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  1. Voices Supports Proposed Changes to Child Care Payment Rates and Parent Co-Pays

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    Voices supports the proposed improvements to child care payment rates and the parent copayment requirements. These proposed changes will greatly impact the under resourced child care sector as well as help parents who are looking for care, so that they can continue to work. While it has been long recognized that child care programs need more resources to provide quality care, educators need higher wages and parents need lower costs to afford the care. Solutions have often been piecemeal and insignificant with regards to impact in all three areas of need. This proposal has the potential to transform how staff are paid, how parents choose quality, affordable care, and how quality improvement resources are provided.

    Virginia is ranked 10th highest in the nation for child care costs. The average annual rate for an infant is $14,063 and $10,867 for a preschooler.

    In 2021, Voices supported Senator Jennifer McClellan’s proposal to improve child care by funding the true cost of quality care (SB1316 Bill Explainer). The adoption of this legislation prompted the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to examine its payment practices and to seek approval from the federal government to use an alternative payment methodology to set rates based on program inputs. During the pandemic, VDOE has had the ability to waive parent co-payments which has provided relief when many families experienced economic hardship. New copayment rates will help to reduce the burden on parents participating in the subsidy program. Recent policy changes have also improved the ability for parents to participate by raising maximum income requirements, removing child support requirements, and ending a lifetime limit of 72 months for receiving assistance.

    Impact of Proposed Changes on Program Funding

    The new payment rates have been set to reflect the costs of program inputs by including wages, program standards, curriculum, and quality improvement activities. Payment rates have been posted online and can be compared to previous rates. Under the previous reimbursement rate process, the market, or what parents could pay in a specific community, drove the costs. The new model considers rates at a regional level and takes into account different types of licensures. In doing this, it recognizes the educators in the classroom as the critical inputs, not the physical location.

    As payment rates are currently set by the age of the child, type of setting, and locality, the impact of the new payment rates in comparison to the old rates varies significantly across these three areas. Voices took a look at the new rates across jurisdictions to better understand impact. While there are a few localities who will not see rates increase for the preschool or school-aged age groups, every locality will see rate increases for providers. Each locality is now grouped into a region where the regional rate is equal across jurisdictions (unless the original market was higher).

    Some providers and jurisdictions will see minimal increases of $5 per day, or slightly less. However, a $5/day increase for child served for 260 days throughout the year would equal a $1,300 increase for the program. Some localities and providers will see much larger increases in the magnitude of $20-35 per day. A $20/day increase (for example, in a center serving infants in James City County) would equal $5,200 additional resources per year and a $35/day increase (for example, in a center serving infants in Wythe County) would equal $9,100 per year.

    As with any cost calculation, there will be some “winners” and “losers”. Providers in Northern Virginia will not see the same scale of increase as providers in more rural areas of the state. However, families looking for infant and toddler care will see significant rate increases as will home care providers serving school-age children. As we look to additional changes for payment practices and participation in the coming years, the state should consider the localities that do not receive significant increases in this proposal as a priority population. In particular, providers in Northern Virginia are not provided significant rate increases despite recent policy changes for Washington DC that increased rates and educator compensation. Failing to compete at the regional level could incentivize Virginia-based early educators to transition to nearby jurisdictions paying more.

    The proposed changes will roll out in three phases:

    • Phase I: Regional payment rates determined by cost to be implemented Oct 1, 2022.
    • Phase II: Create a voluntary wage scale to encourage programs to increase wages over time.
    • Phase III: Provide additional supports for continuous quality improvement based on VQB5 assessments.

    Impact on Early Educator Wages

    While the rate increases could impact programs to a varying degree depending on subsidy enrollment, ages of children, and jurisdiction, those who are receiving the increase will be asked to participate in a voluntary wage scale allowing VDOE to collect information on the current wages and to offer a benchmark to ensure educators are paid higher wages as a result of the rate increase. This wage scale is a very exciting component to help increase the compensation for early childhood professionals and family home care providers. Compensation was modeled to factor in the wages that teachers in public preschool programs were paid to put their private counterparts on equal footing. The voluntary scale will allow Virginia an opportunity to measure progress towards increasing compensation, particularly when other neighboring localities to Virginia have made this a focus.

    Impact on Parent Copayments

    The child care subsidy program can be an extremely valuable benefit to working families, but only if it provides the continuous affordable coverage they need to work. Proposals to reduce the parent co-pays and collapse income levels will help reduce benefit cliffs where families receive diminishing returns for higher wages by reducing their access to public benefits. The impact of the proposed changes would save some families $600 per year while others could save thousands of dollars. Families earning less than the poverty level (who currently make up 43% of children enrolled) would pay no copays under the proposed changes. These families would go from paying about $50 per month to no monthly contribution. Families just over poverty (100-200% FPL) would pay $60 per month in comparison to $135-185/month under the current structure, and parents above that rate would pay $120-180/month. Providers are allowed to charge parents for any difference between tuition rates and what is covered by subsidy reimbursement and parent co-pays.

    Public Comment Opportunity

    The reimbursement rate changes are program manual changes that do not require legislative approval, but will go through the public comment process and will be presented to the Board of Education.

    Public comments on the proposed changes can be emailed to  rr-earlychildhoodaccess@doe.virginia.gov by July 25, 2022. The current timeline has reimbursement rates taking effect October 2022 and copayment changes would take effect January 1, 2023.

  2. General Assembly 2022: Mental Health Wrap-Up

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    The momentum was in place for children’s mental health in Virginia. The US Surgeon General and key advocates declared a national emergency to confront a decade-long decline in children’s mental health. Despite widespread concern, Governor Northam’s original budget proposal did not fund new programs in schools for children’s mental health. To meet the moment, a bipartisan group of legislators and advocates from various communities lobbied for investments in psychological services and counseling. Additional resources of $1.4 million per year will expand the Virginia Mental Health Access Program to integrate services in health care settings. Noted below are other new investments integrating mental health in school settings, increasing reimbursement rates, and supporting the workforce.

    A First Step for School-Based Mental Health Integration 

    Over the last three years, the General Assembly has focused on improving school-based mental health by funding specialized student support positions—counselors, social workers, and psychologists. While students have benefited from better relationships with faculty, COVID presented unanticipated disruptions, rapidly increasing needs, and barriers to vital care. School divisions have responded by allocating federal recovery funds into training, coaching, and even bringing community-based mental health professionals into schools.

    However, federal support during this emergency is impermanent and mental health threats are ongoing. School divisions need resources to continue to support these efforts. Voices led advocacy for additional state general fund resources supporting school-based mental health in flexible ways to assist school divisions in identifying key partnerships and resources. The General Assembly allocated $2.5 million in FY23 to begin supporting school-based mental health services and included language asking the newly established Behavioral Health Commission to study how schools can better integrate mental health services with sustainable funding streams such as Medicaid.

    The General Assembly also approved funding to establish a regional Recovery High School based in Chesterfield where substance abuse recovery is incorporated into the school day. The proposal by Delegate Carrie Coyner was finally approved after the 2020 COVID response cut funding. Other high schools will be able to look toward this model to support health needs in the classroom.

    Senator Jennifer McClellan has been a significant leader on school based mental health and increasing resources for school-based professionals. Read more in her Op/Ed in the Fredericksburg FreeLance Star.

    Addressing Workforce Shortages

    The lynchpin to support the social and emotional well-being of students is having an appropriate workforce. We are excited about two changes that will help address pressing workforce challenges.

    The House and Senate approved HB829, proposed by Del. Tony Wilt, that will provide flexibility on a provisional basis for licensed mental health professionals without certification to work in school-settings. This flexibility will ensure that school divisions can hire more mental health staff.

    The budget adopted by the General Assembly includes funding for a new initiative to help mental health professionals seeking licensure when they must pay for their supervision time out-of-pocket. The new initiative, Boost200, will provide resources to cover out-of-pocket expenses for licensure and match them with approved supervisors. This initiative is poised to make a significant impact on removing barriers towards licensure and diversifying the mental health field. Learn more about participating to address licensure costs or to work as a supervisor.

    Improving Medicaid Reimbursement Rates

    The third area that the legislature improved on mental health services was improving Medicaid reimbursement rates for several mental health services. Federal funds from the current “public health emergency” have increased payment rates for community-based services by 12.5%. The General Assembly approved resources to continue financing those services. The General Assembly also improved rates for psychiatric residential treatment facilities. Many facilities served children from other states and lacked placements for children in Virginia, leading to greater instability for the hardest to place children, who are the focus of the Safe and Sound Task Force. The increased rates should help caregivers meet immediate needs, but challenges remain to ensure that children are not placed in inappropriate and lengthy stays in congregate settings. While increasing Medicaid rates is a positive step, adequate reimbursement is essential to looking after the mental health of economically disadvantaged children and vulnerable children in the foster care system.

  3. General Assembly 2022: Early Education Wrap-Up

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    Virginia lawmakers continued to create a path for growth and expansion in early education with the outcomes of the budget negotiations in the 2022 General Assembly Session. Building off years of historic state and national investments, the legislature approved significant resources for early childhood for FY23-24. The legislature approved several new initiatives and the bulk of the early childhood expansion proposals in Governor Northam’s outgoing budget.

    After years of significant strain on the child care industry and after a House of Delegates proposed budget made significant cuts to Northam’s proposals, early childhood advocates have something positive to celebrate in this state budget. The final compromise left most of his proposal in place. In recent comments, Governor Youngkin recognized a significant bi-partisan shift to support early education that he hoped the legislature would restore funding to early education.

    Below are the initiatives that will strengthen early education and the child care sector in the budget. In total, the budget includes an additional $76 million in state funds and an additional $7.5 million in ARPA funding for early education and child care.

    Six bipartisan legislators received Child Care Champions Awards from the Virginia Promise Partnership at an awards reception on June 1, 2022.

    Six bipartisan legislators received Child Care Champions Awards from the Virginia Promise Partnership at an awards reception on June 1, 2022.

    Creating a Stronger, More Equitably Resourced Early Education System

    A combination of policy changes in legislation and language in the budget will strengthen the alignment and oversight of early education programs.

    • The Regional Early Education System and Overpayment Fund HB 389, sponsored by Del. Bulova, was signed into law to create the structure for Ready Regions throughout Virginia and capture any overpayment to localities of subsidy funds so it does not revert to other areas.
    • Increasing the VPI per-pupil allocation to $8,359 will reflect the true cost of quality early education programs. In addition, language asks the Department of Education to conduct an annual benchmarking of VPI funding, as is done with other K-12 funding streams.
    • Language for more flexibility in the use of VPI funds will allow school divisions to serve more students with disabilities and expand to serve 3-year-olds in VPI funded programs.
    • An additional $6.7 million will expand public/private options for state-aligned preschools through the VECF mixed-delivery program. These funds will support the early childhood education of an estimated additional 500-600 students, including 200 infants and toddlers.
    • The legislature has directed $3.5 million in ARPA funds to the United Way of Southwest Virginia for a new initiative expanding child care capacity, “Ready Southwest”.

    Compensation and Retention for Early Childhood Educators

    • The approved budget will expand the early educator incentive grant program by an additional $5 million per year to recruit and retain early childhood professionals.
    • While reforms to the hiring process and background checks for provisional employment did not move forward, the Commissioner of Social Services has begun a process review and promise to address the timeliness of background checks.

    Accessibility and Affordable Care for All Children

    • Building off the legislation that passed last year, the new budget continues to expand child care assistance eligibility and reduces parent co-pays. Families with children under five, up to 85% of the state median income, and families looking for a job are eligible now for this assistance. The budget also eliminates the 72 month time limit to receive assistance, removing an arbitrary time limit for families who may have multiple children who could otherwise qualify for assistance.
    • The legislature also provided $4 million in ARPA federal funds to support 21st Century Community Learning Centers. These federal funds will strengthen school-based, out of school-time, programs that are affordable.
    • Governor Youngkin signed SB69 sponsored by Sen. Favola allowing home-based child care programs to be approved on the site of rental properties.

    Healthy Development

    • The legislature provided a $2.9 million increase each year to the base allocation for Part C Services early intervention services funded through DBHDS. This will contribute to services for infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and delays.
  4. Making HERstory: Inside My Trip to the White House

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    As a person who has always aspired to be a voice for children, being invited to the White House felt like a dream. Before I knew what the field of social work was, I decided at 11 years old that I would go to law school so that I could speak up for children. My passion is deeply personal as I have navigated the kinship foster care system myself and witnessed overwhelmed social workers first hand and at times, blatant racism that ran rampant in the child welfare system. Just before enrolling into law school, I was introduced to the field of social work and learned that there was a pathway for me to pursue my policy dreams with a concentration in macro social work.

    My role as Policy and Programs Director at Voices for Virginia’s Children has afforded me many opportunities to change the very systems I that impacted me as a child. In 2018, I gave birth to my son, Perry, and becoming a mother again shifted how I viewed child welfare and deepened my understanding of how economics and mental stress can impact a person’s ability to parent.

    My invitation to the White House happened quickly, I received a call on Wednesday and was there the following Tuesday. One of our national partners quickly submitted my name when the opportunity presented for families and advocates to meet with Secretary Beccera on pushing Build Back Better. As one of a few Black policy experts in child welfare, I have worked in conjunction with many national groups over the past six years. When the White House called (everyone wants to know if it was a private number but it wasn’t!), I was delighted to learn that they wanted me to bring my 4 year old son, Perry, with me when I attended the panel conversation. On a personal level, my partner and I have navigated obtaining an IEP for my son and in that process realized how difficult this would be for parents who do not have as much insider knowledge as I do. Even after my son started receiving services, I noted that for many working parents they would not be able to take the time off to get their children to therapies and could as a result have child protective services called for not complying with an IEP.

    On the day of the event, my son and I made the trip to Washington DC using the Amtrak, which was the highlight of the experience for my son! The question I have been asked most is, “how did we arrive at the White House?” or “did they send us a personal car?” As simple as it sounds, we took a ride share from Union Station straight to the security check point in front of the White House. A wonderful staffer escorted us through a very thorough security process with the secret service and then we were inside! They took us straight to the room the roundtable discussion would be held in and I quickly noticed there were only yoga mats on the floor for the children. As a now mom of two young children, I pulled out my giant blanket and offered to lay it on the floor for my son and the other three children who had attended. I had also brought a bin of toys for my son to play with on the train and I dumped it out on the floor as well.

    Participants’ children play on the floor at the White House as we awaited the roundtable beginning.

    The White House roundtable was hosted by members of the Biden-Harris Administration: Secretary Xavier Becerra, Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein, and Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Mobility, Carmel Martin. Meeting the Secretary of Health and Human Services and other key officials felt easy in comparison to being a mom that day. I was more nervous that my son would scream or shout than what I would say during the roundtable. But to my delight, Secretary Becerra was incredibly personable, especially to our children. I will never forget my son saying, “I’m ready to go home now”, just as the camera was going live! I offered him a Reeses peanut butter cup as a reward for waiting a little bit longer.

    When the roundtable started, I was asked about affordability for child care. The reality is that for me and many other families, child care is more than my mortgage, a lot more. There are two truths in affordable early childhood education—parents can’t afford to pay any more and educators can’t afford to earn any less. The math doesn’t work unless one side has to make up the difference. This is why a public investment in our system is so important, support needs to be provided for care to be affordable to parents and to attract a high quality workforce.

    This trip was incredibly special to me, mainly because I got to share the experience with my son. I do not know if he will remember this trip, or if he will only remember being on a “choo choo train”, but I am already smiling thinking about the memories I will get to share with him as he gets older. My son’s life has made a profound difference in the way I do my work. While some may doubt the positive impact motherhood has on employment, I know that being a mom has improved my work efficiency and my compassion. It is my greatest hope that one day my son and daughter will look at the pictures below and know their mom was a part of making historic investments to improve the lives of children and their families.

    Watch the full conversation on youtube:

  5. Share Your Story: Back to School

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    As children across Virginia head back to school, many families are feeling uncertain. Lawmakers have taken steps to expand access to child care, to increase food benefits and offer free school meals and to provide child tax credits. These supports are necessary and appreciated. At the same time, there are challenges that will make this year’s back to school transition difficult such as lack of paid leave, long waiting lists to enroll in child care programs and costly back to school purchases.

    We believe that lawmakers will help families and we know they have the ability to provide help. Right now Congress is considering the Build Back Better recovery plan that includes 12 weeks of paid family leave, additional funding for child care, extensions of the monthly child allowance and more. This is the opportunity to pass a comprehensive package to provide families and caregivers with the support you need. With so many things happening in the world at once, we need to bring the focus back to children and families. We need you to share your story.

    Complete this form to share your story.

    You have a couple of options…

    1. type up your story and submit or

    2. submit your name and we’ll follow up to interview you and record a story.

    We will connect with you to approve your story before it shared and let you know more about where and how it can be shared. We would like to collect as many stories as possible in the first two weeks of children going back to school. We appreciate your patience in reviewing your story and getting back to you.

    We can’t wait to hear from you.

  6. Child Care State Plan Advocacy Opportunity: Compensation and Infrastructure

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    The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the child care sector in Virginia. Our policymakers must take measures to stabilize the sector and ensure children have safe and nurturing care when parents return to work. One year after the beginning of the pandemic, 90% of regulated child care facilities have reopened in Virginia and leaders have taken positive steps to help stabilize the sector. Congress has provided billions in child care relief, including more than $1 billion to Virginia’s child care sector. State lawmakers have improved eligibility criteria so that more families can benefit and they have passed legislation to change how we pay for child care in the future—through contracts to guarantee availability and income, and to evaluate paying by true costs instead of market rates.

    These are positive steps, but they are taken on shaky ground. The child care sector is not stable. There are continued shifts in parent preferences and waves in labor force participation. Young children are still a long way from being eligible for vaccines and child care providers rely on continuing COVID-19 precautions and avoiding potential risks for students and staff for the foreseeable future. Workforce shortages are being reported where early childhood educators are hard to find, especially when the pay at less risky work environments (Amazon, retail, food service) is much better.

    This month’s opportunity to comment on the Child Care Development Fund State Plan allows advocates to weigh in on what is needed to stabilize the child care sector and how to use state and federal funds. The state plan document creates the framework for how Virginia spends Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) dollars. In this case, the plan will direct how $305 million in child care funds and $488 million in child care stabilization funds from the American Rescue Plan are spent over the next three years.

    Advocacy Opportunity: Comment on the State Child Care Development Fund Plan

    1. Review the plan online: https://www.dss.virginia.gov/ccecd/.
    2. RSVP to jamie.dungee@dss.virginia.gov to attend a virtual hearing on Monday June 7th 10:00 AM- 12:00 PM or 6:00- 8:00 PM.
    3. Submit written comments to ccdfplan@dss.virginia.gov.

    As in the past, Voices will submit comments on the state plan framework. This year, we are focused on how these funds can be spent to stabilize the sector and promote an equitable recovery with a focus on the child care workforce. Our comments will ask the state leaders to take these steps:

    1. Dedicate a portion of stabilization grants specifically to educator compensation. To increase pay and to attract and retain a workforce, stabilization funds must be dedicated to compensation. With stabilization grants anticipated to be awarded to child care programs as formula grants, there should be an add-on grant for providers who guarantee to raise employees’ pay through hazard pay, recruitment or retention bonuses.

    With child care plans under review in other states, several have taken approaches to dedicate a portion of funds to compensation. Initial plans from Connecticut signaled formula grants using stabilization funds and compensation add-ons would be available. And several states (New Mexico, North Carolina and Washington) have used previous federal relief funds to provide bonus payments. We are also asking state leaders to:

    1. Invest in systems and supports so that all parts of the sector can stabilize. There are opportunities to establish systems and procedures for wrap around supports to the sector. Several options to consider include:
      • Invest in networks to provide “back-end” supports, such as accounting, billing and benefit practices, particularly to the independent family child care providers.
      • Establish processes for any child care program to access mental health consultation for students and staff. Funds can be used to improve access to professionals to consult with educators and to provide services directly to students.
      • Establish systems-level navigators to connect early educators and community health, nutrition, mental health and developmental services. Comprehensive support for the family is a critical element of positive early childhood development. The early childhood sector should lead the way in helping to connect families and the supports they need.

    Subscribe to our emails to learn about other advocacy opportunities and receive the latest news on early care and education.

  7. 2021 General Assembly Results: Early Childhood

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    We are pleased to have so many partners around the state concerned with the well-being of young children and families. The 2021 General Assembly Session and 2020 Special Session produced positive results for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers across Virginia that will begin to touch lives very soon. Here is a reminder of some of the new initiatives coming on-line to support families with young children:

    Improved Prenatal Health Care Benefits, Particularly for Women of Color

    • 12 months of postpartum health coverage for economically disadvantaged mothers enrolled in Medicaid/FAMIS. This change will help ensure pregnant women can obtain health and mental health services longer than 60 days postpartum. This strategy was recommended to improve birth outcomes and reduce maternal death, particularly among Black moms. *Coming Fall 2021*
    • Prenatal health care coverage for economically disadvantaged mothers who are undocumented immigrants. Currently Medicaid will only cover delivery services for undocumented mothers and not preventative prenatal care. *Summer/Fall 2021*
    • A Medicaid-funded doula benefit for eligible moms to obtain doula care during pregnancy, delivery and post-partum follow-up. Doula care is a recommended strategy to improve birth outcomes and reduce maternal death among Black mothers. *July 1, 2021*
    • The General Assembly directed the state Medicaid agency to continue planning for a Medicaid-funded home visiting benefit. *In the future*

    Increased Eligibility for Cash Assistance and Affording Child Care

    • HB2206 increases income eligibility for child care assistance to $89,000 for a family of four and allows families to be eligible when looking for work. Currently, the enhanced eligibility will be in effect through July 31, 2021. The bill also eliminates the child support enforcement requirement permanently. The value of assistance depends on locality, age of child and type of provider but it is a significant cash value. For example, a family in Henrico County with an infant would receive about $1,000 per month for full-time care. Interested families must apply through their local DSS or the CommonHelp portal and must enroll at an approved subsidy vendor or encourage their child care provider to become approved. *Begins ASAP, when signed by Governor Northam*
    • Broad-based categorical eligibility for SNAP/TANF increases income limits and eliminates the “asset test” (when families have more than $2,500 in savings). The General Assembly also approved a 10% increase in TANF eligibility and cash assistance. *July 1, 2021*

    Stabilizing the Child Care Sector & Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce

    The child care sector has been disrupted by COVID-19 with many providers struggling to keep their doors open. As of March 1st, one quarter of child care providers remain closed. SB1316 from Senator Jennifer McClellan directs the state to create a pilot program using state/federal child care funds to pay for child care through grants and contracts, or enrollment, and to evaluate measures that afford the true costs of higher quality including higher wages and wraparound services.

    The final budget includes $5 million in early educator incentive grants to help increase wages by providing a $1,500 incentive for early educators in publicly funded programs.

    Enhancing the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI)

    The 2020 Special Session and 2021 GA Session approved $48 million in enhancements to the Virginia Preschool Initiative beginning July 2021 including:

    • Increasing the per pupil rate to $7,655
    • Allowing for larger class sizes
    • Incentivizing mixed-delivery partnerships with private child care
    • Flexibility to move preschool funding between school divisions
    • A pilot to enroll income eligible three-year-olds

    Addressing Young Children’s Mental Health Needs

    The General Assembly directed the Department of Education to have the “green light” to move forward with implementing plans for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation to meet the social-emotional needs of young children and to report back to the General Assembly about any additional funding needs or legislative changes.

    To get more policy news, subscribe to our emails.

  8. Bill Explainer: Child Care Stabilization and “True Costs” of Quality SB1316 (McClellan)

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    There are two truths in early childhood education: parents can’t afford to pay any more for child care and teachers can’t afford to earn any less. The imbalance in this equation is due to the fact that child care is an expensive endeavor—low teacher to student ratios, safety precautions, play materials, etc. add up. For too long these costs have been passed along to parents for what they can “afford”. Now the average cost of infant care in Virginia is more than college tuition. 

    At the same time as costs were getting too high for parents, teachers also were not able to earn living wages. A recent UVA study of the racial composition and compensation of the early childhood workforce found that two out of five early educators in child care centers reported household incomes under $25,000. Prior to the pandemic, the national median wage in child care was $10-14 per hour.

    Long-term, we need more public investments to decrease costs for parents while providing better compensation to teachers. Short-term, we need creative solutions.

    Bill Explainer:

    Senator Jennifer McClellan’s SB1316 seeks to make a number of changes to stabilize the child care sector and improve our options to pay for the “true cost” of quality. These changes would utilize existing state and federal funds through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and/or federal COVID relief funds to pay for these initiatives.

    • To promote flexibility for child care providers to hire new staff and use substitutes, the legislation establishes a plan for portable background checks. Currently an employee’s background check stays with their employer instead of the individual. Del. John McGuire has a companion bill (HB2086) to implement portable background checks.
    • To establish a two-year pilot program to allow the state to contract with child care providers based on enrollment instead of attendance. The contract would also determine payment amounts based on the inputs for high-quality, full-time services and equitable compensation for early educators. 
    • To collect data on the inputs and costs related to providing high-quality services and the outcomes for quality improvement, workforce retention, and financial stability. 
    • To work in conjunction with the School Readiness Committee to evaluate the pilot and make recommendations for future payment practices and cost-of-quality reimbursement methods. 

    These innovations on how Virginia would pay for child care services are allowed by federal authorization, but few states take these options. Virginia would be a leader in moving down the path of providing flexibility and stability to the child care sector by using our funds for child care in these ways.

    We are also learning more about other bills that would improve access and affordability in child care and will add more to this space! Sign up to receive policy emails and the latest updates straight to your inbox.

  9. 2021 General Assembly Session: Foster Care Priorities

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    Foster care is a state-run program that provides temporary care for children who cannot live with their parents or other relatives. Through this system, the local department of social services takes legal custody of a child when a parent or parents are unable to care for him or her, most often because of neglect and/or abuse. Placement of a child in foster care should be temporary and family-based when possible until a more permanent connection is made. Preferred options include working with families to improve conditions in order to return children to their homes, placement with a relative, or adoption.

    Pressing Needs in Virginia

    In the 2020 legislative session, a number of key advancements were made for children and families in foster care, however these investments were almost all put on hold due to the pandemic. The pandemic created more challenges in day-to-day activities for foster and kinship caregivers, as well as child welfare professionals. Many children entering the foster care system have experienced adversity and trauma, leaving them more vulnerable to the changes that come with school closings, lack of daily contact with friends and mentors, and other forms of social distancing. Virginia’s local department of social services has seen a decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect but expects a sharp increase as schools reopen. The child welfare system often feels immediate and long-term impacts from an economic downturn with more demands for services and increased parental stress.

    Scale Up Evidence & Community-Based Practices to Achieve Better Outcomes for Children and Families

    • Reallot funding towards implementing the federal Family First Prevention Services Act. The Family First Prevention Services Act is the first transformation of the child welfare system in nearly 40 years and provides an opportunity to invest in prevention through evidence-based and trauma-informed services. To support implementation, we must add additional leadership positions at the Department of Social Services, invest in the infrastructure to scale up evidence-based services, and provide funding to help residential treatment centers to implement a higher standard or care.
    • Prioritize access to child care assistance for children at-risk of entering foster care. Currently families involved in CPS or CPS on-going cases are considered a “priority” eligibility category. They are not guaranteed care but are given a priority. In addition, families that fall outside of those formal designations and are still CPS-involved, such as kinship arrangements, may be eligible to apply but are not guaranteed assistance Adding language in the code that gives clear priority access to child care assistance funds for children 0-13 in any cases where families are receiving kinship caregiver financial assistance, prevention services are being provided, or the family is involved in CPS or CPS-ongoing services.

    Provide Social Supports to Kinship Caregivers

    • Bring social supports to the kinship diversion program, an effort designed to avoid foster care by facilitating placements with relatives by creating a statewide kinship navigator program. Provide funding to VDSS to develop a statewide Kinship Navigator program in Virginia, which will provide information, resource, and referral services to children and kin caregivers. Kinship navigator programs offer help to kinship providers and the public in areas such as financial assistance, legal referrals, education and support groups, basic needs, child care and respite, and outreach and public education. Many kinship navigator programs also assist caregivers in obtaining copies of birth certificates, social security cards, immunization records, and any documents needed for the school registration of a child.
    • Eliminate barriers to kinship caregivers becoming licensed foster parents by amending the barrier crime statue. One commonly articulated reason about why the percentage of kinship foster care has remained so low in Virginia compared to the rest of the nation, is that Virginia’s list of barrier crimes is extensive. A barrier crime is a crime set forth in statute that explicitly disqualifies a person from foster care or kinship foster care. Federal law sets the baseline for barrier crimes standards that states must follow in setting up their foster care program in order to be eligible for Title IV-E funds. They also have a limited list of barrier crimes that states must comply with, as well as a short list of crimes for which an exception may be granted after five years.

    Help Foster Care Youth have Normal Adolescent Experiences

    • Request the Commission on Youth to study workforce outcomes for youth in care. Virginia continues to rank 49th in the country for youth in foster care aging out without a permanent connection. We lack data on the educational and employment outcomes for this population. The study would provide the state with recommendations moving forward.

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  10. 2021 General Assembly Session: Early Care and Education Priorities

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    There is no question that 2020 has dramatically changed the early learning sector in Virginia. As of late November, one-third of the licensed child care capacity in the state were still closedMost of our public preschool programs are offering virtual instruction for students. The impact of this year will have long-term implications for children as well as the child care sector.  

    We must recognize that our child care sector has only achieved stability at this level through additional federal resources. Nearly $170 million in response funds have been directed to child care and public preschool by the legislature and the Northam administration. This level of investment has been essential to keeping many providers open and allowing educators to offer care and instruction for the last nine months.

    We know that, due to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the state, additional state funds may be hard to come by this year. Our talking points for the 2021 legislative session will focus on two themes: 

    1. Improving compensation for early educators who have worked on the front lines.
    2. Building social-emotional supports into every aspect of our early learning systems.

    Improving Compensation for Early Educator Frontline Heroes

    recent UVA study of the racial composition and compensation of the early childhood workforce found that two out of five early educators in child care centers reported household incomes under $25,000. 35 percent of early educators reported decreased earnings back in May due to COVID-19 closuresBefore the pandemic, the median wage in child care was $10-14 an hour across the country. Educators in the private child care sector tend to usually be women of color—lead teachers in private programs were three times more likely to be Black than teachers in public preschool programs.

    In order for young children to continue to have loving and prepared caregivers and for parents to find child care, we must ensure there is a workforce to support children and support the sector. For the many child care programs that have remained open, early educators have put themselves at-risk of exposure to love and nurture our babies. These heroes deserve to be compensated in line with their importance in our society and in children’s lives.

    Incentive Payments: The Northam Administration has offered $1,500 incentive payments to some educators in PDG B-5 pilot communities. In FY20, about $3 mil distributed to 2,000 teachers as $1,500 recognition payments and another $3 mil is set to be distributed this year. UVA study comparing those who received an incentive and those who did not showed that the recognition payment reduced teacher turnover in child care centersWe will support additional incentive payments for educators and efforts that seek to increase minimum wages in child care settings by offering additional financial support.

    Building in Social-Emotional Supports into Every Aspect

    We don’t yet know the full impact that the pandemic will have on young children, but we do know that the stressors of the pandemic can produce a long-term impact on quickly growing and developing young brains. For children of color, the economic and emotional impact of the pandemic is layered on top of racial and historical trauma for their families and their communities.  

    Recent Census Household Pulse data shows that more than one in five parents in Virginia reported feeling hopeless or depressed. We know that when parents struggle with their mental health their children are also likely to struggle. We have heard directly from early educators who feel the toll of being on the front lines and who worry about their own health and serving children who are facing months of trauma and disruption. We must do better to support children and their caregivers in response to the pandemic.

    VDOE and state partners conducted a study on implementing mental health consultation models in child care this fall and found a few opportunities to start building up our systems. We believe that agency administrators and program leaders from Education, Social Services, Mental Health and Health agencies should review their professional development and program support plans to support services for social-emotional health into every program plan. This would include efforts such as additional social-emotional screening tools for children, implicit bias and equity training for educators, service linkages and workforce development efforts. To ensure a statewide system of support for children and caregivers there must be a multi-pronged and multi-faceted response with support from the legislature and administration creating a foundation of solid social-emotional wellness.

    Long Term Big, Bold Vision for ECE

    As we look to the long-term of the future of early education, we know we have to address a long standing problem— parents can’t afford to pay any more for child care and early educators can’t afford to earn any less. As we seek long-term solutions to rebuild this sector, we will keep these dual goals in mind to identify and support public investments and tools that can provide better pay for teachers and supports for the overall system to keep costs down for parents. We cannot go back to a system that requires parents to pay more than college tuition for their child care. And we cannot go back to a system that is based on paying low wages to teachers and caregivers. The recognition that child care is essential for our workforce should change the positioning and prominence of child care on any state and federal policy agenda in the future. It is critical to have your advocacy to continue to support it.

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