Policy Seeks to Ensure the Health of Children in Disasters

Pediatrician academy's advisory council recommends that disaster preparedness teams focus on children's needs.

Pediatricians should collaborate with federal, state, tribal, local, and regional institutions to ensure that children are cared for physically and emotionally during a disaster, according to a policy statement published by the American Academy of Pediatrics Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council. The policy emphasizes that disaster planning must address the unique physical, mental, behavioral, and developmental needs of all children.

"The unique need of children mandate specialized and appropriate planning for disasters," the policy says. "Children differ from adults in physiology, developing organ systems, behavior, emotional and developmental understanding of and response to traumatic events, and dependence on others for basic needs."

Because of the vast differences between adults and children, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests  more can be done to prepare for the unpredictable. With today's resources, professionals are able to mitigate the effects of disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and earthquakes and encourage readiness and resiliency among children and their families.

Although many hospitals and organizations are prepared to help in the midst of a disaster, not many of them are supplied with explicit pediatric elements. Pediatrics should be corresponding with these emergency teams to help create disaster relief packages specifically for infants, children, and teens, according to the policy.

The academy also is concerned for the long-term well-being of the child. The new policy seeks to put in place a plan to help children receive continuous care when a disaster's cleanup crews are long gone, including inpatient and outpatient care. Another way of preparing to help children during a catastrophe is to prepare the children themselves for the possibility of an unfortunate event. The policy urges families and schools to teach students what to expect when facing a natural disaster.

"Disaster response plans are especially important in settings where children are separated from their families, such as schools and child care centers," said Dr. David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, a member of the advisory council, in the academy's news release. "Care must be taken that the drills themselves do not inflict psychological trauma on children, however," he said. "Staff and students should be informed before an exercise is conducted, especially if it includes scenarios (such as armed assailants) that are sure to be frightening to many children and staff.''

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