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150 Alabama child care volunteers ready to help comment (0)

May 12, 2011

By Leigh Pritchett

When disaster strikes, there are about 150 child care volunteers in Alabama who are ready to open a center with little notice.

“We can set up a full day care in three hours,” said Becky Luther, state disaster relief coordinator for child care and a member of East Gadsden Baptist Church in Etowah Baptist Association.

Such a feat is accomplished with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ child care trailer. It contains rockers, walkers, televisions, DVD players, microwaves, cribs, blankets, card tables, chairs, sleeping mats, modules that can be used to form walls between different age groups, toys, coloring books, crayons, craft kits, glue, construction paper and other supplies and equipment.

The state’s second child care unit — operated by Tuscaloosa Baptist Association — also has a trailer with some of the same amenities, said Bebe Barnett, director of the Tuscaloosa Association unit.

Donna Swarts, national child care coordinator for Southern Baptist disaster relief, said both Alabama units also are equipped for “low-volume” response. That means they have some necessary supplies in boxes that can be transported quicker and more economically than a full trailer.

Whether taking the full trailer or low-volume option into a disaster area, volunteers assess what the needs are and inform nearby associational Woman’s Missionary Union groups of additional resources needed. Though the volunteers’ primary purpose is to minister directly to affected children and indirectly to their parents, Swarts said some of the 18 equipped disaster relief child care units across the nation also may provide care for the children of first responders or National Guard members who have been called to serve in a disaster area.

Volunteers have to be at least 18 years old and must undergo six to eight hours of special training. Plus each person undergoes a national background check and must be certified in CPR and first aid.

Some volunteers also complete chaplain training so that they can help children talk through their feelings. The volunteers who ministered to students at Phil Campbell Elementary School had undergone this extra training, Luther said (see story, page 6). Even though the child care units are not licensed by the state to be day-care providers, volunteers do try to adhere to state child care requirements, Swarts said.

“Actually our [children-to-teacher] ratios are smaller than DHR’s (Department of Human Resources) because [the children] have been traumatized” and, thus, need more individual attention, Luther said.

And while normally the maximum age allowed for child care is 8 years old, the unit in Rainsville following the April 27 tornadoes was able to accommodate children up to age 10, she noted. In all cases, to ensure the safety and security of children, many safeguards are in place such as having at least two workers per age group and allowing no one except trained personnel in the child care center, Luther explained.

When parents enroll a child in the center, they must complete a form, at which time the child is assigned an identification number. An armband bearing that number is placed on the child. When the parents come to get the child, they must provide the form that shows the child’s identification number, and it is checked against the child’s armband. Moreover only the people listed on the enrollment form are allowed to get the child.

“We have to follow a strict security code,” Luther said. In general, the child care units are set up at Federal Emergency Management Agency or Red Cross service centers and are open the same hours as the service centers. In Rainsville, for example, volunteers were available from 7 a.m.–7 p.m.

Swarts said the child care aspect of disaster relief demonstrates how diverse and immense disaster relief is. The average Southern Baptist may not know all that disaster relief efforts encompass, she said. But everyone who gives to his or her local church or association or contributes to state missions offerings is part of disaster relief. The volunteers who go and serve are able to do so because of the people who give money.

“They are part of this,” Swarts said of the givers. “Without them, we couldn’t do it.”

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