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Save the Children to Help Youngsters Impacted by California Wildfires

Special Feature: Tips for Parents on How to Help Children Cope

WESTPORT, Conn., Oct. 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Save the Children, a humanitarian agency that responds to disasters and works to improve the lives of children around the world, is deploying a team of crisis experts to assist children and families affected by the devastating wildfires in Southern California.

The team, which will be posted to San Diego, will provide assistance to children and families evacuated from their homes.

"We know from experience that the needs of children are rarely a priority in emergency situations," said Mark K. Shriver, Save the Children's vice president for U.S. programs. "When children are displaced from their homes and schools and their routines are disrupted, they suffer in unique ways, and sometimes they lose faith in grown-ups' ability to protect them."

Save the Children, which has responded to nearly 20 emergencies around the world over the last year, works with the American Red Cross and other national disaster response organizations in the United States to ensure that the particular needs of children are addressed during a disaster. The agency has already trained 60 Red Cross staff members and shelter volunteers in California to set up and run its trademark program "Safe Spaces" for children in evacuation centers. The agency also has provided the Red Cross with 20 safe play kits for use in shelters.

The Save the Children experts traveling to California -- several of whom worked in the Gulf after Hurricane Katrina -- will support this effort, assess the damage and identify other needs of children impacted by the wildfires.

In addition, Save the Children and Mississippi State University's Early Childhood Institute will monitor the status of child-care facilities in the region affected. The agency will reach out to these facilities and local schools to offer assistance in the effort to get children back into school and child care as quickly as possible once the fires have receded.

"Returning children to their normal routines is a proven way to help them recover from loss and from the frightening images of destruction they have experienced firsthand or they may have seen on television," said Shriver. "It also allows parents the time and space they need to get their lives back together."

Save the Children implements long-term literacy and nutrition programs in California's Central Valley and in San Bernadino. The agency also advocates at a state and national level to raise the priority of children in disaster planning, response and recovery.

Save the Children works in more than 50 countries, including the United States, and serves more than 33 million children and 32 million others working to save and improve children's lives, including parents, community members, local organizations and government agencies.


How to Help Children Cope with the California Wildfires

Ten Tips from Save the Children

By Charles MacCormack, President and CEO of Save the Children

The dramatic images of wildfires wreaking havoc in southern California are having an impact on children not only in the immediate area where the destruction is taking place but also on children throughout the country who are watching the destructive power of the flames on television.

Concerned about the emotional well-being of their children, many parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers are looking for advice on how to respond to questions from children about unsettling and upsetting events that continue to be shown in the media about the fires and their impact on homes, families and pets.

Children often ask the adults in their lives to explain what they are seeing and reassure them about what will happen next:

"Will everything be OK? Why is this happening? What will happen to the children who have lost so much?"

How do we respond to these questions?

Following 9/11 -- and again after Hurricane Katrina -- Save the Children prepared the following 10 tips to help adults support children through times of crisis. These tips are based upon Save the Children's years of national and international experience and can be used as a guide for adults to support children through this current crisis. The relevancy of different tips may vary upon issues such as a child's previous experience, age and where he or she lives in the world.

1. Turn off the television. Watching television reports on disasters may overwhelm younger children. They may not understand that the tape of an event is being replayed, and instead think the disaster is happening over and over again. Overexposure to coverage of the events affects teenagers and adults as well. Television limits should be set for both you and your children.

2. Listen to your children carefully. Before responding, get a clear picture of what it is that they understand and what is leading to their questions. Emotional stress results in part when a child cannot give meaning to dangerous experiences. Find out what he or she understands about what has happened. Their knowledge will be determined by their age and their previous exposure to such events. Begin a dialog to help them gain a basic understanding that is appropriate for their age and responds to their underlying concerns.

3. Give children reassurance and psychological first-aid. Assure them about all that is being done to protect children who have been directly affected by this crisis. Take this opportunity to let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.

4. Be alert for significant changes. Parents should be alert to any significant changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, concentration, wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints without apparent illness. If present, these will likely subside within a short time. If prolonged, however, we encourage you to seek professional support and counseling. For children directly affected by this crisis -- such as children who have lost a loved one -- parents should consult their pediatrician or family doctor and consider counseling, not just for the child, but also for the entire family. It may be an important preventative measure. But other children also may be affected by the images they see and stories they hear.

5. Expect the unexpected. Not every child will experience these events in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events, while older children and teenagers will get information from a variety of sources which may not be as reliable. Understand that older teenagers, because of their greater capacity for understanding, may be more affected by these stories. While teenagers seem to have more adult capacities

to recover as well, they still need extra love, understanding and support to process these events.

6. Give your children extra time and attention. They need your close, personal involvement to comprehend that they are safe and secure. Talk, play and, most important, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities for children of all ages. Read bedtime stories and sing songs to help younger children fall asleep.

7. Be a model for your child. Your child will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you deal with them. Base the amount of self- disclosure on the age and developmental level of each of your children. Explain your feelings but remember to do so calmly.

8. Watch your own behavior. Make a point of showing sensitivity toward those impacted by the disaster. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.

9. Help your children return to normal activities. Children almost always benefit from activity, goal orientation and sociability. Ensure that your child's school environment is also returning to normal patterns and not spending great amounts of time discussing the crisis.

10. Encourage your child to do volunteer work. Helping others can give your child a sense of control, security and empathy. Indeed, in the midst of crisis, adolescents and youth can emerge as active agents of positive change. Encourage your children to help support local charities that assist children in need.

Save the Children, based in Westport, CT, can be reached at 1-800-728- 3843, website: Our Address: 54 Wilton Road, Westport, CT, 06880

Save the Children is the leading independent organization creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Save the Children USA is a member of the International Save the Children Alliance, a global network of 28 independent Save the Children organizations working to ensure the well-being and protection of children in more than 110 countries. For more information, visit

SOURCE Save the Children
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