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  1. 2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a small cohort of youth advocates, comprised of young change makers, to join us for Advocacy Days at the General Assembly in January 2022. This cohort will learn how to share their stories and experiences with others and provide feedback on policies that affect them. The purpose of the cohort is to create a space for youth to have a voice at the table and establish meaningful change and influence in the systems that have impacted their lives. Included in this opportunity are at least three mandatory training opportunities to develop skills in storytelling and advocacy, $500 compensation (contingent upon participation in all activities), and an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia (provided by Voices for non-Richmond area residents). The advocacy day event will include a day of legislative visits, a press briefing, and a round table discussion with key administrative staff. The MLK Day Rally (January 17, 2021) and the advocacy day (January 18, 2021) are both in-person events.

    As the only statewide, multi-issue advocacy organization for children and youth, we have several policy areas that would center youth voice and advocacy. As youth apply, they are encouraged to consider their own lived experiences in the following areas. 

    • Foster Care & Child Welfare: You have personally experienced or witnessed a close relative live with non-relatives, relatives, such as grandparents, re-unification with parents or once been at risk of not being placed with family due to a lack of supports. You want to transform the way the world supports families and other young people so that they do not experience the same.   
    • Early Childhood Education: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions that decrease the ability for all children to experience thriving childhoods. You want to increase access to a quality early childhood education for children so that they can learn, play, and thrive. You want to transform conditions, such as childcare so caregivers can work, provide for their families, and youth are no longer having to choose between providing for their families, caring for their siblings, or attending school. 
    • Community Wealth: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions of poverty or racism. You want to build wealth for your community and generational wealth for your family by increasing community supports, including housing, more after school or out of school programs, and funding that connects families to resources that decrease poverty. You desire a more promising future for your community, regardless of where an individual lives, works, or plays. You wish to dismantle racism and envision world communities are not plagued by racial, historical, or environmental traumas that contribute to community violence.
    • Community Health: You have personally experienced barriers and challenges to healthcare or have used public health insurance, such as Medicaid. You believe everyone deserves access to quality health outcomes and that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their cultural identity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, ability, or age. You believe health should be viewed with a broader lens and want to champion solutions that increase access to care all children to transform conditions that communities of color unjustly experience, such as cancer, obesity, or diabetes.  
    • Food & Nutrition: You have experienced or witnessed challenges accessing healthy and nutritious foods, such as living in a community with no nearby grocery stores or financial challenges to putting food on the table. You want to create a society where everyone is healthy and well and believe in diverse solutions, including eliminating barriers related to one’s immigration status, increasing access to healthy and nutritious foods, drinking water in schools, and wellness days.
    • Mental Health: You have personally needed mental health or behavioral services or resources, such as substance use services, counseling, or in-patient hospitalization. You believe mental health and behavioral health should be normalized and envision a world where supports are no longer seen as a stigma. You believe young people should lead the input to increasing mental health in schools and in their communities, whether peer led, school-based, culturally appropriate, or safe. You envision a world where youth have access to quality mental health and behavioral health services in hospitals, schools, and in their communities.
    • Economic Justice: You or your family have personally experienced not being able to meet your basic needs or struggling to. You believe that every child should have access to food, clothing, and housing. You don’t believe people should be shamed for needing help and want to create general wealth for your families and equalize unequal starting places in life due to poverty or the way in which racism impacts access to financial wealth. You seek to create a world where communities can survive, seek stability, and thrive.
    • Racial Truth and Reconciliation: You have personally experienced or witnessed racial and historical traumas, such as slavery or the indigenous trail of tears and the long-term impacts of that which follow youth and children in their communities, schools, and institutions. You have additionally experienced or witnessed racism and the conditions it creates and want to dismantle racism in every society or system, including the foster care system, the school-to-prison pipeline, racism as a public health crisis, and police brutality. You believe that communities should be viewed as agents in the creation of their change and want to create systems that foster healing and resilience instead of trauma. You envision a world where every child has access to a just future, regardless of their race or ethnic identity.

    Youth (up to 25 years of age) must complete an application to be considered for this opportunity. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Deadline for submission is close of business Wednesday, November 24. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Events on January 17 and 18 are in-person, and masks will be mandated regardless of vaccination status.

    Please contact Kristin Lennox at kristin@vakids.org for more information.

     

    2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a small cohort of youth advocates, comprised of young change makers to join us for Advocacy Days at the General Assembly in January 2022. This cohort will learn how to share their stories and experiences with others and provide feedback on policies that affect them. The purpose of the cohort is to create a space for youth to have a voice at the table and establish meaningful change and influence in the systems that have impacted their lives. Included in this opportunity are at least three mandatory training opportunities to develop skills in storytelling and advocacy, $500 compensation (contingent upon participation in all activities), and an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia (provided by Voices for non-Richmond area residents). The advocacy day event will include a day of virtual legislative visits, a press briefing, and a round table discussion with key administrative staff.
    https://www.mypronouns.org/what-and-why
    Email(Required)
    Home Address(Required)
    MM slash DD slash YYYY
    Please note that the maximum age of advocates for this cohort is 25.
    The person listed will be contacted to complete a consent form for your participation
    Race/Ethnicity(Required)
    Which of the following is your area of interest/lived experience?(Required)
    Please see our blog post on the Youth Advocacy 2022 Cohort for more examples of each policy area.
    Are you affiliated with any organizations that you would also be representing as an advocate?
    Some of our trainings will be virtual through Zoom. Are you familiar with Zoom and have access to a device and reliable internet to engage in trainings through Zoom?(Required)
    Can you commit to the following dates and times for trainings? Monday, December 6, 2021, 5pm – 6:30pm (virtual); Monday, January 10, 2022, 5pm – 6:30pm (virtual); Monday, January 17, 2022 (after MLK Day Rally) in-person, times TBD; events on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, in-person, day-long event(Required)
    Events are subject to change as needed. Events on January 18th would require an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia, with hotel accommodations covered by us for non-Richmond-area residents.
    Max. file size: 300 MB.
  2. A National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health

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    Advocates, school personnel, mental health clinicians, and families have been saying for years – even before the pandemic –  that children’s mental health access is in a state of emergency. Over the summer, we heard from outpatient treatment clinicians who had months-long waiting lists and emergency departments that were filling up with children in mental health crisis without other options. As school returned, more reports of mental health and behavioral disruptions resonated across the Commonwealth. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association are declaring a “National Emergency” in children’s mental health.

    Virginia lawmakers are paying attention too. During a discussion about education funding in a Senate Finance Committee meeting, Senator Jennifer McClellan stated, “the kids are not okay.” The compounded effect of the pandemic, racial trauma, and individual traumatic experiences are causing anxiety, depression, and more severe mental health issues in students. It was evident to Senator McClellan as a parent that mental health is causing major distress and barriers to learning.

    Young people are ready for policymakers and leaders to address this emergency.

    Justice, a young adult in Richmond told us this week, “I believe that if we can put more free mental health services out there for young people to turn to if they don’t have somebody to talk to they won’t just keep things in and one day just explode… It’s okay to not be okay.”

    Children’s Mental Health Discussion Paper: October 2021

    Children’s mental health needs touch all systems and all aspects of life. To fully address children’s mental health issues, we need an “all-hands-on-deck” approach.  There are no easy solutions to address a “state of emergency” but there are many points to begin trying.

    Voices has released a discussion paper for lawmakers to tackle children’s mental health issues from the perspective of the child-student and outside any one silo. This paper is relevant for lawmakers serving on the education funding committee, health and human resources funding committees, and the newly formed Behavioral Health Commission. It also creates a framework for the incoming governor to tackle a pressing issue and create some opportunities to continue collaborative efforts such as the Children’s Cabinet.

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    The most important steps lawmakers must take to address the current emergency include:

    • Addressing workforce shortages. Children’s clinical workforce shortages existed even before the pandemic, but overall workforce shortages are contributing to even longer waits for care. We need to retain the current workforce, attract a future workforce, and align the current workforce to opportunities for licensure and appropriate reimbursement. We support a proposal in front of the Behavioral Health Committee and consideration for the governor’s budget to assist clinicians in paying for supervision towards licensure to help meet immediate needs. Additionally, retention bonuses proposed for providers in the public mental health system and loan repayment programs are critical. In the longer term, stakeholders and leaders should spend time defining the best fit for certain roles, particularly the roles that can be filled by Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHPs) in schools and community settings.
    • Building out the capacity of health providers to address mental health issues. Continuing efforts to expand the Virginia Mental Health Access Program to reach more health providers, such as emergency department staff, and enhancing awareness of early childhood mental health issues are necessary. Additional recruitment and professional development for the health care workforce to identify and address mental health needs can help children who might not have robust school-based services.
    • Facilitating connections between schools and community providers. School have gotten very creative at finding ways to meet mental health needs during the pandemic. And thanks to investments from state lawmakers, many have been able to add additional school counselors and specialized support staff. For these new initiatives to meet increased demand and increased severity of need, the schools will need support to implement trauma-informed and multi-tier support from the state Department of Education and from their school divisions.

    Additional federal resources and Medicaid reimbursement will be critical to supporting school-initiated services in the long-term. There are several opportunities to create strong support systems for student mental health with American Recovery Act funds, the recalibration of Medicaid-funded mental health services through Project BRAVO and the ability for schools to bill for health and mental health needs outside a students’ IEP through the “free care” rule. Stakeholders, students, providers and schools should come together on some ideal plans and programs to implement at the school and child care level to meet student needs.

    Read the paper in its entirety and continue to follow Voices on social media for updates.

  3. RTRW Event: ‘Exposing Disparities during COVID-19 & the Impact on Virginia’s Children, Youth, & Families’

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children’s 2nd annual Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week (RTRW) is taking place August 22 through August 28. On Tuesday, August 24 at 9:00am, the presentation ‘Exposing Disparities during COVID-19 & the Impact on Virginia’s Children, Youth, & Families’ will be taking place. This presentation centers around COVID-19 causing inequities and exposing long-standing racial disparities among children, youth, and families across Virginia. This event features COVID-19 data, equity, and policy presentations from Latoya Hill, Senior Policy Analyst at Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Lauren Snellings, Research Director at Voices for Virginia’s Children. It also includes an interview-style conversation between Kelsey McMahon, Data and Research Intern for Voices, and special guest Michael Royster, the Vice President of the Institute for Public Health Innovation.

    The event focuses on the impact of the pandemic on families, the social determinants of health, and racial/ethnic disparities in health and health care prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data for cases and vaccines as well as feedback from parents during the pandemic point to a greater number in cases, lower vaccine rates, and substantial financial, emotional, and housing struggles for Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian populations. This event provides valuable insight into the current state of the public health sphere and allows for a space to discuss future steps to address and close gaps in health inequities.

    To learn more about the social determinants of health and equity, check out last year’s event, ‘An Overview of Child Wellbeing & Equitable Research Practices’, here.

    Click here for more information.

    Register for this virtual event here.

  4. Child Tax Credit Awareness

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    The stagnation and lack of change in the childhood poverty rate calls for policy makers to do something dramatic and innovative about it. We are excited that the American Rescue Plan included enhancement to the Child Tax Credit to specifically to address childhood poverty with the goal in mind that the increase in cash assistance to families may be able to cut childhood poverty in half.

    The enhancements to Child Tax Credit include:

    • Increasing the credit amount to $3,600 for kids under 6 and $3,000 for kids over 6;
    • Making the credit refundable and paid directly to families;
    • Offering the credit as an advance payment to families July-December, or a monthly allowance, that will be deposited directly into families’ linked bank accounts;

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 86% of children, 1.6 million, will benefit from the enhanced child tax credit in Virginia. And 249,000 kids will be lifted above or closer to the poverty line by the expansion.

    For more info and to access the online tools to update status or file to receive the credit if your family did not have a tax liability, visit ChildTaxCredit.gov.

    Access and download the PDFs below for more information (courtesy of the White House and Annie E. Casey Foundation) by clicking on the thumbnails.

    How policymakers can act to help families experiencing financial hardship and maximize the Child Tax Credit.

    1. During the August Special Session, state lawmakers can dedicate American Rescue Plan resources to improve tax filing outreach and preparation services to ensure non-filers and families with infants receive the credit.
    2. Virginia lawmakers can also provide state level enhancements to the federal tax credits including a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a state-level child tax credit.
    3. Congress can act to make the Child Tax Credit permanent adopting the proposal included in President Biden’s American Families Plan.

    To receive more policy updates and news, subscribe to our email list.

  5. Federal Policy Update: American Rescue Plan, American Jobs Plan & American Families Plan

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    President Biden’s first 100 days in office have been busy! The federal response packages keep coming and it is a challenge to keep track (for us too!). Below are some resources explaining what is included in each plan, what you can expect as a next step, and how you can keep up with proposed legislation. Because of many sweeping federal changes included here, Voices’ team will do more topic-specific presentations and blogs to break down these changes.

    CARES and Consolidated Appropriations Act/CRSSA: Approved

    As a review, two significant funding packages were approved in 2020. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act approved in March 2020 and the $2.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act approved in December 2020 with both COVID-19 relief and on-going federal funding. These funds are approved and allocated to the respective agencies for use. In most cases, the state or local agency receiving the funds has already determined how they will use the funds but the actual resources could be spent over a longer period of time; through 2022 or 2023.

    Read more about appropriations for families in the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act health and human services provisions.

    American Rescue Plan (ARPA): Approved

    Congress approved $1.9 trillion in March 2021 through the American Rescue Plan to build on the existing COVID relief funds with a particular emphasis on an equitable recovery for economically disadvantaged families. The American Rescue Plan includes three types of funding: 1) flexible funding to states and local governments, 2) tax credits/direct payments to individuals and 3) resources to state agencies to increase specific federal programs.

    • Virginia Impact: Since the American Rescue Plan was approved after the General Assembly Session ended most of the plans and allocations have not yet been determined by state agencies. In some cases, federal guidance is not yet available on the use of the funds. The General Assembly has indicated they will return for a Special Session in June to weigh in on the uses of the American Rescue Plan funds.
    • Family Impact: Because this plan includes changes to tax policy and government programs, families should be aware that resources will be made available by filing taxes AND seeking assistance through support networks such as CommonHelp, CoverVA or local human services agencies.

    Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities about the comprehensive provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act and the APHSA on the provisions targeted to families and children.

    American Jobs Plan: PROPOSED

    On March 31, 2021 President Biden released the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan focused on the physical infrastructure and human infrastructure for economic growth. The plan includes funding for physical improvements of housing, schools and child care and workforce development programs. This plan will need to be introduced as legislation for Congress to act.

    Read a summary of the American Jobs Plan from the Coalition for Human Needs.

    American Families Plan: PROPOSED

    On April 28, 2021 President Biden released the American Families Plan, a comprehensive proposal targeted to economically disadvantaged families and youth offering direct assistance, free higher education, universal preschool, expanded child care access and expanded paid family medical leave. This plan will need to be introduced as legislation for Congress to act. The legislation includes proposals to raise individual and corporate taxes to pay for these investments.

    Read a summary of the American Families Plan from WhiteHouse.gov.

    How Advocates Can Engage

    • At the state level, advocates will be asked to contact state delegates and senators to support proposed uses of the funds provided in the American Rescue Plan at a Special General Assembly Session in June 2021.
    • At the federal level, advocates will be asked to contact Congressional representatives and their senators to support legislation that will be introduced with the proposals included in the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. Congress has expressed an urgency to act on this legislation, likely over the summer of 2021.

    Sign up to receive emails from us for further updates.