The Wikipedia entry for the "2000s" points out that there's no widely accepted name for the decade that ends in just seven months. There's the "zeros," the "aughts" and even the "nils" and "nillies." However, there's one defining quality that we'll remember the most about the last ten years: the relentless onslaught of disasters and the omnipresent threat that a new one could strike at any moment.
And for America's children, who are the most vulnerable victims during a crisis, the Disaster Decade has been particularly frightening.
From 9/11 through Katrina, Rita, Ike, the Wildfires and the Great Recession, we watched as children's unique needs during disasters were largely ignored. This inadequacy has been exposed most profoundly during disaster relief efforts:
• Following a serious event, there is no effective system for family reunification. In fact, after Katrina, it took up to six months to reunify some children with their families.
• Shelters routinely don't keep families (and thus kids) separated from the rest of the population, making kids vulnerable to abuse and even rape.
• Convicted sex offenders are only asked to self report when entering a shelter. Following Ike, it was reported that 35 sex offenders self-reported in a San Antonio shelter. However, it's very possible that many more declined to report.
• Kids are invisible during disasters in this country as shelters don't routinely count the number children in the facility.
And for many kids fortunate enough to be spared the experience of an actual disaster, their sense of security is radically different from kids raised in the 20th century. Watching skyscrapers collapse, cities destroyed and neighbors forced into homeless shelters because of the recession, they are now all too aware of their own vulnerabilities.
In two weeks, Save the Children's U.S. Programs will release a report -- "The Disaster Decade: Lessons Unlearned" -- revealing the preparedness of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for protecting children during disasters. We will also examine the effects of the economic disaster on our children.
We will unveil the report in Washington, D.C. (available at savethechildren.org) and we will also lay out some solid steps Congress and the Administration could take that would begin to make positive change.
The Disaster Decade will be remembered for horrific events that changed American life forever. As the threat of global warming, terrorism and economic hardship continues unabated, it is our job to make sure that the effects on children don't remain a disaster in their own right.