On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the Eastern coastline, particularly affecting areas of New York City and Long Island where many homes and businesses were destroyed. Since then, families and communities have been re-building, and recovery is ongoing.
Marketa Walters, senior researcher, has been supporting New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services in recovery and preparation for future disasters. Walters was the assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services during response and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. She shared her experiences with ACS staff who provide child welfare services to New York City families.
Walters and ACS staff assessed what emergency plans were in place at the time of the storm and identified additional plans for future disasters. Discussions included developing policies and alternate procedures in preparation for and in case of emergency. For example, foster parents need to know what is expected during mandatory evacuations and may be required to evacuate with foster children along pre-planned routes. Also, staff may be asked to report to the nearest available office and forgo their regular duties to assume a role in responding to an emergency, such as locating foster children and families.
One of the specific suggestions Walters made was for ACS staff to work with foster families to create “Go Boxes” for their foster children. A Go Box contains all important documents and mementos in a waterproof, sealable container kept in an accessible place for quick retrieval in case of emergency and evacuation. Go Boxes contain items such as birth certificates, birth parent and sibling information, medical records and prescriptions, contact information for doctors, certificates of success, pictures and anything else that is meaningful and important in preserving the child’s history.
Because events like Hurricane Sandy are traumatic, Walters also addressed the effects of trauma on children, families and staff. Trauma involves witnessing or experiencing significant events that are outside the realm of usual experiences. Traumatic events can leave people feeling sad, angry, overwhelmed, and unsafe. As a result, responsive, trauma-informed approaches and services are recommended to support recovery. Walters provided trauma focused debriefings and trainings for ACS staff to process and understand what happened during Hurricane Sandy. She also discussed what to expect and offered strategies for minimizing the effects of trauma on foster children and families as well as on the staff themselves.
“It was important for ACS staff to talk about what the foster families and the staff themselves went through during Hurricane Sandy,” said Walters. “We discussed the ways life will be different until things return to normal. We also identified what would be needed for recovery and what to expect at the 6 month and one year anniversaries. Trauma-informed approaches such as these can help ACS staff foster recovery and provide the best possible services to the children and families of New York City.”
Walters’ work with ACS is sponsored by Casey Family Programs. AIR provides training and conducts research on trauma-informed care across child-, youth-, and family-serving systems.