Hiding in Plain Sight: Helping Communities Better Protect Children When Disaster Strikes

By Erin Lauer

Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Save the Children has been responding to disasters all across the United States — from small local floods to the most destructive hurricanes and tornadoes in recent history, and everything in between. Despite the many differences in those storms, we have seen one commonality across communities in every corner of the country: far too often, emergency managers don’t always know where child care programs are located. Our smallest and most vulnerable children are sometimes hiding in plain sight, with early childhood programs in a wide variety of locations, including churches, schools, strip malls, hospitals and downtown office buildings.

In 2015, we launched a partnership with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute to solve that. Funded by a grant from global healthcare company GSK, we’ve worked with two pilot communities — Putnam County, New York, and Washington County, Arkansas, to raise the visibility and inclusion of child-serving institutions like summer camps, public, private and charter schools, foster care agencies and, of course, early childhood programs, in community-wide emergency planning. This work has culminated in the launch of the Resilient Children Resilient Communities (RCRC) Toolbox, a set of resources designed to help communities plan for and better protect their youngest residents.

One of the tools I’m most excited about helps local emergency managers design a disaster preparedness exercise focused on exploring the unique needs of children during a disaster and the variety of agencies and organizations required to address those needs. Exercises like this are a critical tool for emergency management, as they test plans and procedures and show communities what areas might need more attention.

Earlier this year, as part of a larger community exercise, we worked with two child care programs in Washington County, Arkansas, to test the evacuation and shelter in place procedures they established with a full-scale exercise. One child care program evacuated a classroom of 12 students, put them on a school bus, and received them at another early childhood center over a mile away. For local leaders, it was a chance to see how these child care programs implement their plans, and what support first responders and other partners can offer to keep children safe. For the 12 boys and girls, however, it was a fun field trip to meet some new friends and play with some new toys. In fact, as they were leaving the evacuation location, one of the little girls asked “when are we going to have the fire drill Ms. Jennifer told us about?,” not realizing that their field trip had, in fact, been the drill. For one boy, the most exciting part of the whole thing was the chance to have a different snack at snack time!

Through resources like the RCRC toolbox and the Get Ready Get Safe initiative, Save the Children is determined to share the best information and resources, so that every community is ready to protect its children when disaster strikes.

Erin Lauer is a Community Preparedness Manager with Save the Children’s U.S. Programs.

U.S. Government Investments That Give Everyone a Fair Chance

By Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

Tax season is over this year in the United States, but efforts on taxes are only gaining speed and attention in many developing nations.

USAID Administrator Mark Green has highlighted this as key to helping countries on their “Journey to Self-Reliance.” USAID aims to invest more aid to help developing countries reform their tax policy and administration – referred to as domestic resource mobilization (DRM) – as a way to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to gradually transition countries so that they no longer need our development assistance, and they remain strong partners to our country.

But the success of US investments in DRM ultimately depend upon trust – specifically, the trust that people in a country have in their government. Will governments fairly collect taxes and will they spend tax revenues in ways that are equitable and help reduce poverty? In this regard, paying taxes is at the heart of the citizen-state compact. When citizens pay taxes they expect to receive quality health and education services, security, and basic infrastructure from their government in return. Citizens want their governments to be accountable for how their tax money is spent.

To guide USAID in assisting partner governments to foster this citizen-state compact and mobilize domestic public revenues for equitable and sustainable development, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) created “Principles of Public Sector Domestic Resource Mobilization in Developing Countries.” The principles are as follows:

• Ensure DRM investments are pro-poor, sensitive to gender, and support inclusive economic growth. More tax funding will not magically reduce poverty;

• Align with country priorities. Support an overall country plan to strengthen its DRM systems, and to invest funds in the development priorities of partner countries. For all international assistance – country ownership is key;

• Take a holistic approach to DRM, including by building a transparent and inclusive process for setting national DRM policies, strengthening judicial and audit institutions, and reducing tax evasion and avoidance;

• Engage citizens and other development stakeholders in DRM activities. DRM programs should be highly participatory and democratic by helping to finance broader engagement of citizens and other development stakeholders in DRM activities; and

• Transparently assess progress. The US government should support accountability of tax systems to their own citizens working with partner governments to develop benchmarks for monitoring and evaluating equitable DRM and sharing them publically in their countries.

Save the Children knows firsthand from our work in communities in places like Kenya how difficult it can be for civil society and citizens to engage in dialogue with their governments around tax policy. Such discussions are often technical and not transparent; civil society organizations often lack the resources and capacity to engage. But tax reform will not lead to more accountable governance without civil society and citizens at the table; so it’s vital that aid for DRM support not only the government’s activities, but also support civil society’s ability to engage in the process.

MFAN has created these principles not only to ensure that the US government’s DRM strategy is a catalyst for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, but to ensure that it also includes the voices of vulnerable and marginalized populations so that reform reduces inequality and improves governance.

As experts have noted, DRM that produces meaningful improvements for marginalized and vulnerable populations is unlikely to occur without their voices being included. Donor nations like the United States can play an important role to ensure that these voices are integrated into national DRM dialogue and that equity and fairness become the centerpiece of tax policy and administration reforms.