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  1. Recap: Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (August 2022)

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    This blog post was written by Voices intern Cat Atkinson.

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian artist, scholar, and activist.

    This year marked Virginia’s 3rd Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (RTRW); a virtual week-long conference hosted by Voices for Virginia’s Children. This year’s RTRW took place August 22-27, 2022. The mission of RTRW is to empower the voices and experiences of marginalized communities in acknowledgment of truth to promote healing, reconciliation, and justice for children and families. This week promotes the reckoning of our past to reconcile our present and future. In this blog post, we’re taking a look back at this year’s themes and workshops.

    RTRW seeks to advance policies that dismantle systems that perpetuate racial trauma, oppression, and inequity by educating Virginians, encouraging advocacy and activism, promoting equity, inclusion, and justice, and uplifting the voices, truths, and experiences of communities of color.

    As we continue to navigate divisive political landscapes and strive to promote trauma-informed healing, compassion, and justice, we intentionally selected RTRW themes to reflect the intersections of current events, history, culture, time, and policy that we find ourselves in. RTRW 2022 highlighted the themes of “Good Troublemaking: Necessary Trouble to Enact Change”, “Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates”, and “Activists and Organizational Change: Reckoning and Reconciling Our Truth”, centering the voices and stories of youth and community members as the experts on their lived experiences in these topics.

    “Our kids were born for this time.” – Ann Zweckbronner, Parenting an Activist

    Over the course of the week, we had 19 workshops, 31 presenters, and 586 registrants from 29 states and Canada! RTRW went international! We had attendees from state agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, students, youth, parents, and more. 95% of those polled were satisfied with the programs and 98% of those polled thought the content was relevant to their work. We have been celebrating the community that RTRW has created by continuing to engage with repeat attendees over the years.

    Graphic featuring the words Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 followed by four purple circles each containing text. The first says 19 workshops. The second says 2,171 registrations. The third says 31 presenters. and the last one says 586 registrants. Followed by a grey bar containing the racial truth and reconciliation logo at the bottom.A graphic that says Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 at the top followed by the words 29 u.s. states participated and Canada and an icon of the globe. At the bottom there is a grey bar with the RTR logo in the center.
    The workshops this year highlighted the importance of community partnership and the collective liberation of the communities we uplift through advocacy. We engaged in conversation about DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice) within organizations and communities, we discussed the importance of understanding intersectionality, how to support and encourage social justice advocacy within youth and cause “good trouble” within our social system to bring about radical change. There was collective storytelling, intentional self-reflection, engagement with new lenses of focus, and a buzz of energy from attendees and organizers to take this work back to their own spaces. In one week, we got to see the power of community engagement in mobilization for radical change.

    Let us continue to work together:

    Upcoming Coalition & Committee Meetings:

    Learn More About Advocacy:

    • Legislative Advocacy Guide: This comprehensive guide describes advocacy through the Virginia legislative process and gives specific instructions on how to communicate with elected officials.
    • Watch livestream or view recordings of House and Senate committee meetings.
    • Who’s My Legislator? Click here, then type in your address to find your Virginia representatives.

    Support Voices’ Work:

    • Voices is able to convene events like RTRW that ignite change in pursuit of healing, reconciliation, and justice thanks to your generous contributions. Please consider giving a gift to support the dedicated work of Voices staff in putting together RTRW and other events focused on improving the lives of Virginia’s children.
    • Make your one-time or recurring gift online by clicking here.

    Racial Truth and Reconciliation News:

  2. 9-8-8 is Just One Step Towards a Comprehensive Crisis Services System

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    This blog is the second post in a two-part series that takes a deeper look into Virginia’s efforts to integrate the 9-8-8 hotline with the behavioral health crisis services continuum. Read the first blog post in the series here.

    For years, communities have advocated for diverting mental and behavioral health calls away from law enforcement and for states to adopt a comprehensive crisis response system. Now, that dream is beginning to come to fruition. On July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline transitioned to the three-digit number 9-8-8. While this transition was initiated by legislation at the federal level, states are responsible for the rollout and linkages to their crisis response systems when the caller’s needs cannot be resolved over the phone. Virginia has been working on a rollout behind the scenes to link the lifeline to crisis response services that are currently being designed and implemented by state agencies and stakeholders.

    The commonwealth’s plan for minimizing emergency room visits for mental health crises and providing an alternative to calling 9-1-1 is to link the crisis call centers with regionally focused resources by integrating mobile crisis response alongside the Marcus Alert protocols. However, at this moment, this is simply the goal and not the reality. The development and implementation of Virginia’s behavioral health crisis system has been a piecemeal approach, and is not yet fully prepared to deliver comprehensive, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive services to meet individuals’ mental health needs—specifically the needs of young people

    The Surgeon General sounded the alarm in December 2021 by issuing an advisory on the youth mental health crisis. Despite widespread awareness, young people’s mental and behavioral health needs are often an afterthought or part of “phase two” when developing programs and services. Current resources dedicated to young people’s behavioral health make up less than 10% of Virginia’s overall behavioral health agency budget. The lack of sufficient funding and resources further the disparities that historically marginalized communities face in accessing support and services.

    Due to the inconsistent mental health crisis services across regions, law enforcement is often the first point of “care” for mental health emergencies, especially for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ youth. While most calls to 9-8-8 can be resolved during the call, some crises will require an in-person response based on a four-level call matrix.

    four level call matrix

    This new entry point for mental health support is supposed to be an alternative to law enforcement response, but a new law allows 89 of Virginia’s 133 localities with 40,000 or less residents to opt out of two protocols under the Marcus Alert System. This means that for those living in one of the 89 localities that are not required to implement all Marcus Alert protocols, an attempt to get in-person crisis support may still result in law enforcement, with or without Crisis Intervention Training, responding to your call. The criminalization of youth crises often results in further traumatization. This experience can intensify their crisis, compromise their treatment, and make them and their families less willing to call for help if another crisis occurs. Far too often children and families are met with a response that is not suited to meet their immediate or long-term needs.

    At a time when young people need support the most—while their worlds have been turned upside down by COVID-19—we must ensure there are providers and services in place to provide access to timely, culturally responsive services, and address social determinants of health to support children and families’ overall wellbeing. This requires investments from lawmakers and interagency collaboration.

    For 9-8-8 to be truly transformative, investments are needed now.

    While all these recommendations are not immediate and some are considerations for future policy, Voices for Virginia’s Children suggests the following key recommendations:

    • Mobile Crisis services need to be fully funded across all regions, with an emphasis on providing services in underserved and rural communities. Voices also suggests separate mobile crisis protocols designed specifically for youth, as the intervention points at which young people receive support may include schools, parental consent, developmental appropriateness, or specifically trained professionals;
    • Mobile Crisis and Community Care teams should include a peer specialist, interpreter, community advocate, and child-serving mental health professional;
    • More small-scale children’s Crisis Stabilization Units should be placed in communities across the state;
    • Establish an infrastructure for language access and a culturally diverse and appropriate workforce;
    • Mandatory trainings should include equity-centered concepts, including implicit bias training, trauma-informed care, child and adolescent development, and training specific to special populations (i.e., LGBTQIA+ youth and youth with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities);
    • Stakeholders involved in implementation should include those most impacted, such as youth with lived experience and communities of color;
    • Ensure that crisis response protocols and services are equipped to support systems-involved youth and their family members. Protocols should be designed to avoid future involvement in the child welfare system or juvenile justice system.

    Voices will continue to advocate for increased access and improved coordination of quality mental health services for all children in Virginia, regardless of where they live or at what point they seek mental health services. The future wellbeing of our state depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.

    To learn more about Virginia’s plan for crisis system transformation, visit these resources: Virginia’s Crisis System Transformation and Marcus Alert and STEP-VA.

  3. General Assembly 2022: Child Welfare Wrap-Up

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    The Foster Care system has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last two years foster families have experienced greater financial stress, fewer foster parents have become trained, and turn over in the workforce has increased from already high levels. In some localities children have been sleeping in local department of social services offices while awaiting placement, resulting in the Governor calling a for a special “Safe and Sound” taskforce to address the urgent needs.

    We are encouraged by the final budget including many of the initial priorities for foster care that Governor Northam introduced in December. Beyond those policies, several new programs were funded targeting older youth in care  about to transition to adulthood. Ultimately, we still have a long way to go to properly fund our child welfare system.

    Here are the highlights of the budget for child welfare advocates:

    Investing in the Infrastructure of Child Welfare

    The instability of the foster care workforce and outdated technology are major challenges in Virginia’s child welfare system. According to a 2018 JLARC report, the quit rate for an entry-level Family Services Worker Specialist is 42%, with retention being an even greater issue in small, rural agencies.

    • 10% increase in staff and operations and Local Departments of Social Services over two years
    • $22 million for the replacement of the outdated child welfare data tracking system. Updated technology, along with updated training and child welfare courses, will allow social services to serve children and families more efficiently. This can reduce the length of time between a child entering foster care and finding permanent care through reunification, kinship care, or adoption.
    • $5 Million in mandated reinvestments to provide additional resources for ongoing mandated activities such as post adoption case management services, mutual family assessments, foster care and adoption services, and substance abuse services.

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

    • Funding to provide fidelity monitoring and evaluation of evidence‐based prevention services, appropriates federal Transition Act funding and fully funds salaries for allocated program position.

    Provide Social Supports & Easier Path for Kinship Caregivers

    • Funding for SB 396 provides that the court has the authority to review a foster care plan placement determination by a local board of social services
    • Funding for HB 653 Delegate Wampler which directs the Department of Social Services to establish and implement a collaborative local board placement program to increase kinship placements and the number of locally approved foster homes.
    • Increase to TANF Cash Assistance Allocation (impacts Kinship Families receiving child-only TANF) – 5% increase.

    Help Foster Care Youth Have Normal Adolescent Experiences

    Virginia continues to rank 49th in the country for youth in foster care aging out without a permanent connection. Investments in this area are desperately needed to support transition age youth.

    • Funding for the development of the iFoster Care Portal, a free internet resource that includes education assistance and workforce development options, as well as independent living resources geared for young adults who have experienced foster care.
    • $1 Million to develop a state-funded grant program providing a range of funding for the Great Expectations Program in the following areas: the hiring of college coaches or mentors, housing stipends, child care, and transportation needs.
    • Budget language directing the State Higher Education Council to examine the feasibility of having a point of contact at each public institution of higher education for students who have been involved in the foster care system.

    Supporting the Efforts of the Safe and Sound Taskforce

    After the budget was reconciled, Governor Youngkin introduced these budget amendments  recommended by the Safe and Sound Task Force which will continue to meet to address the current crisis in placement and the systems level changes needed to prevent children from entering foster care.

    • $592,120 for five positions to support the development of collaborative partnerships between local departments of social services (DSS) to increase capacity to approve kinship caregivers and recruit, train, and develop locally approved foster parents. This effort will support HB653, patroned by Del. Wampler, to facilitate collaboration between local DSS.
    • $1.1 million to create an enhanced treatment foster care pilot program, commonly known as the Professional Foster Parent Model. This program will serve foster homes caring for high acuity children and provide participating foster families with an annual stipend of up to $45,000 per youth.
    • $200,000 to cover the costs of coordination, recruitment, and additional training to foster care agencies.
    • $3,000,000 to support the initiatives of the Safe and Sound Task Force including community-based treatments, support for kinship, foster and adoptive families, and trauma-informed care for children in foster care who are displaced or who are at risk of being displaced.
  4. 2022 General Assembly Budget Passes with Bipartisan Progress for Kids

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    Click here to register for our upcoming Zoom webinar on June 14 as we discuss General Assembly results and what they mean for children and families in Virginia.

    After several months of negotiations and discussions among key decision makers, the General Assembly has reached an agreement on the budget. This year’s budget had notable investments in early education, foster care, and children’s mental health through bipartisan support. Since budgets are a reflection of priorities, we believe there are improvements Virginia can make to demonstrate its commitment to young people in the commonwealth.

    Notable investments in the final budget compromise include:

    • Expanding affordable, accessible early childhood education for young children around the state. The budget builds on Governor Northam’s vision to expand early childhood programming and provides funding for regional initiatives in Southwest Virginia and early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.
    • State funding for school-based mental health integration projects linking mental health services into schools. The legislature approved $2.5 million for school-based mental health projects as well as the first regional recovery high school in Virginia.
    • New initiatives to address long-standing challenges in the child welfare system include replacing the outdated child welfare data tracking system and the iFoster web-based portal for youth, expanded regional collaboration for foster placements, and additional support for foster youth seeking associate’s degrees to participate in Great Expectations.
    • $1 million each year to boost the buying power of SNAP benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and community retailers.

    We are proud to stand by the youth and young adults who advocated with us for these investments. And we will continue to speak up for policy changes designed to meet their needs.

    As one of our youth advocates said,

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.”

    – (Aaliyana, 16 years old).

    While these initiatives will continue to create new opportunities for young children to grow and thrive, the foundation of their success is economic stability. The rate of children experiencing poverty has remained consistent for decades in Virginia with persistent racial disparities in the percentage of Black and Latino children living in poverty than their White peers. A solid foundation for child well-being rests on a solid financial foundation for their families.

    As a significant commitment to families, the General Assembly approved a partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC):

    • Low-income working families who have a higher-than-average tax burden will see 15% of the value of their federal refund returned as a state tax credit.
    • In addition, this summer, taxpayers will receive one-time rebates of $250 for single families and $500 for married couples.

    The refundable EITC for families demonstrates that lawmakers can take necessary action to address long-standing challenges for families that were exacerbated by the pandemic. There will be more work to do to ensure that families receive economic support and stability that will address decades-long trends in child poverty and ever-increasing material hardship experienced by families across the state.

  5. Talking to Youth After Violence

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    It is an unfortunate truth in this country that we must have difficult and scary conversations that follow acts of violence, including school shootings. These events stir up confusion, fear, and unease for ourselves as caregivers or parents who are witnessing our worst nightmare, and also alarm the young people in our lives. It is during these difficult moments that children and youth look to trusted adults to understand how to react, cope and how to trust the world around them again. As you embark on these challenging conversations, consider the guidance below:

    • Name emotions together. Anxiety. Hypervigilance. Name the things that are coming up and be open about what comes up for you as a parent/caregiver. Sharing like this demonstrates that a) emotions are acceptable and b) gives them an opportunity to model their coping styles after you. Reserve processing more intense emotions with other supportive adults. While it is good to be open about emotions, you do not want children to think they must care for you too, or that they are somehow at fault. Phrases like, “I’m upset about what I saw, it’s not you,” can also help ease heightened and worried young minds.
    • Consider what is developmentally appropriate. You are the expert in your child. For any child or youth, approaching the conversation with curiosity and playfulness will be most helpful, but there are some things to keep in mind depending on age.
      • Remember that younger children (up to Elementary School age) tend to think in more linear, concrete terms, so keeping things simple, clear and concise will be important in addressing their anxious behaviors. Accept and hold the full range of their emotions. Phrases like, “A scary thing happened here, and grown-ups are working hard to try to fix it and keep everyone safe.”
      • Older children (Middle to High school) are keenly aware of when they are being condescended to and already have access to so much information on their own. Begin by being curious about what they already know. Anchor your conversation in facts. Invite a check-in later, if needed. “This scary thing happened and it’s making me think about safety. We can talk whenever you’re ready.”
    • Reassure safety. School is supposed to be a safe place. Help the young people you are connecting with understand that school is still a safe place to learn and connect with friends and trusted adults. You can approach this practically by helping to identify the things that keep them safe day-to-day, like talking to trusted adults when they are feeling afraid or unsure. Reiterate their safety by reminding them that you are always there for them and that authorities are investigating. “It’s okay to feel scared, but know that your teacher(s) works with me and other helpers to keep you safe.”
    • Keep the news and any violent or potentially triggering media away. If you as an adult are eager for the information, practice discretion, or try distracting your child to shift their focus. For older youth, filter the news for optimal times of day (avoiding close to bedtime) and/or watch together. Consider youth-centered news resources as well, such as Xzya: News for Kids.
    • Maintain routines. Keep it as “normal” a day as possible. Regular schedules are reassuring and can reduce anxiety. Ensure plenty of sleep, regular meals, and movement. Encourage academics and extracurriculars, but if your child is overwhelmed, take those cues and suggest a more emotionally accessible activity to do.

    Navigating these conversations is not an exact science. You and the child you are supporting may have different needs depending on aspects like age, race and ethnicity, where you live, and the resources available to you for support. Let these talking points and recommendations guide you, but recognize when to ask for help.

    Sign up to receive emails from Voices. We’ll be sending out resources to support these conversations, and youth, via email and social media in the coming weeks.

  6. Third Round of Child Care Stabilization Grants from CARES Act

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    On October 21, Governor Northam announced $65.8 million additional funding from the CARES Act to support the child care sector. These funds come on top of the $70 million previously announced to support existing early education care and school-age care programs that remained open during the pandemic.

    The Virginia Department of Social Services will provide more information about how providers can access these funds in the coming weeks.

    The additional funds will be used to support child care programs that remained open, providers that wish to re-open, and emergency care programs supporting virtual learning. These funds will be targeted to:

    • Child care programs that applied but were not approved for Phase 2 grants before funding ran out. Programs on the wait list for Phase 2 should expect a grant.
    • Child care programs seeking funds to stabilize income due to loss of tuition and increased costs. Approximately $42 million will be available for open child care providers and those seeking to re-open.
    • Emergency child care programs working collaboratively with schools and supporting virtual learning. Approximately $20 million will be available to support emergency child care including $4 million in CARES funds to use now and an additional $16.6 million in general funds that can be used next year.

    These additional funds will make public resources available from April through December providing some continuous public support to remain open and “bail out” this essential industry. As of mid- October, two-thirds of programs have reopened leaving 148,000 regulated child care slots still closed. Phase I & Phase 2 grants averaged about $9,000- $11,000 per program site, with all types of providers being eligible from small home-based providers serving three children to large-scale, multi-site programs serving hundreds.

    These funds are direct cash assistance with no strings attached. Providers and child care business owners can use them for hazard pay for employees, reducing costs for parents, providing mental health, and wellness supports to staff or any of the safety requirements to protect children and staff from COVID-19. This pool of state-directed funds is in addition to the funding that many localities offered through local CARES Act funds to support early education and care during virtual learning.

    The governor’s action to approve the CARES funds means that the Virginia Department of Social Services can offer Phase 3 grants before the Governor signs the General Assembly’s adopted budget. The Governor’s announcement is in line with the negotiated budget from the House and Senate which allocated $60 million in CARES funds for a child care stabilization fund and $33 million in CARES & general funds for emergency child care during virtual learning.

    Sign up for “early care and education news” to receive more updates on child care from Voices.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  7. Donor Spotlight: Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe

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    Guest author — Voices intern Megan Gianforte

    Organizations evolve over time with many pivots, but one thing that has remained constant through the life of Voices for Virginia’s Children is the support of Reverend Canon J. Fletcher Lowe. Whether serving as a community partner, board member or donor, Lowe has been a rock since the early years for Voices.

    A South Carolina native, Lowe started in the Navy for two years before going to the seminary. He became an Episcopalian priest in New York and served in churches all around the eastern United States, as well as across Europe. After years of travel, Lowe and his wife Mary Fran chose to settle in Virginia.

    During a recent interview, Lowe shared that his affiliation with Voices dates back to his days on West Grace Street when he served as the director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy Criminal Justice Reform. During that young growth period, for what was then called the Action Alliance for Virginia’s Children, he was highly involved in assisting with the alliance and advocacy components. When he left the Interfaith Center in 2004, he was brought onto Voices’ board, where he served for nine years.

    Lowe’s modesty cannot hide his own significant role in the financial development and successes of Voices. Backtracking to the time of his record-breaking lacrosse career at Washington and Lee University, where he majored in economics, Lowe has brought his economic discipline into every career role; he specifically ensured that Voices’ budgeting was working efficiently and received sufficient representation at board meetings. Lowe was always the man to question, “OK what are the yellow and red flags we need to be aware of?” The finance committee always had Lowe to be the seal of assurance.

    Lowe understands that Voices has the platform to be a major influence for Virginia’s youth, not only with the General Assembly, but also with other organizations who carry out the hands-on work to gain support, funding or services. “The credibility that Voices has developed is remarkable, and to see how they perform the high-quality work that they do, is gratifying,” he said. His pride and trust in Voices’ work is overflowing and backed by the impact he knows Voices is making in communities. When questioned as to what else Lowe wants to see from Voices, the answer was simple − “more of the same.”

  8. 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.

     

  9. The COVID-19 Child Care Conundrum

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    Families are in a child care conundrum. What do you do with your children who are out of school for an undetermined amount of weeks? What do you to ensure you are not exposing your children and the community to the dreaded COVID-19? What do you when you live paycheck to paycheck to provide for your family?

    Child care providers are in a similar conundrum. What do they do to keep the children in their care and educators from spreading disease? What do they do to help the families reaching out for care, including for additional school-age children? What will they do to ensure that tuition payments continue to come in so that they can pay staff and keep on the lights?

    While there are many moral and ethical complications in this conundrum, our state leaders and state and federal elected officials do have tools to help to mitigate and manage the stresses on families.

    The Commonwealth of Virginia should:

    1. Issue a statement clarifying what is expected of child care providers. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has issued a statement that all child care programs should close to curb the spread of COVID-19 unless in they are authorized to serve categories of “essential personnel”.
    2. Change payment practices so that providers receiving state and federal payments on behalf of disadvantaged families can continue to have a source of income. This would mean to change practice to ensure providers are paid while children are absent and allow families to maintain eligibility while programs are closed.
    3. Provide guidance and assistance to families seeking care and serving as “essential personnel”. This can be advice for families on how to navigate the landscape to find providers who are trained to meet appropriate health and safety standards to curb the spread of disease. As well as guidance to assess the most appropriate providers to meet their needs in both center-based care and family day homes.

    Congress should act to:

    1. Ensure there is an appropriate federal paid family leave policy for all working families that must take off from their jobs during this time of social distancing.
    2. Provide additional assistance to the child care business sector to help ensure that programs do not face long-term financial hardship and can remain open once families return to work.

    Virginia and most states have prioritized the health and safety of their school-age children by closing schools. This is a difficult choice for many but the right thing to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and “flatten the curve”. Shouldn’t we expect the same protection for the youngest children in care and their educators?

     

  10. Improvements to school lock-down drills in Virginia (Updated 2.20.20)

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    School lock-down drills, also known as “Active Shooter Drills” have become nearly ubiquitous in public schools across the nation. While the intent of  lock-down drills is to prepare teachers and students to protect themselves if faced with an unimaginable dangerous situation, recent reports and statements from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association cite the traumatic effect these drills are having on some children and a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of these drills.

    Currently in Virginia, all public schools are required to perform at least four lock-down drills per school calendar year. Two bills focusing on improvements to school lock-down drill practices have made progress during the 2020 General Assembly session.

     

    2020 legislation to improve school lock-down drills 

    Delegate and high school teacher,  Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, patroned  HB270, which addresses parental notice of upcoming lock-down drills. Specifically, this bill requires every public school to give parents at least 24hours’ notice before conducting any lock-down drills. Defeated in committee during the 2019, this bill is incredibly important because it give families an opportunity to have conversations with their children about the purpose of these drills and respond to questions or fears kids may have about these active shooter drills.

     

    These lock-down drills impact not just high school students, but kindergarteners as well (and some children in public pre-k, too!) and it’s important to remember that 5 year olds and 17 year olds are at very different developmental stages. All children and youth require the support of their families or trusted adults to help them regulate their emotions. Giving families notice about a potentially scary event, allows families the opportunity to provide the emotional support all children need.

     

    Equally as important, Delegate Mark Keam-Fairfax Co, sponsored HB402, a bill that exempts Pre-k and Kindergarten students from mandatory participation in lock-down drills during the first 60-days of school.  In implementing this exemption,  Principals  at each relevant school  are given the option to 1) conduct teacher-only drills or other suitable training for pre-k and kindergarten teachers or 2) notify each parent of pre-k and kindergarten student at least five school days in advance of each planned lock-down drill and permit parents to opt their child out of participating in these drills during the first 60 days of school. Pre-k and kindergarten students will still be required to participate in each lock-down drills after the first 60 days of the school session.

    Update: Both bills successfully passed out of Senate committees this morning and are headed to the Senate floor. We were successfully able to get pre-k students added to Delegate Keam’s bill: HB 402. Thank you Senator Keam for making this important change. 

    The New School Safety Report, co-written by the NEA & AFT, and discussed during the Feb 13th Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education, a few recommendations include:

    1. Parents should be given advanced notice before a lock-down drill occurs.
    2. Drills must be age appropriate and should be coupled with trauma-informed instruction and mental health/counseling supports before and after such drills.

    These bills are both steps in the right direction. Let’s ensure that we are not doing more harm than good and protecting the emotional health and well-being of all our children.