Disaster Preparedness for Child Welfare Agencies: Recognizing the Emotional Impact on Foster Children

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As an executive at a Florida nonprofit that serves foster children and their families, I just went through emergency planning for Hurricane Matthew, which beat down on Florida October 6-8. I had previously written about disaster planning in foster care as part of an ABA publication – Children, Law and Disasters. This was my chance to put theory into practice, and the experience was enlightening.

I wrote the book chapter in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in response to the subsequent federal legislation mandating disaster planning for child welfare agencies.1 One of my concerns in the scholarship was that plans would not be implemented well. However, I am very proud of my colleagues at Community Based Care of Central Florida and all the foster parents and caregivers who took care of our youth in Florida over the past couple weeks.

Gerard Glynn

Gerry Glynn, MS, JD/LLM

My motivation for participating in disaster planning, both scholarly and in practice, was my concern for the kids.  In disaster planning, the focus is often about computer systems, record keeping, building maintenance, and safety of personnel. In disaster planning for foster care, the focus is on tracking kids and their caregivers.

Not enough attention is given to the emotional side of these disasters. I first appreciated this on September 11, 2001. When the people of the United States were being shocked by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., I was being taught another lesson by one of my clients. Although the rest of the nation was shutting down for a period of mourning due to the attacks on the United States, the foster care system continued to function. The courts were closed, but foster care never closes. My client, Kathy, had a meeting to plan her “independence” when she turned 18. This meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m. at one of the foster care agency offices. My biological children’s school was closed because, as the media explained, “families needed to be together.” When Kathy and I arrived at the office for the meeting, there were several other children waiting. I was the only advocate present. All the other children were by themselves. I asked for my client’s matter to be called first because I needed to pick up my children from school. Kathy announced that she was in no hurry because she has no family to go home to.

This experience taught me several lessons. First, foster children experience pain whenever there is a time to focus on families, which can be national crises, holidays, graduations, or school assignments. Second, the foster care system needs to have structures in place to deal with disasters both at the practical, administrative level and the emotional level. We need to be ready to help these children survive these experiences and avoid unnecessary delays in compliance with statutory mandates for services and permanency for these children.

The foster care and delinquency systems should have appropriate plans to address the practical consequences of disaster. However, each of us need to take steps to make sure that we help our child clients deal with the emotional consequences as well. They will be worried about their family and suffer every time the media says something like, “This is a time for us to be surrounded by our families.” Whatever our role, we need to be that support children in the system need. It may only require a phone call, but they will appreciate that someone cares enough to ask how they are doing.


[1] Child and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006, 42 U.S.C. § 622a (1988)

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NACC.

Gerry Glynn, MS, JD/LLM

Gerry Glynn is the Chief Legal Officer for Community Based Care of Central Florida - Holdings. Prior to joining the agency, Gerry enjoyed a career representing children and families for more than 25 years while serving as a law professor. He has been involved with many nonprofits, serving on numerous boards of directors, including the National Association of Counsel for Children and the City of Life Foundation. Additionally, Gerry was the founding Executive Director of Florida’s Children First.

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