03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Put Kids on Obama's New Orleans Tour

The White House announced Monday that President Obama would be visiting New Orleans this month -- his first visit since taking the presidential oath.

During his two-day swing, the President will only see a small fraction of the challenges New Orleans confronts four years after Katrina, such as the closure of a key public hospital and the difficulty local residents have in finding affordable housing.

But if the President wants to help ensure that New Orleans's future is as vibrant as its past, he should pay special attention to the city's children.

Katrina affected everybody in New Orleans, but the long term effects of days in crowded shelters, months of homelessness, and years of changing schools have proved especially destructive to children. More than half of Louisiana's children now experience some effect from the disaster - such as a behavior disorder that puts them at risk of a less-than-bright future.

While we can't stop hurricanes, we can ensure that the treatment of children during disaster relief doesn't become a disaster in its own right. At the National Press Club on Monday, I spoke about how government can better meet the needs of children the next time a disaster strikes.

Most of what I described is common sense, but it has tragically not become policy. We need national standards at shelters to meet children's needs, a requirement that state child care agencies include disaster planning as a licensing standard, and the integration of children's needs into disaster planning.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Craig Fugate joined me at the Press Club and discussed the steps that FEMA has recently taken to address our recommendations, like assigning a senior FEMA staffer to children' issues.

When President Obama visits New Orleans this month, I hope that he will see the progress that has been made in rebuilding the city and where progress is still lacking. But I also hope that he will absorb what can happen when government does not prepare to meet the needs of all men, women and children during disasters--and take bold action.

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