• June 2008
  • Vol. 9, No. 5

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Preparing Courts to Deal With Disasters

Disasters such as major hurricanes impact all community systems, including the legal and judicial systems. A new online publication and webpage developed through a partnership among the American Bar Association (ABA) Center on Children and the Law, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the National Center for State Courts provide guidance for courts handling child welfare cases.

Emergency Preparedness in Dependency Courts: Ten Questions That Courts Serving Abused and Neglected Children Must Address, a new multimedia publication on the National Center for State Courts website, examines the lessons learned from the response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to provide guidance on how court systems could be better prepared for future disasters. This web-based resource uses text, video clips, and other visuals to illustrate the need for all courts to have plans to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from catastrophic events so that their essential services can become operational as soon as possible after a crisis. The authors stress that the need for emergency preparedness is important not just for areas directly impacted by disasters, but also for jurisdictions that may be indirectly affected because of the influx of children and families from disaster areas.

Using a question and answer format, the guide addresses such issues as:

  • The need for emergency communications procedures for dependency courts
  • Balancing the best interests of the child with confidentiality of records in times of emergency
  • Minimal requirements for hearings
  • The need for emergency training

The publication also includes an extensive bibliography with links to resources and organizations to help dependency courts prepare for disasters.

Emergency Preparedness in Dependency Courts was developed with support from the Children's Bureau and is available online:


The Disaster Planning Child Welfare Law Issues webpage is available on the ABA Center on Children and the Law website to help improve legal and judicial system responses to the needs of children and families affected by natural disasters.

Legal responses in 2005 and 2006 to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita centered around three areas of assistance:

  • Determining and helping meet the immediate needs of dependency courts and child welfare legal offices in the hurricane-affected areas
  • Providing access to pro bono child welfare law experts to help Katrina-affected children and families
  • Studying child welfare legal issues affecting children and families in major disasters, including needed State and Federal legislative responses

The webpage links to various resources developed by organizations such as the Child Welfare League of America, the National Center for Homeless Education, and the National Foster Parent Association to provide guidance and assistance in the aftermath of hurricanes and other disasters. Other links provide information for understanding the long-term effects of disasters on children and families and tips for coping with future disasters. Visit the website:


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