We did not need a global pandemic, devastated economy, exhausted public health and human service infrastructure, and a spate of concurrent racist murders across the country to make us face reality.
BY KIMBERLY MARTINI-CARVELL
In the recent publication Child Health Care Transformation: Addressing the Triple Crisis of COVID-19, Racial Injustice and the Economic Downturn, Charles Bruner, Kay Johnson, Maxine Hayes, David Willis, Paul Dworkin, and Wendy Ellis write, “The challenge and opportunity for our nation going forward is to give top priority – in policy and public investments – to child well-being through child health care transformation, adequate funding for a public health infrastructure to promote community well-being, and economic supports for families to provide safe and stable environments for our children”.
A recent Forbes article reinforces what the Help Me Grow (HMG) community has known for decades, in that, “Neurodevelopmental researchers have been studying the relationship between poverty and the brain for the past couple of decades, and know that educational and positive interactions with caregivers can buffer children from the harms of poverty-induced stress. But supporting families in supporting their children requires money”.
The imperative to acknowledge failure of past efforts and the commitment to devote attention, resources, investments, and policies towards rebuilding our infrastructure is a long-held doctrine for the HMG National Center and Affiliate Network. Over the past 24 years, HMG affiliate states and local systems have worked tirelessly to design and fortify an early childhood infrastructure that universally ensures developmental promotion, early identification of concern or need, referral, and linkage for each and every young child.
It unfortunately appears to have taken the immense strain placed on our country from a coincident public health crisis, rampant racial injustice and racially motivated violence, and an imperiled economic system to have finally applied enough pressure to result in a fundamental shift in the way the United States acknowledges early childhood and the systems in place to support families.
“The most historic part of the Biden agenda, to me, is a determined effort to invest in America’s kids and reverse decades of child neglect. Just as Franklin Roosevelt revolutionized conditions for the elderly by instituting Social Security, Biden may be able to do the same for children”, writes Nicholas Kristoff in Biden Plots a Revolution for America’s Children.
Through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the Biden-Harris administration is directing attention, resources, investments, and policies towards transforming our infrastructure and providing the desperately needed resources to rethink, re-design, and reconstruct early childhood systems that support all children’s optimal health, development, and well-being.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocates resources that have the potential to radically change life-course outcomes for millions of young children across our nation:
- $39 billion for childcare
- Childcare for essential workers regardless of income
- Stabilization of the childcare market
- Childcare entitlement to states to support TANF eligible families, requiring no matching funds
- $150 million for home visiting
- Inclusion of diapers and wipes via diaper banks for families in need
- Provision of Wi-Fi access or cell-phone minutes to enable virtual supports and services
- Baby formula, food, water, hand soap and diapers as well as prepaid grocery cards for families being supported by a Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) funded home visiting
- $250 million for child abuse prevention
- Enhancing the capacity of states to expand their supports, services, and resources via the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
- 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition and Food Provision (SNAP) benefits
- $390 million for Women Infant and Children (WIC) outreach, innovation, and modernization
- 5-year option to include women for up to 12-months post birth for coverage on state’s Medicaid plans (coverage previously expired 60 days post birth)
- Increase benefit and restructuring of the Child Tax Credit
- $3,600 per child under 6 years of age
- $3,000 per child 6-17 years of age
- Entire child tax credit can be received as a refund
- New cash payment program for eligible families that will provide 50% of the child tax credit via monthly payments June-December 2021
The time is now.
The HMG National Center is poised to leverage this new federal momentum and help every state and community build, at scale, an early childhood and family support infrastructure that accelerates the capacity of programs, policies, interventions, parents, providers, and organizations in achieving transformational change. And the HMG National Affiliate Network is equipped to leverage its established infrastructure to support key activities of developmental promotion, early identification of concern and/or need, and linkage to community-based supports and services – all vital to supporting caregivers who are marginalized, vulnerable, and overwhelmed.
HMG affiliates across the country are positioned to utilize their centralized intake and referral services to link children never before served to early care and education opportunities, serve as a one-stop shop that supports home visitors in their work connecting the increasing number of families they will serve to urgent infant and toddler basic needs, and identifying available childcare slots and subsidies for essential workers. Further, HMG promotes a cross-sector workforce that supports parents’ understanding of their child’s developmental milestones, social-emotional needs, and leverages the key tenets of early childhood mental health, which is all necessary for child abuse prevention.
Local HMG systems engage in robust Family & Community Outreach that can be leveraged to message the increased benefits of Medicaid expansion inclusive of post-partum coverage, serve as a marketing strategy for increased enrollment in WIC, and connect families to no-cost tax prep services that will enable increased uptake of the child tax credit. HMG Family & Community Outreach efforts can increase the capacity of initiatives and organizations to engage caregivers in advancing an early childhood infrastructure that is built around the visions families have for their own children.
This work is not new to HMG, either. In fact, affiliates are expert in it. For well over two decades, the HMG National Affiliate Network has built efficient, effective, multi-sector early childhood infrastructure across the country. HMG affiliates represent coalitions of early childhood practitioners, advocates, funders, policy-makers, parents, and providers that recognize the only way in which we will achieve systems change is through shared agendas, resources, workforce, and approaches to supporting all families. The scale and spread of HMG has already resulted in significant impact and positive outcomes, but each HMG state affiliate and local system must and does continue to fight for the enabling conditions that will yield sustainable systemic change at scale.
HMG is ready to leverage the past 24 years of incremental growth, enhancement, and scale of the Model across the country to accelerate our recovery and reimagine an America that prioritizes children’s optimal health, development, and well-being.
The time is now.
Kimberly Martini-Carvell is the Executive Director of the Help Me Grow National Center and the Associate Director for Capacity Building, Organizational Learning, and Professional Advancement at the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.