Effects of Hurricane Katrina on Children

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Introduction Before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, about 39,000 children under age 6 lived in New Orleans. Of these, some 17,000 (more than 4 in 10) lived below the federal poverty level. Nationally, the average is 2 in 10, though in Louisiana—a poor state—it is 3 in 10. As in the nation as a whole, New Orleans’ youngest children are more likely to be poor than all children and adults. In New Orleans, poverty among young children was high, partly because many parents were out of work or in low-wage jobs; also, a high percentage of families were headed by a single parent. Parents’ poor education, health limitations, and disability probably also contributed (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2004). The sketchy information available on the health and development of New Orleans’ young children suggests that many were not doing well. This is not surprising: a wide range of studies consistently shows that poverty and low incomes correlate with worse outcomes for children (Golden 2005). Before the hurricane, Louisiana’s capacity to meet the needs of these young children was limited. Part of the problem is a national one: the United States has generally invested little in children below school age, and no service system takes responsibility for tracking how children are doing, as the school system does for older children. The lack of attention and investment is most striking for babies and toddlers. Most probably have access to health services and nutrition assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children program, but little beyond that. Child care settings for very young children often fail to offer the nurturing and stimulation that benefit children’s development and sometimes fall below minimal standards of safety and quality (Phillips and Adams 2001), in part because employing enough adults to care for infants well is costly. Early Head Start,

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