The last five months have been disruptive for children and families in Virginia. Children and parents are facing challenges, hardship and trauma that will impact them for a lifetime. Financial, parent, and child emotional distresses contribute to a chain reaction, which serves as evidence that, for many children, the pandemic is causing, what is often referred to as toxic stress or trauma. This involves the chronic activation of the stress response system in ways that are known to affect brain, biological, and socioemotional development.
As leaders of Virginia, we know that you intend to keep the best interests of children in mind and that you wish to address the adverse experiences of this pandemic. To address these needs in both the short and long-term, you must prioritize the needs of children and their parents with your proposals for the state budget.
Keep Children and Families Economically Secure and Food Secure
A nationally representative survey, the Rapid EC project has found that 1 in 5 families with young children reported having a hard time paying for their basic expenses (food, housing & utilities) right now. And the Census Household Pulse survey shows that families of color in Virginia are twice as likely to report insufficient access to food in the last seven days (22% of Black households and 23% of Hispanic households) than the average household.
OUR POLICY ASKS:
Exhaust every resource from TANF, CARES or additional federal funds to keep families financially secure. The safety nets for families exist for crises like these to afford housing security and stability for families. Cash assistance for families will be necessary to weather additional economic downturns and to pay for unexpected expenses for child care and food in the wake of school closures.
Extend the moratorium on evictions. The Governor should sign an Executive Order or the General Assembly should act to halt evictions. Evictions will cause additional disruptions for families and could put children at-risk of entering the foster care system.
Ensure postpartum mothers can access health insurance. Extend eligibility for FAMIS Moms from 60 days to 12 full months postpartum.
Remove barriers to healthcare for lawfully residing immigrants by eliminating the “40-quarters rule”.
Keep Children and Families Emotionally Secure and Supported
On the most recent Census Household Pulse survey 70% of parents or caregivers reported feeling nervous, anxious or on-edge more than several days in the week. The nationally representative sample of families with young children, the Rapid EC project, reported increasing anxiety stress levels for all parents as a result of the pandemic. In mid-June anxiety levels had started to decline except for three groups of parents—economically disadvantaged parents, Black parents and families with three or more children. The compound effects of the pandemic and systemic racism on Black families should be acknowledged and addressed by Virginia leaders.
OUR POLICY ASKS:
Extend telehealth and broadband capacity to continue mental health and parent coaching visits. A bright spot of the pandemic has been how quickly mental health and health care providers, as well as home visitors and those offering OT/PT and developmental services, were able to shift their supports on line. Additional funding to support broadband access as well as the home visiting and Part C support services can continue these needed services.
Help children access mental health care through connections to primary care by continuing the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP). Unfreeze $8.4 million to expand access to mental health services for children.
Meet capacity and care needs at the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents (CCCA). Ongoing mental health needs will likely cause a surge in admissions in the following months. CCCA has incurred COVID-19 related expenses that remain unmet. To maintain a safe and therapeutic environment, unfreeze $1.5 million to fund additional clinical staff at CCCA.
Continue implementation of behavioral health system reforms: STEP-VA, Medicaid services redesign, increasing Medicaid provider rates and bringing more providers to the system through loan repayment programs.
Support the Early Education and Care Industry
A July survey by NAEYC found that 38% of child care providers in Virginia would close in the next six months without additional financial support. During the 2020 Session legislators authorized $85 million to increase access to early education. To respond to current needs, those funds should prioritized and shifted to use as grants for the private child care industry to further expand a strong mixed-delivery system for early education.
OUR POLICY ASKS:
Additional grants are needed to stabilize the child care industry and target community need. With schools closing or moving virtually, the child care industry has stepped up to provide safe care for families who need it. That does not come without additional costs. Child care providers should be awarded grants or contracts to serve children in low-income working families. State leadership for stabilization grants should come from the Department of Education as the new home for the unified early childhood sector.
Support Early Childhood Educators and Caregivers
The Center for the Study of the Child Care Workforce reports in their 2018 survey that 51 percent of the child care workforce in Virginia received public benefits. The average hourly wage for an educator in a child care facility was $9.82 in 2018. This low-wage workforce is predominately women and disproportionately women of color.
OUR POLICY ASKS:
Additional funding and protections will be necessary for the early childhood workforce. These caregivers should be afforded the same access to protective equipment and testing as other frontline workers. As these caregivers put themselves and their families at risk for very low wages, additional funding should be maximized to offer hazard pay or incentives.
Return to School and Child Care Safely
The pandemic has created numerous challenges to implement safe, caring and nurturing learning environments for children. State leaders must, at a minimum, help ensure that children in school divisions and localities across Virginia have their basic health and mental health needs met.
OUR POLICY ASKS:
To meet the unique needs of health and safety practices in educational settings the state should create a task force to provide uniform guidance for health and safety in all educational settings. And to ensure guidance is relevant to meeting the needs of children, their caregivers and educators and working parents. This task force should look at safety guidance from DSS and VDOE, consistent guidance and approaches offered by local health department, and identifying additional resources needed to implement health and safety standards, such additional school nurse positions or other community health workers.
As local school divisions ramp up their social and emotional supports for children and families we hope that you will restore new education funding frozen in the budget and make additional funding available specifically for student mental health needs such as teaching training, additional support staff, purchasing services in the community, or implementing new mental health support approaches or technology.
More Supports for the Foster Care System
The pandemic has resulted in fewer calls to Child Protective Services while families are feeling more stressed and children are more likely to experience trauma and hardship. We would like to see calls to CPS continue to stay low, as long as children’s safety and security needs are being met.
OUR POLICY ASKS:
The General Assembly authorized additional prevention services funds for communities and local social services agencies to stabilize families before coming in to the foster care system. The final budget should include $15 million to provide a range of evidence based and trauma-informed services to children at risk of entering foster care.
Reinvest $12 million to fund community-based prevention and intervention programs – with dollars specifically allocated to funds programs targeted at communities of color.
Local social services staff are also frontline workers helping families to navigate these challenging times. To ensure they are supported the state should unfreeze $11 million to raise staff minimum salaries.