Tag Archive: pandemic

  1. 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.*

  2. 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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  3. 2021 General Assembly Session: Mental Health Priorities

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    Children’s mental health is facing a critical system change moment right now. There has never been a moment when mental health needs were more prevalent or more normalized. There are few moments when all children and parents experience a collective trauma. There is more awareness and understanding of how racial and historical trauma is connected to mental health and wellness. We must take this opportunity to build a new approach to mental health services and supports for children. The first steps for this new approach start with the investments that the governor, state agencies and legislature will make in the early days of 2021.

    Pre-pandemic, one in four children in Virginia experienced a mental health issue ranging from ADD to depression/anxiety.  A look at the report from Mental Health America on their online screening tool found a 93 percent increase over the previous year of individuals seeking help through the online screening during the pandemicThere was a 9 percent increase among youth 11-17 taking the screening by September 2020 compared to 2019.

    We know from previous research that community disasters or traumas can produce high levels of mental health issues in children with as many as half of children in a community experiencing mental health issues after a disaster. In 2018-19 data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly 61 percent of Black or Latino children in VA experienced trauma. In the future, our systems must respond to this disproportionate impact and the context of racial & historical trauma.

    Because we know that mental health concerns will increase for children in their prevalence and severity we must plan now to build systems to support mental health and meet kids where they are—in child care settings, virtual classrooms, online peer groups and more acute treatment methods.   

    To cast a wide net for mental health services and to help children and families recover from the trauma of the pandemic and years of economic hardship and unjust systems, policymakers must ask this question in every legislative meeting and in every discussion with agencies and advocates: “Where are we addressing mental health needs in this system?”  

    Some ideas about how policymakers can begin:

    • Support parents: One in five parents reports feeling stressed or depressed during the pandemic. Parents’ mental health and wellness directly impacts their children. Parents who are stressed financially or by grief, loss and anxiety cannot provide the optimal supportive environment for kids to grow and thrive. We need policies that support parents such as home visiting and paid leave expansion.
    • Start early: Begin in early education and elementary schools by training educators to support social-emotional wellness and to identify and address mental health issues appropriatelyA team of advocates and state agency leaders put together a report about how to build mental health supports in early education systems. State agencies must work towards implementing those plans and the legislature must support additional mental health services.
    • Medicaid is an opportunity: More than 700,000 or one in three children in Virginia is insured by Medicaid/FAMIS. These children are the most economically at-risk in the state and also experience a lack of access to resources in their communities. Knowing that we can reach a large group of our most vulnerable children through Medicaid, what tools for screening, care coordination, and innovative or incentive funds can be leveraged even before kids fully return to classrooms and child care is vital.
    • Build the continuum: Because this year has disrupted the way we deliver services and efforts, such as the Family First Prevention Services Act and Behavioral Health Enhancement reforming how services are delivered, another look at the continuum is warranted. We know right now that services and a trained workforce will need to be built at every level and in every geography for a fully articulated continuum.
    • Apply an equity lensThis is the most important step and what we must have in place to build our systems of support back. Workforce and training initiatives need to be better prepared to meet the needs of children of color and respond to racial and historical trauma. We need training in implicit bias and the intersection of racial and cultural trauma for all of our child-serving professionals and to recruit a diverse set of professionals more reflective of the kids they serve.

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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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