoptive Families for Katrina-Affected Children

  • After Katrina, the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning issued the following statement approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
    "Children without parents due to natural disasters have always brought out the best in the American people. The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning (NRCFCPPP) has heard from many families willing to open their homes and hearts to children who are separated from or have lost their families due to Hurricane Katrina. Foster care and adoption of children is regulated by state public child welfare agencies, which are responsible for ensuring the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in foster and adoptive homes. It is expected that any unaccompanied children will be reunited with nuclear and extended family members as soon as possible. Only if family is not available will foster care or adoption will be pursued. In times of crisis it is important to maintain connections, especially for children. It is important to remember that the first step you would need to take in the process of becoming a foster or resource family would be to contact your community’s child welfare agency or social services agency."

    Other information regarding fostering and adoption of children and youth in need as a result of disasters can be found on the following websites.

National Foster Parent Association

  • After Katrina, the National Foster Parent Association launched a clothing drive and relief fund to support foster families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. NFPA donated $10,000 to kick-off the drive and hoped others will contribute clothing and funds.
    "Foster families have opened their homes to vulnerable children and now many of them in the Gulf Region don't have their homes anymore," said Karen Jorgenson, NFPA Executive Director. "People have been calling us from all over the country asking how they can help." Jorgenson advises foster families who need assistance to contact their state association first. "The state associations are the primary point for help. NFPA is working closely with the state associations to make sure they have what they need."

    A list of state associations is available on the NFPA website as well as a information on NFPA Katrina-related activities. Additionally, anyone interested in fostering children orphaned by the disasters should contact their state association.

Help for Traumatized Children and Families

  • Children, Families and Workers: Facing Trauma in Child Welfare This article appeared in Best Practice/Next Practice, the newsletter of the former National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice, in Winter 2002. It discusses the traumatic effects of 9/11, and is equally important now.
  • Medicare, Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Programs The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has acted to assure that the Medicare, Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Programs will flex to accommodate the emergency health care needs of beneficiaries and medical providers in the Hurricane Katrina devastated states. Many of the programs' normal operating procedures will be relaxed to speed provision of health care services to the elderly, children and persons with disabilities who depend upon them.
  • Emergency Guidelines for Helping Katrina Victims Information and resources compiled by Connect for Kids, an organization devoted to giving adults – parents, grandparents, guardians, educators, advocates, policymakers, elected officials and others – the tools and information they need to work on behalf of children, youth and families.


  • Know the Rules Safety Tips for Children Displaced in Natural Disasters and Their Caregivers Many children caught up in a natural disaster have not only been separated from their families but find themselves in a new state, school, and living environment. Often they must receive help and care from people they do not know. The trauma they experience may not be readily discernible. These tips, prepared by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, are designed to help child victims of natural disasters acclimate to a new environment and caregivers provide the best assistance possible.
  • Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for the Pediatrician This is an article from the September 2005 issue of Pediatrics magazine. During and after disasters, pediatricians can assist parents and community leaders not only by accommodating the unique needs of children but also by being cognizant of the psychological responses of children to reduce the possibility of long-term psychological morbidity. The effects of disaster on children are mediated by many factors including personal experience, parental reaction, developmental competency, gender, and the stage of disaster response. Pediatricians can be effective advocates for the child and family and at the community level and can affect national policy in support of families. In this report, specific children's responses are delineated, risk factors for adverse reactions are discussed, and advice is given for pediatricians to ameliorate the effects of disaster on children.
  • Coping with Disasters and Strengthening Systems: A Framework for Child Welfare Agencies Child welfare agencies should have a disaster plan that specifies emergency procedures and ensures that the agency continues to function during a man-made or natural disaster. This guide describes why a disaster plan is necessary and identifies the elements of an effective child welfare agency plan. Topics include how to use agency staff and community resources, ways to locate foster families, alternative funding sources, interagency collaboration, and procedures for receiving disaster relief funds. Treating child welfare staff as disaster victims, training foster parents, and plan implementation and maintenance are also discussed.
  • Intercountry Adoption in Emergencies: The Tsunami Orphans This policy brief from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute examines the role of intercountry adoption in situations such as the one caused by the massive tsunami that struck Southeast Asia and the eastern coast of Africa on Dec. 26, 2004 -- that is, during natural disasters, armed conflicts, and other complex human emergencies. By outlining some of the unique threats posed to children during emergencies, and examining existing international conventions and the legal framework for intercountry adoption, this brief articulates best practices that incorporate both immediate and long-term needs of children left without parental care -- including protection, family reunification, community and family solutions, permanency, and respect for culture.
  • Trauma Experienced by Children Adopted From Abroad Children adopted from foreign countries exhibit relatively greater incidence of problem behavior than their counterparts in the general population, possibly because they are more likely to have a history of trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The authors examine scientific literature in the Netherlands and the US on different causes of trauma and PTSD, and provide a list of diagnostic symptoms. Such children are more likely to experience PTSD and other behavioral problems due to the emotional trauma of being separated from their birth parents, being sexually or physically abused and neglected, as well as from experiencing a generally chaotic and threatening environment in their early years. Others may have experienced horrific acts of war, natural disasters, the deaths of friends, relatives or family members and/or the destruction of their homes. The authors conclude that PTSD must be considered in children adopted from abroad, and the extent of their problems may require residential treatment. Adoptive parents and health professionals should be made aware of the risk and provide timely and appropriate intervention and treatment, they argue. By Hoksbergen, R. & van Dijkum, C. Published in Adoption and Fostering 25 (2) pp.18-25.
  • Changes in Reports and Incidence of Child Abuse Following Natural Disasters Theories from the fields of sociology, psychology, and family science lead to the prediction that an increase in family violence could be expected to follow catastrophic events, because when natural disasters occur and social connections are disrupted, individuals are more likely to exhibit antisocial conduct. This study examined the child protective service records of three jurisdictions that experienced natural disasters during the past decade: the Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco, California; Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina; and Hurricane Andrew in Louisiana. Data were analyzed to determine whether the hypothesized increase in child abuse could be documented through examination of recorded data. Based on the analysis of numbers, rates, and proportions, child abuse reports appeared to be disproportionately higher in the quarter-year and half-year following two of the three disasters: Hurricane Hugo and the Loma Prieta earthquake. Most of the evidence indicated that child abuse does escalate after major disasters. Conceptual and methodological issues need to be resolved to conclusively answer the question about whether or not child abuse increases in the wake of natural disasters. By Curtis, T., Miller, B. C., & Berry, E. H. (2000). Child Abuse and Neglect 24 (9) pp.1151-1162. Reprints available from: Thom Curtis Department of Sociology, Hawaii Univ., 200 W. Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720