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October 2005Vol. 6, No. 8Hurricane Impact and Response for Children and Families

As information on the extent of Hurricane Katrina's devastation continues to unfold, the disastrous impact on vulnerable children and families becomes evident. In the worst cases, children lost family members or were separated from them for extended periods. For many more children, the loss of homes, schools, and neighborhoods has been a tragedy difficult for them to comprehend.

Children and families involved with the child welfare system have dealt with additional losses, such as the loss of records and other information about children's placements and families' case plans. Needed services, such as those for physical and mental health and social services, have been disrupted as agencies attempt to regroup and rebuild. For children and families who were struggling before the hurricane, the aftermath is particularly devastating.

In response to Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt declared a public health emergency in five States on August 31; since that time, Federal, State, and local governments and agencies have worked to secure the safety and health of children and families. Departments in the Federal Government have provided resources and personnel, as well as more flexible procedures for housing, feeding, educating, and providing health care to children and families. A few of these initiatives undertaken by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are listed below:

  • A hotline was made available for people in crisis in the aftermath of the hurricane. The hotline directs callers to local crisis centers that can provide counseling.
  • The Office of the Surgeon General and the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness mobilized health-care professionals and relief personnel to assist in the areas most affected.
  • Secretary Leavitt issued waivers for many of the requirements for Medicare, Medicaid, and State Children's Health Insurance (SCHIP) to make it easier for hurricane-affected children and adults to receive emergency medical care ( (Editor's note: Link no longer active)
  • Dr. Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, issued an Information Memorandum (ACYF-CB-IM-05-06) that oulines flexibility in the title IV-E program that may help States serve children and families affected by Hurricane Katrina. This flexibility extends to such policy areas as recruiting foster care providers, making foster care maintenance payments, and reviewing cases.
  • The Administration for Children and Familes (ACF) is sponsoring regular teleconference calls among Federal, Regional, and State child welfare officials to coordinate efforts so that child welfare officials in States affected by the hurricane can help displaced foster families and missing children. This coordinated effort includes obtaining identifying information and locations for all children, assessing needs, and posting a hotline for foster parents to call to have payments forwarded.
  • ACF posted a webpage to provide links to Katrina Relief efforts, including TANF, Head Start services, services for displaced and foster children, childcare services, and information for ACF grantees ( (Editor's note: Link no longer active)
  • HHS's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to coordinate and provide the latest health information and to assemble health-care teams ( (Editor's note: Link no longer active)

For other developments from HHS, visit its press release archive at

In addition to Federal efforts, State governments—in States most affected by the hurricane as well as governments in other States—have set up special procedures to provide resources and aid. State government websites have served as central points of information for those seeking to locate family members and to identify potential sources of help, as well as housing, food, and medical care. State websites also have served as useful tools for recruiting professionals and citizens willing to volunteer their time and resources.

Child Welfare Resources

For citizens and professionals seeking information about helping children deal with the trauma of the hurricane or information on other kinds of assistance, Child Welfare Information Gateway has many resources about preparing and dealing with natural disasters: