Friday, August 25, 2006

What if your child's school closed because of pandemic flu?

It's everyone's favorite time of year - time for kids to go back to school! As summer creeps to a close, families are preparing their children for the beginning of a new school year. But what if an influenza pandemic or other infectious disease outbreak closed our schools?

While we've heard from the federal government that officials are "not ruling out" the option of closing schools for a period of time if a flu pandemic occurs, there are no real details about what this would mean, and there are far more questions than answers for parents and communities.

What would you do if your child was unable to attend school or daycare? Where would kids go if such services suddenly closed and no one knew when they would reopen? Many of us depend on schools or daycare to care for our children on a daily basis, but we probably have not truly thought about the impact that pandemic influenza or an infectious disease outbreak would have on our families.

By preparing now, we can have plans in place when a flu pandemic or other emergency occurs. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Where will my children go if their school or daycare closes and I have to work? Does my work place grant paid leave time that will allow me to miss work? How would a flu pandemic or infectious disease outbreak affect my children's diet and their access to regular, healthy foods?

Beyond your own family, there are also issues for kids in your larger community. Many low-income children rely on school breakfast and lunch programs for their daily meals. How will these children eat if schools and daycare are closed? Are there services such as food pantries or shelters that will be prepared to feed them? How will those families know where to go? Every community should have a preparedness plan in place that will allow kids to eat healthily during an emergency, whether it is an outbreak of pandemic influenza, infectious disease or another disaster.

All of these questions may leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious. But by thinking ahead now and deciding what your family and community can do to prepare, we'll all be ready if our school doors are closed.

Photo courtesy University of Toronto in Mississauga.

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