WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – A national delegation of prominent women traveled to New Orleans with Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) May 8, to call attention to the acute mental health, health and education crisis of children traumatized by Hurricane Katrina.
“We’re trying to keep visible, the absolutely, morally scandalous crisis facing our children,” Dr. Edelman told The Final Call. “It’s an emergency for Katrina evacuees, in the fact that after more than eight months after this storm devastated so many hundreds of thousands of lives, they have not had their country respond in a decent and fair way by providing them urgently needed mental health, and health care, and even schools.”
The delegation, including Cicely Tyson, Regina King, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner, visited a trailer camp, and met with children and parents from the first of 13 planned CDF Freedom Schools that will be located throughout Louisiana to provide children with summer educational and cultural enrichment, along with other needed social services.
“This group of prominent women is going to see and feel for themselves the suffering of the children and the families and the human beings from Katrina, to which this country has not responded,” Dr. Edelman continued. “I am deeply grateful that these powerful and caring women are traveling to New Orleans to shine a bright light on the tragic plight of hundreds of thousands of Katrina children, not high enough on the radar screen of our political leaders and citizens.
Irreversible damage, which can still be prevented, can happen to Katrina children, CDF said in a report, “Katrina’s Children, A Call to Conscience and Action.” The emergency and long-term needs of Katrina children is spelled out in the report. The report calls for the enactment of Disaster Relief Medicaid for 24 months, to cut through the 50 separate state bureaucracies and different eligibility requirements for Katrina survivors who are still scattered throughout the country.
“We must not let this country absolutely neglect and legally abuse and let these children suffer for things that may go on for many, many years in the future,” Dr. Edelman warned in the interview. “The mental health professionals warn, they said the biggest destruction from Katrina is not the wind and the levees, not the water, they said it’s the children. And I would also say their parents, whose mental health needs are being neglected, and it’s just not acceptable in the United States of America.
“There are children whose nightmares are going on for eight months. Some children are afraid to take a bath, because they were almost overcome by the rising floodwaters. It is just a disgrace. We’re trying to forget those children. We’ve been talking about who should be blamed politically, the big issue right now is how do we help the human beings who have suffered extraordinary trauma.”
During a visit to Katrina evacuees in Houston at what is called “New Orleans West,” Dr. Edelman talked to a group of children. “What one or two things would they want Americans to know? And a little boy raised his hand and said, ‘Tell them we need hope.’ And they do need hope, and they need mental health care, and they need health care, and a place to live, and some certainty about the future.
“So I promised those children that we would not allow them to become invisible,” Dr. Edelman said, explaining that the Katrina Child Watch is planned as the first of many visits to Gulf Coast states and to the doors of political leaders, “until they act to prevent irreversible harm to Katrina children and provide comprehensive national coverage to the nine million children denied the basic right to health and mental health care in the richest nation on earth.”