Emergency Preparedness for Families

National Preparedness Month 2009We recently taped a Parenting Today radio show on how families can be prepared for emergencies. (Stay tuned for the show to appear on iHeart Media stations soon!) From severe weather to active shooter situations, parents can take steps now that can make a difference if/when those traumatic moments arrive. Officially known as “Emergency Preparedness,” it means planning ahead, having supplies on hand, and being ready when an emergency occurs. The goal is to stay safe and connected during a disaster, as well as be better able to recover after an emergency.

If you work with families — or have a family of your own — we encourage you to go through this basic list, check out the resources mentioned below and proactively plan for the worst to keep your children as safe and calm as possible in the event of an unexpected emergency:

  1. Create a family emergency plan. Know safe places to go as well as how you plan to communicate with one another, and develop a list of important information for every member to carry at all times (cell phone numbers, doctor numbers, etc.) Talk about the plan with your children every year, and adjust as they get older. If you have pets, be sure to consider their wellbeing as well. Ready.gov offers great Family Emergency Plan templates here.
  2. Check with your childcare center, school and workplace about the emergency plans they have in place. Request a copy and adjust your family plan to reflect their procedures and guidelines.
  3. Practice emergency drills. It can be as simple as walking down the block to a neighbor’s home that’s been designated as a safe meeting spot, or drawing a map together of your house with exits marked in case of a fire. Actively work with your kids to go through simple steps that will give them the knowledge to stay calm and make the best choices in case of emergency.
  4. Build a “Go Kit” together. This should include basic items to keep your family safe and connected in case of emergency (loss of power, stranded, etc.) Examples of items to include are water, non-perishable food, radio, flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, fuel for vehicle, etc. Be sure to consider special needs for families such as diapers, formula and medications. Volunteer Alexandria, the lead agency in Alexandria for the recruitment and management of unaffiliated volunteers during an emergency, has a great list here. So does FEMA. Keep in mind, every family’s kit could be different according to medical issues, special needs, mobility, etc.
  5. Know how to communicate with one another. Have a radio and extra chargers for devices; download the Ready Virginia Mobile App for alerts and updates. Experts suggest that you text or email instead of calling when possible – this is more likely to work if phone lines are overwhelmed or down. Be sure to program “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) contacts into everyone’s devices so emergency personnel can contact those people for you if you are unable to use your phone.

Of course, the hope is that disaster won’t happen – but if it does, you can work now to make sure your family is as safe and prepared as possible. In addition to the links we’ve mentioned, there are many more great resources for families online at www.ready.gov and at local agencies like Volunteer Alexandria.

New Numbers: A review of (and response to) Virginia’s Annual Child Fatality Report

baby-376531_1920In October 2014, the Virginia Department of Social Services put out their Annual Report on Child Fatalities which reviews child and infant deaths in the previous year. Child fatality review teams set out to research and understand what is causing infant death in Virginia and if any of these deaths were preventable. This year, they continued to find some really interesting research in Virginia’s 109 child fatalities. 48 percent of the cases that they reviewed were sleep-related infant deaths. They also found that 95 percent of those deaths were preventable and were most likely correlated to an unsafe sleep environment. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome played a part in many of the infant deaths and could have been prevented with proper safe sleep techniques.

Listed below are helpful resources to get more information about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and how to create safe sleep environments:

Abusive Head Trauma was another common cause of death in the state of Virginia. Abusive Head Trauma, also known as Shaken Baby Syndrome, can lead to many serious injuries, such as blindness and mental retardation as well as death. The most common cause of death that the reviewers found in the Child Fatality Study was from an external cause or injury and that was 50 percent of children. Men were identified as causing the death in 58 percent of these external injury cases. Because the report found that men were more likely to actively cause an infant’s death, one of their recommendations was continuing efforts toward strong fatherhood initiatives and programs.

Listed below are helpful resources and tips about Shaken Baby Syndrome and information about how to cope with a crying child:

The timing could not be better for Operation Safe Babies, a new initiative set forth by SCAN to promote the safety of infants. It is a program that will educate parents and caregivers on the importance of practicing safe sleep for babies, parenting/caregiving tips that can prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome, and other strategies to help keep infants safe. Through a partnership with Cribs for Kids, Operation Safe Babies will provide Graco Pack ‘n Play portable cribs to families in the coming year who otherwise could not afford a safe place for their babies to sleep. SCAN will also work to educate these families and other Northern Virginia parents about safe sleep and how to soothe a crying baby in order to decrease the risk of SIDS and Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Resources: Virginia Department of Social Services. (2014). Child Fatality Review Teams Annual Report.

“When can I leave a child alone?” (Guidelines, questions and resources that can help)

blogblock_supervisionIt’s a question we often hear from parents and caregivers–when is it “okay” to leave my child at home alone? Busy schedules, challenges with after-school care and so much more often make this a tough decision. Simply put, there is no easy answer. Every child is different, regardless of age. Every home situation is different, regardless of location or neighbors. And every jurisdiction is different in our area when it comes to regulations and guidelines.

We suggest that parents begin talking about and preparing for a child to be left alone before a decision has to be made. There is no magic number when a child reaches the perfect age to be left unsupervised, so even community guidelines (which often share ages from 10-15 as a safe range in particular instances) aren’t always applicable or safe. It’s often best to — when a child is responsible enough and open to the idea — begin slowly, leaving him or her alone for gradually longer periods of time (starting with as little as 15 minutes.)

To help families have this discussion, we recommend visiting the Supervision Guidelines page on our Parent Resource Center, where you can find a fact sheet in English and Spanish, as well as links to local jurisdictions for their resources and support.

What is your experience with child supervision guidelines? What is helpful and/or harmful?  Are there other tools and resources we should be sharing with families? Please comment below to share.