Preparing for the Worst: Strengthening Systems to Cope with Disasters

Preparing for the Worst: Strengthening Systems to Cope with Disasters Marketa Garner Walters Former Assistant Secretary, Louisiana Department of Socia...
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Preparing for the Worst: Strengthening Systems to Cope with Disasters Marketa Garner Walters Former Assistant Secretary, Louisiana Department of Social Services Project Director, Western and Pacific Child Welfare Implementation Center


Goals  Lessons learned from an agency’s response to disaster  Impact of disasters on children, youth and families in the child welfare system  Developing interagency agreements  Resources, strategies and considerations for disaster planning 2

Louisiana’s Experience Hurricanes Katrina 8/29/05 and Rita 9/23/05


Impact  Normal communications out  Shelters are overwhelmed  Families, children and workers disbursed across state and nation (2,000 foster children, 1,500 foster families)  Evacuee families separated  Offices destroyed or damaged, displaced workers  $6 million cut to agency budget/loss of contracts  Disruption to normal operations throughout the state for months 4



Emergency Response  Developed procedures to capture information on families and children:  Child Protection (investigation)  Family Preservation (families receiving in home services)  Out of home care (foster homes, adoption, residential, youth/independent living)  Established toll free number for foster/adoptive parents to report location  Announced number to media and announcement boards in shelters and manned phone lines 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM  Contacted hospitals nationwide that received evacuees  Internet searches of databases on displaced persons  Held checks in state office for mailing to new location


Strengthening Collaborations  National Center on Missing and Exploited Children identify missing foster/relative parents.  IBM and Division of Administration compare missing children, biological families and providers in database with FEMA, Red Cross shelter and state databases.  National Foster Parent Association to establish buddy foster parents in each state to support foster parents who had to be relocated. 8

Collaboration was Key! • • • •

Special agreements with courts Working with mental health providers Coordination with special services CASA workers seek foster parents and children in shelters • Other State child welfare agencies identify foster children or adoptive families in shelters. 9

Lessons Learned What went well   

Of the 2,000 children in affected areas, all were taken out of harms way and none were separated from their caretakers Supports for our foster families and children were quickly mobilized across the state and across the nation Our partnership with NCMEC proved invaluable

What could be improved     

Need for up-to-date case information A central database with electronic case records Improved communications during a disaster Expedited process for replacing personal records such as medical cards, medications, drivers’ licenses and birth certificates Providing disaster-related mental health services


Addressing the Trauma


Look Beyond Your Agency What plans are already in place?    

State emergency management plans Cooperative agreements Business continuity plans at the department or agency level Designated person responsible for developing and communicating the plan

How do these plans impact your agency and children, youth and families served?   

Working with courts Your agency’s role in disaster response Coordinating with external and internal stakeholders (e.g. mental health department) 12

Prepare Families and Providers Require disaster plans   

Contact information (keep updated) What to take with them during a disaster How to check in with relatives

Provide emergency preparedness information  

Training on agency expectations Other tips (disaster supply kits, helping children handle disasters)


Preparing and Supporting Staff Prepare staff  

Encourage individual plans Keep updated information

Logistical needs of agency   

Location for staff to report; number to call Training for staff on disaster plan Suspend any non-essential functions

Support During and After a Disaster  

Addressing secondary trauma of staff Offering flex time

Access additional staff during a disaster  

Retired staff staff from across agencies and/or neighboring states 14

Importance of Data for Decision Making  Tracking data on foster children in Katrina kid database  Tracking use of foster care funds and expenses


Louisiana’s Child Welfare System Recovery and Reform


Silver Lining After the Storm  Increased resources (State, Federal, and foundations)  Legislative flexibility  Expanded staff resources to support systems change 17

Preparing and Responding to Disaster Requires Systems Change


Resources Coping with Disasters and Strengthening Systems: A Framework for Child Welfare Agencies (April 2007) Mary O’Brien and Sarah Webster, Consultants, National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement (

Managing in Emergencies: Enhancing Collaboration for Human Services (December 2005) Christine Lind, The Finance Project (

Managing in Emergencies: Making use of New Funds and Funding Flexibility for Human Services (December 2005) Pamela Friedman and Nanette Relave, The Finance Project