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Disaster Recovery Challenges Faced by Early Childhood Professionals in the U.S. Virgin Islands

In September 2017, two category 5 hurricanes struck the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) within two weeks. The islands of St. Thomas and St. John were hit by both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, while St. Croix was hit by Hurricane Maria. These hurricanes destroyed homes, businesses, schools, the natural environment, and much of the infrastructure on the islands. Most of the utility infrastructure in the USVI was destroyed, which left communities without electricity for months.

Also, fire stations, police stations, and hospitals were heavily damaged, impacting their ability to provide much-needed care to community members. Nearly two years later, USVI is still recovering from the destruction left in the wake of these two powerful hurricanes.

On November 10, 2019, the Region II Head Start Association released “Findings from Interviews with Early Childhood Professionals in the U.S. Virgin Islands: Summer 2019.” This 10-page report details the experiences of early childhood professionals in the USVI during the hurricanes of 2017. Many childhood professionals struggled with a lack of electricity, clean drinking water, and food, as well as mold, facility damage, and rodents.

This is a companion report to our Puerto Rico white paper - which can be found at:

This report was informed by a series of interviews conducted by the Region II Head Start Association and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health in the Summer of 2019. This report is the first known effort to interview early childcare professionals who directly care for young children as they recover from the hurricanes of 2017.

Findings show that 92% of participants reported damage to their childcare facilities as a result of the hurricanes in 2017. Childcare programs also closed for an average of 3.3 months.

Several barriers prevented childcare programs from re-opening, including a lack of electricity, water, and food, as well as mold and mildew, and rats and rodents. Now over two years later, early childhood professionals and children are still experiencing the negative impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Andrew Roszak, Chief of Preparedness, Health, and Environment for the Region II Head Start Association says, “Long after the storms, the challenges of recovery remain. Far removed from the headlines, there is still an important story to tell - and much more work to be done. This white paper represents an important look into the impact of the hurricanes on the early childhood programs serving the US Virgin Islands. Our commitment is to continue to support these programs - so that teachers, children and families can return to a safe, healthy and nurturing environment. As always, our goal is not just to rebuild - but to build back even better than before - in a way that leaves a long lasting positive impact on the children of the US Virgin Islands."

The Region II Head Start Association has been working on recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands since the onset of the hurricanes. They have distributed over $7 million worth of relief products and donations, largely using early childhood facilities as community distribution sites.

This report was made possible with funding from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and in partnership with the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), and the Region II Head Start Association.

In the fall of 2018, Region II Head Start began a new project in collaboration with the National Environmental Health Association. With disaster recovery funding from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, they are working on an initiative called Choose Safe Places. The Choose Safe Places (CSP) project helps to inform and educate decision-makers about the proper siting and location of early care and education programs. The project is also focused on creating tools and resources that can be used in a post-disaster environment to minimize the potential for exposure to toxic and dangerous chemicals and other environmental contaminants.

White Paper: Findings from Interviews with Early Childhood Professionals in the U.S. Virgin Islands: Summer 2019 is available please fill out your information below to be taken to the report:

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