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Tag Archive: covid 19

  1. 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book Release

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    The 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book was recently released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an annually published resource that tracks child well-being nationally as well as state by state and ranks the states accordingly. The report is based on the latest available data for 16 key indicators. Policymakers, researchers, and advocates can continue to use this information to help shape their work and build a stronger future for children, families, and communities.

    View the full 2022 Data Book.

    The 2022 report includes the most recent data from 2020. Due to several challenges in data collection during the pandemic, several years of data needed to be aggregated for stable results. A letter from the Annie E. Casey Foundation President, Lisa Hamilton, highlights the most recent data we have that reflect how parents and families are faring during the pandemic. This letter highlights the 1.5 million children who are struggling to make it through the day.

    Overall, Virginia is ranked 13th in the nation. The data in this year’s report include both pre-pandemic and more recent figures. Here’s where Virginia lands in each domain:

    • Economic well-being: Virginia saw improvements in all four indicators compared to 2008-2012. There are 24,000 fewer children living in poverty and the percentage of children in families with no full-time employment decreased by 8% from 2016-2022. Additionally, the percent of teenagers who are not in school and are unemployed decreased by 29%. However, there are still 242,000 children living below a family income of $26,246 for a family of four.
    • Education: Virginia is in the top 10 at 6th place. The percentage of high school students not graduating on time decreased from 18% to 13% (2010-2011 vs. 2018-2019).
    • Health: Virginia ranks 24th. The percent of children without health insurance, improved from 7% to 5% from 2008-12 to 2016-20. But that is the only indicator to improve during the trend year. Children born with low birth weight, child and teen deaths, as well as child obesity increased.
    • Family and community factors: Virginia ranks 17th place. Teen birth rates dropped from 27 per 1,000 females to 13 per 1,000 females in 2010 to 13% in 2020, and the percent of children living in households where the head of household lacks a high school degree went from 10% to 9%. However, children in single parent households (31%) and children living in high poverty areas (5%) from trend years 2008-2012 to 2016-2020 remain the same.

    The Virginia KIDS COUNT data center includes these indicators and hundreds more at the state and even local level over time. For example, interested in learning more about the percent of children in poverty across Virginia? The Virginia KIDS COUNT data center has data available by locality and race. Learn more.

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  2. How Virginia’s Children are Faring One Year into the Pandemic

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    To the Voices’ family,

    March 11, 2021 marked the one-year anniversary of the day in which the world changed for everyone. In very short order, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, professional sports teams ended their seasons, schools closed, and “work” presented a host of new challenges for us all. What some believed might be an inconvenience for a few weeks proved to be the challenge of a lifetime. 

    We wondered how to best stay safe and what to do about childcare. Would our jobs and businesses survive, and how were we going to pay for food and housing? As the weeks turned into months, our concerns only grew. Were our children falling behind in school; were those of us who survived COVID-19 going to have lifelong illness? How was anyone, especially children and older adults, going to deal with long-term isolation? 

    The more we learned about infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths, the more something else became clear. This pandemic – which was taking a huge human and economic toll – was doing so disproportionately in communities of color. The last 12 months with COVID-19 has pushed us in many ways, broken us in some, and highlighted the appalling lack of equity in our society. 

    For Virginia’s children, their race, zip code and family income determine their life expectancy and ability to succeed. Lest we are tempted to think that this is hyperbole, the data from our KIDS COUNT Data Center confirms the impact of COVID-19 on families of color.  

    • The economic security for families has weakened; especially for Black and Latino families. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly half (49%) of all adults with children in the household lost employment income. While unemployment has soared across all race and ethnic groups, this percentage has been significantly greater for Black and Hispanic families.
    • More families are going hungry. Prior to the pandemic, one in 10 families reported sometimes or often not having enough food to eat. These numbers have increased during the pandemic to 14% and are significantly higher for Black (24%) and Hispanic (32%) families.
    • Without policy interventions we will see a spike in housing insecurity. Virginia’s eviction moratorium has allowed for our families to keep pace with the national average (21%) when it comes to paying rent or mortgage on time. However, 25% of Black families expressed no confidence in making these payments on time.
    • Black and Latino people are hospitalized at a greater rate for COVID-19. As of March 17, the Virginia Department of Health reported 19,982 hospitalizations from COVID-19. The Black community accounts for about 27% of that group, although they only represent just 20% of the commonwealth’s population. Likewise, the Latino population makes up roughly 17% of Virginia’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, but only 10% of the population.
    • As of March 16, of Virginians that have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 8,843 per 100,000 are Black people and 7,835 per 100,000 are Hispanic people, compared to 14,405 per 100,000 that are White people.

    The stress of trying to pay bills, eat, maintain housing and balance child care has also led to an increase in depression and anxiety in adults. These familial stressors are also felt by children and can impact their development, introducing new levels of trauma and instability. 

    This year has been hard in so many ways. We must acknowledge the generosity, kindness of bravery that were on display daily in ways big and small. Individuals, families, and communities proved to be creative, adaptable, and resilient. I certainly saw all of these qualities in the staff and work at Voices and it was to the benefit of Virginia’s children and their families. 

    Because of your support, Voices was able to continue our work in championing policies and safety net programs to protect our children. More than $257 million was allocated in state and federal funds for new initiatives for children and families. Our legislative victories include:

    • A significantly transformed foster care;
    • Enhanced Virginia Preschool Initiatives
    • An emphasis placed on equitable education for disadvantaged school districts;
    • Support to address financial hardships for families;
    • Virginia becoming the first state in the South to declare racism a public health crisis;
    • Established new methods to stabilize childcare and make it affordable; and
    • Dismantling systems of oppression, increasing access to health insurance and removing barriers to receive public assistance.

    Yes, this past year was hard, and we are not out of the woods yet. But we do have reason to hope, and we at Voices will continue to advocate for programs, policies and systemic changes that promote health, wellbeing, and equity for all of Virginia’s children and their families. 

    Sincerely yours,

    Amy Strite, CEO of Voices for Virginia’s Children

    *This blog was updated on April 28th, 2021.*

  3. 2021 General Assembly Session: Health Care Priorities

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    While the entire world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, America and Virginia face dual pandemics, COVID-19 and racism as a public health crisis. Public health looks at how external factors influence health outcomes, such as how racism, poverty, food access, and environmental inequities collectively contribute to physical, social, and emotional health.  The solutions require a multi-faceted response that promotes a multi-sector continuum of care. The pandemic has shed light on the importance of how one’s awareness of their own health can impact the entire community, such as knowledge that one is carrying the COVID-19 virus. This gives us the opportunity to do better in ensuring that our residents have fair and just access to what they need to sustain a quality of life and positive health outcomes. 

    Our talking points for the 2021 legislative session will focus on the following themes that fall under the umbrella of expanding  insurance access to immigrant populations: 

    1. Extend Medicaid coverage for legally residing young adults from 18 to 21. 
    2. Extend eligibility for FAMIS Moms prenatal delivery coverage to all pregnant women. 
    3. Expand Medicaid coverage of “emergency” services for COVID-19. 

    Extend Medicaid Coverage to Immigrant Populations

    Every Virginian should have access to health insurance during a pandemic, regardless of immigration status. When parents have access to health insurance, children are more likely to have insurance. As a result, the overall health and well-being of Virginia’s population is improved due to increased access.  As of December 10th, according to the CDC, there have been over 285,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United Status. This number continues to rise, but we must note the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color. Minority communities are expected to navigate systems of biases and inequities and stay afloat while facing exacerbated health inequities as it relates to the social determinants of health. Young adults are just starting off in life and often work part time jobs that have limited access to paid time off, such as sick pay and health insurance. Virginia must ensure they have what they need to survive the pandemic and live a long and healthy life.

    Increase the age that legally residing immigrant children can qualify for Medicaid and FAMIS: Currently, legally residing immigrant children in Virginia qualify for coverage up to 19. Federal law allows optional coverage to continue up to age 21 allowing for continuity of care and reducing gaps in health coverage. 

    Extend Eligibility for FAMIS Moms Prenatal Delivery Coverage to All Pregnant Women, Regardless of Status

    Policymakers must prioritize child and family health. It’s time to invest in and prioritize access to healthcare for all Virginians. The postpartum period is important but an often neglected element of maternal and infant care. Mothers deal with a variety of medical conditions and complications from birth, regardless of their identity. Symptoms include pain, childbirth, postpartum depression and anxiety, and more. As we navigate the public health crisis, every policy and funding decision should move Virginia closer to becoming a place where everyone has the opportunity to survive and thrive. Access to prenatal coverage improves health outcomes for the mother and child.

    Extend Medicaid/FAMIS MOMS prenatal coverage to undocumented women who meet all other non-immigration eligibility criteria: The federal option for this is already in use in 17 other states and would require a CHIP plan amendment. However, the good news is extending prenatal coverage could result in 2.3 million in net savings for the state in FY22 due to drawing down a higher federal match rate compared to emergency services that might otherwise not be utilized due to a lack of access.

    Expand Medicaid Coverage for COVID-19 Emergency Services

    Communities of color are experiencing much higher COVID-19 hospitalization rates. For example, as of December 3rd, the Virginia Department of Health reported 15,116 hospitalizations. The Black community accounted for 29 percent, despite the fact that they represent just 19 percent of the commonwealth’s population. Similarly, the Latinx population represents 24 percent of Virginia’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, but only 9.8 percent of the population. Meanwhile, the white community accounts for 28 percent of the commonwealth’s coronavirus hospitalizations, but nearly 70 percent of the population. These numbers are disproportionate. 

    Virginia must expand Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 emergency services: Several other states have taken steps during the current crisis to help their residents regardless of immigration status. Federal law allows states to cover COVID-19 screening, testing, vaccines, and all related treatment for any immigrant who meets financial requirements for Medicaid, but does not meet the immigration status requirement. This policy will decrease the spread of the coronavirus. Virginians should have access to emergency services during a pandemic. It benefits everyone.

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  4. 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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  5. Sounding the Alarm: New Data Reveals Impact of COVID-19 Hardships

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    Guest Blog Post Contributed by John R. Morgan, Ph.D., former Voices Executive Director and current Chewning Research Fellow at the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation

    Widening racial-ethnic disparities likely to harm children of color

    Data is accumulating showing that economic and familial hardships associated with the pandemic are experienced more acutely by Black and Hispanic families. These hardships are of the same nature as those associated more generally with child poverty; and it is clear that racial-ethnic child poverty disparities in Virginia are already substantial and persistent. The latest data available on the KIDS COUNT Data Center indicate poverty rates of 28.0 for Black children, 19.8 for Hispanic children and 8.9 percent respectively for white children.

    Children of color, already more likely to experience child poverty and its associated hardship burdens, are now faced with an extra and similarly disproportionate burden delivered by the pandemic. The most likely outcome of this doubled-up hardship burden is a worsening of pre-pandemic racial-ethnic inequities. It is also likely that these inequities will be most prominent in education and health. Looming on the horizon then is the highly likely and entirely unwelcome prospect of the worsening of already intolerable inequities which greatly disadvantage children of color, including:

    • education achievement gaps (PALS-K scores, SOL scores, SAT scores; and rates of retention, suspension/expulsion, drop-out, graduation, college acceptance)
    • inequities in health status (prevalence of asthma, obesity, low birthweight; inadequate prenatal care; food insecurity)

    Data on COVID health outcomes are of primary immediate concern. Infection rates, hospitalization rates and mortality are all substantially higher for Black and Hispanic-Latino than White populations nationally and in Virginia.

    Disparities in COVID-caused household hardships

    More recently, data from the Census Bureau’s COVID-19 Household Pulse Survey reveal that the burden of COVID-related family hardships falls most heavily on Black and Hispanic households. This disproportionate impact threatens to put at risk the long-term well-being of their children. Much of the available data is national yet it is plausible that national findings will be mirrored in Virginia to a great extent. Some prominent national indicators include:

    • 51 percent of households with children reported an adult in the household had lost employment income. (Pulse Survey August 2020)
    • 58 percent of Hispanic and 53 percent of Black households saw a loss of employment income since March, versus 39 percent of white households. (Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies)
    • 59 percent of Black households, 55 percent of Latino households, and 33 percent of white households reported it was “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to pay for usual household expenses. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)
    • 18 percent of Black households, 17 percent of Latino households, and 7 percent of white households reported that their household did not get enough to eat. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

    The minimal state-level data available so far align with these national findings. In a recent report, the Commonwealth Institute estimated that 24 percent of children in Virginia live in a household that is not getting enough to eat or is behind on housing payments. Their analysis underscored data indicating that people of color were feeling economic hardships more acutely. For example, one of every eight Virginia workers who identify as Black, Latinx, or Asian/Pacific Islander were unemployed this summer or temporarily laid off without pay, compared to one of every 19 non-Hispanic white workers.

    It is evident, therefore, that compared to their white counterparts, Black, and Hispanic children in Virginia are more likely to be exposed to potentially harmful pandemic-related hardships. This threatens to substantially widen existing troublesome disparities and present ever-greater risk to the well-being of Virginia’s children of color.

    What makes these findings so alarming?

    There is strong scientific consensus, cited in sources above, that the economic hardships and familial stressors associated with child poverty can compromise child development and lead to troublesome outcomes. Research also identifies the parameters that influence the likelihood of such harmful effects. Risk of harm is both additive and cumulative – as the number and/or duration of hardship exposures increase, so does the likelihood of harm.

    Applying those parameters to the circumstances faced by Virginia’s children of color, alarms are sounding on both counts. As data reviewed above indicates, Black and Hispanic children are more likely than white children to be exposed to a greater number of hardships during the pandemic (as they were before the pandemic); and pandemic-induced hardships are more acute and severe for Black and Hispanic families, meaning a longer duration before they can fully recover to pre-pandemic levels. The net effect: the pandemic will widen critical Black-white and Hispanic-white disparities, especially in the health and education domains, and likely for an extended period. This will be a step backward, resulting in diminished opportunity and greater disadvantage for children of color.

    Policy implications: Will history be repeated?

    There are challenging and urgent policy implications of this potential worsening of racial-ethnic child disparities. It is imperative that policymakers address this impending harm by pursuing fiscal and policy initiatives which recognize this disproportionate risk and target responses accordingly.

    The guiding principle should be to first restore and then enhance all the pre-pandemic initiatives that were in place to reduce key racial-ethnic disparities in health and education. Every policy and budget decision in our recovery effort will therefore need to be viewed through an equity lens: does this decision recognize the unacceptably disproportionate hardship burden borne by Virginia’s Black and Hispanic children and respond in a manner that does not perpetuate or worsen their previous disadvantage?

    Voices is a member of the Fund our Schools Coalition calling to restore education funding. Fund Our Schools partner, The Commonwealth Institute, has wisely urged state decisionmakers while crafting pandemic relief plans not to repeat the upside-down school funding decisions made in response to the Great Recession. In that instance, though recession-era budget cuts had disproportionately impacted the poorest school divisions and students, lawmakers restored proportionately less – not more – funding to these divisions as state finances recovered. Lawmakers should heed the advice and avoid uniform across-the-board recovery initiatives that fail to respond to the reality of COVID-19’s disproportionate harm. Failure to do so will needlessly and callously worsen existing racial-ethnic inequities and push Black and Hispanic children even farther behind their white counterparts. On economic, social and moral grounds this would be an intolerable outcome.

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  6. 2020 Special Session Priorities

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    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.

     

  7. Pre-COVID Child Care Policies Don’t Fit New Landscape

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    On July 1, the state’s policies guiding child care assistance immediately reverted back to pre-COVID practices. But nothing about the context of July 1, 2020 is anything like January 1, 2020. We can’t apply pre-COVID policies in a landscape that has fundamentally changed. Instead, we need to make immediate shifts to make policies work for families and the child care industry. We need to drill down into the data to better understand current practice and where we can make changes. And we will need to provide the resources to support a new landscape. 

    Ways that the Child Care Landscape Has Changed 

    Temporary Closure of Providers Beginning to Look More Like Permanent Closure  

    After more than four months of closure, many child care programs may not open again. Child Care Aware of Virginia reported that more than 1200 child care programs that would normally be open this time of year are closed. The Center for American Progress estimates that Virginia could lose up to 45 percent of child care capacity due to the pandemic. We don’t know what  the child care landscape in Virginia looks like with a large reduction of available slots and staff gone. The question remains – how do state resources help programs re-open? 

    Family Preferences Create Uncertainty and Shifts to Smaller Programs 

    Some families that would have normally sent their children to preschool or child care this year will choose to keep them home to avoid exposure to the virus. Some would prefer their children to be in smaller settings such as home-based care. With family preferences changing, how do private providers and the industry respond to adjust to new models?  

    More School-Age Children Need Care 

    With the closure of schools in March, the child care needs of school-age children became a pressing need. With summer camps closed, there continues to be a pressing need for child care. With the possibility of  schools reopening on a rotating schedule, or a few days a week, the needs of school-age children will be even more prominent. Most licensed or regulated child care settings could serve children up to age 13 but they are not staffed to do so, nor have the space to do so. Likewise, the state subsidy payments for school-age children assume costs when children would not be attending for full days or for short periods only.  

    Historical Spending Trends for Local Allocations Do Not Reflect Current Reality 

    The allocation of our state and federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds to localities has been based on a formula of historical spending not of estimates of need. These allocations drive how many new families a local DSS site can approve for access assistance and how many providers in a particular community might receive. To better maximize our state subsidy funding, Virginia should revisit these allocations or provide significant additional funding on top of the base allocation to localities.  

    Child Care Assistance Eligibility and Payment Practices Impacting Participation 

    Virginia sets its own parameters for the eligibility of our child care assistance funds. On July 1, 2020, these policies also reverted to a pre-COVID context. For example, families are required to pay co-pays to providers. Families are now more limited in the number of absences that a provider can be paid for even if their child gets sick or other family members get sick. 

    Since July 1, families can now lose their eligibility for child care assistance if they are unemployed and likely even furloughed without a rehire date. Additionally, many families may be approved for subsidy but their child care program is closed or they are not working. Families approved but not actively in child care have been factored into the payment allocations and authorized enrollment numbers. This practice  impacts the ability of local DSS programs to enroll new families off the waitlist and spend down their allocations.  

    Another factor that will hamper the ability to provide care to school-age children is that payment rates during the school year are calculated for before and after school, not the full day. If students are expected to be with child care providers for a full day while schools are closed, VDSS will need to revise these payment practices to ensure maximum payment. While reimbursement rates vary by locality, a licensed center in Richmond City for example would only receive $30 per day for a school age child from the child care subsidy assistance program if the student attended full day.  

    What Can the VA Department of Social Services Do to Address the Changing Landscape? 

    To support the child care industry, it will be critically important to advocate for additional federal resources. To advocate for additional resources, we must also know how Virginia is using existing resources to meet needs. We encourage the state to provide more information on how $70 million in CARES Act funds have been used and if there are any unspent surpluses in the CCDF or TANF federal funds that could be used for child care needs. 

    VDSS must also consider their enrollment and participation date from the last four months to predict future trends. Enrollment data must be scrutinized for when cases are suspended for the parent’s work status or an available vendor. Processes can be reconsidered to create new conditions for when a family is in suspended status. 

    Additionally, payment practices to child care providers need to be examined and improved. A notable policy of the CARES Act grants to open providers was to provide funds to all types of providers, not those only approved to participate in the child care subsidy program. This is an important step to support a fragile industry. However, VDSS has reported that the average CARES Act grant for a three-month period was $11,000. The maximum amount a family child care provider with enrollment capped at 12 children could receive was $1,800 for these three months. These payments are helpful but fall far short of meeting the need. And they do not adequately reflect the contributions of the workforce and an industry who have accepted tremendous risks to keep children safe and to keep the rest of the workforce at work.  

    While the initial payments do fall short, they also provide useful lessons learned. In the practice of providing a grant payment to providers the state helped to stabilize the industry and provide a guarantee of income. Through these methods, providers could keep doors open when family choices and needs fluctuate. Using grants or contracts also provides opportunities for the state to provide course corrections in a new landscape and to seek more equitable distributions of funds. In the future, VDSS should look to grants or contracts to target geographical areas experiencing needs by funding providers for a region. Grants or contracts could also be structured to meet specific criteria such as family child care providers in communities of color or those agreeing to pay higher wages to staff.  And grants or contracts can be structured to fund actual costs—salaries, cleaning supplies, hazard pay—and not the variability of funding by child.  

    What Can State Policymakers Do to Address the Changing Landscape? 

    There is no question more money will be needed to support families and the child care industry. State policymakers can start now to estimate what will be needed. Asking for transparency in how existing child care funds will be used and any available resources can provide insight in the changing landscape of how federal assistance can be used. Additionally, as state policy makers have approved the transition of CCDBG dollars to the Virginia Department of Education beginning in 2021, now is a good time to begin asking how those dollars can be aligned to educational resources to meet the needs of students returning to school, particularly in light of staggered schedules. The answer is both education and social services will fall short of the level of necessary funding, so how can any new funds allocated to the purposes of child care fall under the purview of VDOE to align with educational needs and future needs of the system?  

    We will need additional funds to meet the child care need going forward. Virginia’s Congressional delegation has signaled strong support for an additional $50 billion in federal funding for child care. The timing or guarantee is far from certain. In the meantime, lawmakers must call for additional funds for child care needs in the Special Session of the Virginia General Assembly to meet the needs of the changing landscape.  

  8. Faces of the Frontline: Shana Lynch, Sr. Family Services Specialist

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    Each morning, Shana Lynch wakes up to go to work as a family services specialist for Virginia’s child welfare system. She drives from her home in Eastern Henrico to the home of a child in foster care. It is her responsibility to ensure that the children under the care of the state are not only safe but are also making progress with activities such as their educational plans and getting the health care they need. Ultimately, as a case worker for children in Virginia’s foster care system, it is Shana who serves as the connection to home and family for these children – constantly working to reunite a child with their biological family or find a relative or foster family they can be a part of.

    Then, on March 23rd, Governor Northam ordered schools closed for the remainder of the year and issued a directive for non-essential businesses to close. A week later, the governor declared a stay-at-home order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of Virginians.

    Still, Shana’s responsibilities have remained the same.

    “The only part of our job that has stopped is the travel in between visits, in fact, we are working more hours now than we were before,” Shana stated.

    Shana, like others on the front lines in child welfare, have spent the last few weeks transitioning to virtual meetings, learning new technology systems, filing court proceedings online, and tackling one crisis before moving on to the next. Before COVID-19, placing children into foster homes was already difficult. Now it is more challenging because of the fear that a child may have been exposed. In many cases, workers have to place children in a group home setting in an isolated building to quarantine for 14 days.

    She and her colleagues still need to make some face-to-face visits for especially at-risk children. Chesterfield County gives its workers n95 masks and gloves, but not all localities have the funds to provide personal protective equipment. The risks of the job and requirement to respond in critical situations, makes Shana a first responder.

    Reimagining Our First Responders

    When we see visuals of first responders, it is usually of a firefighter, police officer, or medic. Rarely do we see, or even think about, child welfare workers. Yet, child welfare workers continue to be on the frontlines everyday protecting one of the most vulnerable populations in our community, children in foster care. They, too, are providing a critical service during this crisis.

    Despite the Department of Labor recently including foster care and child protective service workers on the list of first responders at the national level, Virginia has not adopted all of the relief benefits for workers in our state, Benefits like hazard pay and paid time off are desperately needed as workers balance meeting the needs of children on their caseloads with managing their own family.

    “I am 100 percent a first responder. There’s never a time where we can say we cannot respond to a child because of this pandemic,” Shana said.

    The Critical Work of Family Services

    Shana was drawn to work in this sector because of the family and social supports she had as a child. She realized that people without those supports and resources do not have the same opportunities in life available to them or their children. She stated, “I cannot change their past, but I tell all the children and families I work with that trauma histories do not define them.”

    The starting salary for these frontline workers is $30,828 a year. And while salary increases were slated in the next budget, the pandemic has put raises on hold. Designating Shana and her colleagues as first responders will give them some financial and emotional relief while they continue to serve children.

    “It is difficult to do this job and manage my own life responsibilities. We become family to the kids on our case load, so it’s hard to turn that off at the end of the day,” noted Shana.

    The Need for Community & Statewide Support

    Right now, children and their families are receiving help through telehealth programs, art therapy and regular phone check-ins. But, the accessibility to do ‘virtual visits’ and social isolation for youth poses a new challenge she didn’t face when she could previously travel for family visits.

    “Being a foster parent is a huge task and now that task has doubled, and some children are experiencing more triggers than they were before,” Shana said.

    For those who are fostering, Shana recommends children in care have designated quiet time, go outdoors, and use technology to have regular conversations with people who are in their life. The connectivity, structure and routine help youth with their wellness during this time.

    For the community, the best thing we can do is to become a foster parent or talk about becoming a foster parent with our friends and family. Another option is supporting foster families in our community, especially older youth in care and not just children 0-5. People should also check in on families who are working to have their children return to their homes.

    The reality is that in a post-COVID-19 world, Shana and her colleagues will likely face more challenges. When schools re-open, child welfare experts expect to see a spike in calls made to the child protective services hotline, less foster homes available to place children, and less funding available from local and state governments.

    We need Virginia to designate Shana and the thousands of child welfare workers who serve the nearly 5,000 children in foster care as first responders to  during these unprecedented times.

     

  9. Stabilize Child Care with the CARES Act Stimulus

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    As COVID-19 continues to present challenges to the child care community, we are looking for ways tht  policymakers can respond. On March 27th, Congress included $3.5 billion in additional resources for child care programs in the stimulus package, the CARES Act. This will result in an additional $67 million for Virginia allocated to our Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

    Virginia uses federal CCDBG dollars to support child care subsidy, licensing and quality improvement. States have a lot of choices to make with these federal dollars, and a lot of flexibility to meet the needs of working families and child care programs.

    The stimulus provides additional flexibility with an emphasis on responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Funds can now be used to:

    1. Continue payment for child care subsidy upon decreased enrollment or temporary closure.
    2. Provide financial assistance for child care regardless of income for essential personnel such as health care workers and emergency responders.
    3. Purchase emergency cleaning supplies and sanitation activities in response to COVID-19.

    Virginia policymakers must make decisions about how these additional funds will be used. Voices has heard from home-based family child care providers, nonprofits,and center-based providers that there is an immediate need to ensure that these financial resources are available to support the child care community.

    Child care stakeholders shared their feedback with Voices. Advocates ask that the state use federal Child Care and Development Block Grant dollars to:

    • Continue to pay the state’s portion of financial assistance for income eligible families who choose not to send their children to care in line with stay-at-home orders or for child care programs that choose to close. The state should act to continue to pay providers at least for March and April.
      • The existing caseload for child care assistance payments would already be accounted for in the current state funds before the recent federal increase.
      • Providers needing to pay staff or pay rent/overhead were anticipating to receive these state payments during March and April and will now not receive that revenue unless Virginia acts to support child care programs.
      • In the cases where programs are open but parents are choosing to keep their children at home, currently the state requires the parent to call their child care program every day to report the absence. This is an onerous task on parents during a stressful time and makes the income more unpredictable for providers.

     

    • Pay a differential to programs modifying their practices to serve children safely.
      • As many child care programs modify their practices to implement rigorous cleaning protocols and provide safe care for children they have encountered additional costs. From the costs for additional thermometers and staff to screen children, to cleaning supplies and additional cleaning staff, to pay differentials for staff who are putting their own health and safety at risk, center-based programs estimate an additional $75 per child, per day to modify their practices.
      • While the federal funds provide additional resources, it is the state’s option as to what type of differential to offer and which programs qualify. Other states have controlled this by determining which programs would remain open and asking families to qualify as essential personnel. Some states have paid a weekly stipend to programs serving essential personnel while others have increased child care subsidy rates for participating providers.

     

    • Provide funding and resources to access personal protective gear and cleaning supplies to ensure the safety of the child care workforce in programs that remain open.
      • Many early childhood educators work in the field because they love working with children. However, even the most dedicated workforce will have some fears and concerns about working in close proximity with children every day, uncertain if they have been exposed to Coronavirus.

    While there are difficult choices to make, one choice is simple: Virginia must support child care programs now or we risk them closing and not being able to re-open.

    Where the state can act to stabilize the child care industry it should and should act quickly. Continuing to pay providers that serve economically disadvantaged families, and offering additional resources to programs following more rigorous safety protocols, are essential steps to support the child care industry.

    Join us in asking the state to prioritize a swift response to stabilize child care providers. Please share this message with your state and local elected officials. 

  10. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act In Your Community

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    The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27th to create a $2 trillion economic stimulus efforts for business, health care, communities, and families. Implementing the CARES Act will provide direct relief to some families and businesses. And it will require a number of policy choices by state and local leaders to determine how funds will be used in communities and which of the many pressing needs will be met. Learn more about what is included in the CARES Act to prepare to speak up for the needs of children and families.

    This chart shows how the $2 trillion economic stimulus impacts various sectors. We have posted a blog on the impacts on individuals. In this blog, we highlight the impacts on public health, the safety net and economic security.  

    How the CARES Act will impact your community:

    Federal, State, and Local Public Health Agencies

    $140.4 billion in funding is allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services. $127 billion goes to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, which encompasses $100 billion for grants to hospitals, public entities, non-profits and Medicare-and-Medicaid-enrolled suppliers and institutional providers to cover unreimbursed healthcare expenses or lost revenue. Additional funding includes:

    • $16 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile funding to help secure personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other medical supplies.
    • $11 billion for vaccine diagnostics and other medical needs.
    • $4.3 billion through the CDC  to federal, state, and local public health agencies to respond to COVID-19.
    • $425 million to SAMHSA for treatment mental health and substance use disorders as a result of COVID-19 pandemic with certified community behavioral health clinics receiving $250 million, including $50 million for suicide prevention and $100 million in flexible funding allotted to mental health, substance use disorders and providing resources to youth and the homeless during this time.
    • $275 million to expand capacity for rural hospitals, telehealth, poison control centers.

    Child Care 

    The child care industry serves as the backbone of the economy to support working parents under normal circumstances. Today, these providers offer a safe place for essential workers. The National Association for the Education of Young Children COVID19 response survey found that 30% of the 6,000 providers surveyed would be able to survive a closure of more than two weeks without support.  The CARES Act includes $6.3 billion to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), including $3.5 billion in emergency funding through the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which allows states to provide critical relief to childcare providers. This will allow states to use funding to:

    • Provide continued payments to child care providers in response to decreased enrollment or closures.
    • Provide child care assistance regardless of income to healthcare employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers classified as essential during the pandemic.
    • Provide funding to child care providers who did not participate in subsidy prior to COVID-19 emergency for cleaning and sanitation and other activities needed to resume program operation.

    Virginia will receive approximately $67 million in child care assistance funds.

    Human Services

    The stimulus provided minimal to moderate assistance in other areas of human services including:

    • ACF increases child welfare service flexibility by providing $45 million in federal grants to states to support child welfare services for family violence prevention services, including shelters.
    • $1 billion to the Community Services Block Grant to help local community-based organizations provide social services and emergency assistance.
    • $900 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help manage costs associated with home energy bills, energy crises, and weatherization and energy related minor home repairs.
    • $2 million for the Domestic Violence Hotline.
    • $25 million to provide assistance to runaway and homeless youth.

    Economic Stimulus Funding to States, Territories, Local and Tribal Governments

    One area that will take additional analysis to better understand and implement is the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for state, local and tribal governments. Virginia is estimated to receive $3.3 billion to use at the state and local level for a number of flexible purposes. Localities with populations over 500,000 people can receive up to 45% of Virginia’s total allocation.

    Funding is intended to be utilized for costs that:

    • Are necessary expenditures related to COVID-19.
    • Were unaccounted for in the most recently approved budget as of the date of the passing legislation.
    • Incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020.

    Voices is monitoring how local governments are responding to these difficult economic choices. These stimulus funds will not solve all the problems and stresses now impacting Virginia’s children and families or the local and state government leaders wishing to respond.

    Learn more about how the Congress has taken action to ease families financial burdens on our companion blog.