Children and Disasters: Child Evacuation in World War II and Public Policy
Laura E. Oren
University of Houston Law Center
CHILDREN AND DISASTERS: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED FROM THE HURRICANES OF 2005?, Howard Davidson, Ellen Marrus, Laura Oren, eds., 2008
This is the final chapter of an interdisciplinary book about children and disasters published jointly by the Center on Children, Law & Policy of the University of Houston Law Center and the ABA. The preceding chapters focus in detail on emergency preparedness, foster care, psychological impact, oral history, juvenile justice, and education. This chapter, however, is designed to bring historical perspective to bear on the social policy implications of disasters that affect children. It does this by comparing the large-scale evacuation of children from hurricane-afflicted areas to the single largest social experiment in Great Britain during World War II - the official evacuation of between 800,000 and a million children, mostly unaccompanied, from London and other cities of Great Britain in order to transfer them away from aerial bombing of industrial centers. The evacuations occurred in three waves - the first (and largest) occurring before bombing began, between September 1-3, 1939; the second after the beginning of the “blitz” in 1940; and the last when the V-1 and V-2 rockets attacked London and the southeast of England in 1944.
The evacuations severely disrupted the educational experiences of children. In addition, since many social services such as meal service or milk or medical programs were provided through the schools, evacuation also reshaped the delivery of those services, first disrupting them, but later in the war prompting massive expansions of services. Moreover, since the evacuated children mostly were unaccompanied by a parent, social scientists, child guidance experts, and psycho-analysts like John Bowlby or Anna Freud were heavily involved in studying the results and even in advising the government about what to do to ameliorate the impact of family separation. The greatest effect of the wartime experiment, however, was on overall social policy. Evacuation of chiefly poor children from the inner cities to the more affluent countryside exposed the persistence of poverty to the nation. Shining a light on the “dark places” in turn helped to inspire the post-war construction of the welfare state, including national health insurance. While the child evacuation may only have hastened developing trends and the parallels between the two countries and times should not be exaggerated, the contrast to the aftermath of the Katrina/Rita disasters cannot be more striking. Unfortunately, the revelations of poverty, poor education, and other social needs of the child and adult evacuees fleeing Katrina and Rita have failed to stimulate public policy debate in the broadest sense.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: Children and Disasters, Hurricane Katrina or Rita, Evacuation of Children, Great Britain and World War II, Poverty, “Our Town”, John Bowlby, Anna Freud, Social Welfare, Welfare State, National Health Insurance
Date posted: April 8, 2010 ; Last revised: April 29, 2013
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