Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

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March 2020 State Advisory Council Recap


Building Bright Futures’ Executive Director, Dr. Morgan Crossman, delivered welcoming remarks.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis evolving in Vermont and across the world, BBF held its first ever, all virtual State Advisory Council meeting this month, attended by more than 65 early childhood leaders (see listing at the bottom of this post).  Given the rapidly changing needs of our families, Building Bright Futures has been strategizing about how the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic impacts the needs of children and families in Vermont and our role. The Council meeting brought together state agencies with regional partners. Consistent with BBF’s charge under Act 104, BBF continues to convene communities, now virtually, to share information, monitor the system, problem-solve, align our efforts, and strategize to support a collaborative and integrated response as the pandemic evolves.  The meeting created the space to provide critical updates from key State Agency partners, share regional  stories of how are we seeing families and communities display resilience in these challenging times, and  identify gaps or barriers that will require strategizing and coordinated response. The discussion informed how BBF can best support the EC system.

State Advisory Council Co-Chair Nomination & Vote

BBF’s Executive Director outlined membership transitions and appreciations for 2 State Advisory Council Members completing their terms at this meeting: Stacy Weinberger, At-Large council member, and David Young, co-chair of the SAC and member of the BBF Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is composed of 5 SAC members, including 1 public and 1 private co-chair. The current public co-chair is Cheryle Wilcox. SAC nominations for the co-chair position are introduced by the Executive Committee and are then brought before the full board.

The Executive Committee presented a nomination for Chloe Leary as the SAC co-chair to succeed David Young as the private co-chair. The Executive Director asked the SAC if there was a motion for Chloe Leary to become the private co-chair of the State Advisory Council. A motion was made by Aly Richards, and seconded by Julie Cadwallader Staub. All SAC members were in favor of the motion, with 1 abstaining from voting. Based on the public vote, Chloe Leary’s nomination was accepted.

Key state agency representatives provided a report on their current priorities and response to the COVID-10 pandemic for Vermont’s children and families.

Child Development Division

Melissa Riegel-Garrett, Policy Director, reported that  Child Development Division activities are focused on  the closures of schools and child cares. Simultaneously, they are working to stand up childcare for essential workers.

The Division is concerned about protecting the financial stability and viability of the State’s child care system and ensuring providers are able to re-open once the crisis is over.  CDD strategies include:

Providing public funding

  • Continuing Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) payments, shifting from attendance-based to enrollment-based.
  • Establish a system to augment a private pay for families that can’t afford to continue to make payments.

Other key activities for CDD include:

  • Partnered with Let’s Grow Kids to identify child care needs of  essential workers
  • Identified which child care providers will serve  for essential workers
  • Identify what programs have classroom availability but need staffing, or if facilities are available for another program to operate in your space
  • Regional referral specialists have switched gears and are matching ‘essential worker’ families with available slots in programs

Agency of Education

Chris Case and Kate Rogers gave the report from the Agency of Education. They acknowledged and appreciated the work of school and early childhood systems during the shift to remote education.

The Agency has been collaborating with CDD to develop the early education plan.  They are now transitioning to programmatic guidance (for example, special ed guidance came out this week). They also held a regional webinar to collect questions and best understand the needs of communities.

Overall, AOE is trying to create predictability from week to week and provide resources for schools, educators, and families.

Additionally, AOE is working to try to understand the needs of school systems as they transition to providing child care, meals, and other community services that haven’t always been their focus.

One challenging piece of the education puzzle right now is Universal Pre-K. This is tricky because young children don’t belong online as much, so typical remote learning isn’t appropriate. The Agency is preparing support educational materials for families.  They also worked across agencies to ensure that there was continuity of funding to programs.

As they move forward with child care operated through schools, there are many, many questions, especially understanding that school systems are required to provide child care to serve children pre-K through grade 8.

Department of Mental Health

The report from the Department of Mental health was provided in writing by Cheryle Wilcox, read by Morgan Crossman. The Department’s main focus at this point has been on ensuring the System of Care continues to operate so everyone who relies on mental health supports can continue to receive them, ensuring the safe operations of our psychiatric hospital and residential programming, supporting the field with daily evolving federal guidance about billing and service delivery, and ensuring we have resources on our website regarding self-care during this challenging time.  If there is something from an early childhood perspective that you feel is a gap or need from DMH please let them know.

They launched a new web page with resources for our providers and communities at: https://mentalhealth.vermont.gov/coronavirus-and-our-mental-health where you can find the following:

Self-Care

For Families, Individuals

For Service Providers

Department of Health

Janet Kilburn made the report for the Department of Health. In addition to being the department responsible for testing and data around COVID-19, the Department of Health has been working on several early childhood-specific initiatives, including:

  • Worked with AOE, CDD to develop technical guidance for schools and child care
  • Worked with AOE, CDD and Let’s Grow Kids on health guidance around emergency care for essential workers; prepping for a webinar for child care providers and schools providing emergency care (Tuesday)
  • Maternal Child Health nurses available to support child care providers with COVID-19 questions, daily 8a to 3p—have already fielded hundreds of calls by schools and child care providers
  • Epidemiological team support to investigate persons with possible exposure, making calls to healthcare facilities regarding guidance and next steps, and providing essential data entry work to ensure that Vermont has accurate data to track/forecast the outbreak
  • The WIC team has had to do a major lift to ensure that families can continue to receive their WIC benefits and identify virtual strategies for enrolling new families as we anticipate significant demand as coronavirus impacts people’s employment and economic situations
  • MCH worked with Department for Children and Families and Child Development Division to develop guidance for home-based service delivery, including CIS, home visiting, lactation consultation, parent-child visitation for children in state custody, and others—with an emphasis on virtual visits wherever possible
  • Developing a protocol/algorithm around pregnancy and birth practices for patients with COVID-19
  • Leading daily calls with pediatric primary care in partnership with Vermont Child Health Improvement Program to answer questions, identify barriers, and work on solutions
  • The Department of Health/Maternal Child Health are working as part of the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications (CERC) team to ensure current information and guidance on the VDH website, developing FAQs, writing press releases, responding to press inquiries, and answering emails—tens of thousands of individuals are accessing the VDH website daily
  • Help Me Grow is partnering with CDD and Let’s Grow Kids to assist with collecting information to help essential workers find childcare. Families can dial 2-1-1 ext. 6 for assistance.

Regional Response, Gaps and Needs

The meeting then transitioned to a discussion of regional responses and remaining gaps. Several people responded to the question, “How are we seeing families and communities display resilience in these challenging times?”  Two key examples were given:

Chloe Leery, Executive Director of the Winston-Prouty Center shared that in Brattleboro, because of long-standing relationships and with the help of BBF, early childhood partners have been able to create a feedback loop to close gaps. The Parent-Child center and Supervisory Union have been able to work together to assess child care needs, for example.  Using the child care referral specialists (existing structures) to help match children with child care openings is a great practice. She outlined the importance of BBF serving as the early childhood backbone, and continuing to provide a place to come together for collaboration, coordination, information sharing and integration. Finally, she elevated the strength of using existing structures and relationships.

Amy Johnson, Director of the Parent Child Center at Northwestern Counseling and Support Services, reinforced the need to use existing structures and shared that in Franklin/Grand Isle, the CIS regional team is making connections to support the community around changes cross-agency to respond. They are asking, “How do we keep eyes on our families and work together to serve them during this time?” Families have been struggling with concrete supports such as diapers and formula, so the team is working together to find a way to provide. Fortunately they were able to order supplies early on and are now providing for families.

From there we transitioned to a discussion responding to the following question, “Where are there gaps or barriers that will require strategizing and coordinated response?” Key issues raised included:

  • Access to basic needs especially diapers and formula, hand sanitizer and soap for families
  • Support for special populations (families and children experiencing homelessness, children with special health care needs, etc.): how to identify those with needs and support them appropriately
  • The challenges in establishing a new system to provide emergency care, working across agencies in difficult times. There remain questions on how to serve PreK students, program payment, and ensuring adequate staffing
  • Schools are proving creative ways to deliver meals to families
  • Due to the sudden isolation, how to quickly help families build social networks. Need to start child care as soon as possible, but guidance is still needed- confusion with AOE/CDD and LGK.  Mixed delivery is making this trickier.  This isn’t surprising considering the emergency we’re facing, but I’m hopeful we can solidify quickly.
  • Challenge of supply and demand and resources for schools and child care

 

Finally, the conversation transitions to ways BBF can best support the early childhood system, its professionals, and the families we all serve.  The following ideas emerged:

  • To ensure there is no wrong door and connect partners in the regions to serve families. Additionally, look for ways to coordinate the doors. In this way, BBF will continue to be a resource and convener (not a new role) but perhaps will need to channel energy toward different structures.
  • If families don’t have direct contact with child care providers, how do we ensure those families have continuity of care for their needs? This could be a place where focus and coordination is needed.
  • Supporting adult mental health. The level of stress reduces our cognitive ability, and families will need to hear things more than once. BBF could help us to revisit information periodically.
  • Could BBF play a role in developing a statewide document with strategies for quickly developing social networks – family/friends/neighbors – for essential workers who lack these networks?
  • BBF can support the early childhood system with stories and examples of community/family resilience and coming together. Also with coordinating diaper drives, promoting local food drives/resources, and any efforts to organize community supports, meals etc. for essential workers

In addition to the questions and comments raised verbally, there were many questions asked in the chat bar of Zoom that are important to capture. If answers were also provided, we’ve included them to help keep all the partners informed.

Q: Can you give us a sense of the scope of the child care private pay supplement program, in terms of dollars?

A: Estimated at $1.5 million per week.  Understanding we have limited ability to guess what families are going to be able to make tuition payments themselves.

Q: Public schools are currently required to provide childcare for children of essential personnel through grade 8 in groups no larger than 10. If Vermont reaches a point where there are insufficient public school staff to provide childcare, will private childcare providers be asked to assist?

A: We are being as nimble as possible during this time.  No option is off the table at this point.

Q: Is child care currently available in all regions of Vermont? If not, where are the gaps?

A: By AHS region, for the under 5 age group, largest gap is Addison County.  We continue to drill down to local level on the data.

Q: Thank you for all the information about the early care and education system. You mentioned CIS, would you please share more about how supports for families, and Home Visiting programs, are continuing?

A: CIS Guidance specific to COVID-19 – 3/19/2020:  https://dcf.vermont.gov/sites/dcf/files/CDD/Docs/COVID/CIS-COVID-19-Guidance.pdf

Q: Will there be guidance to school districts on how to offer social and emotional support as well as academic support? I’m especially concerned about children’s emotional needs during this time.

A: Alyssa Black-Cambell is doing a virtual training for teachers in the Harvard child care centers on social/emotional development support for their kiddos and how to support their families. I could do a virtual training for VT teachers as well if there is interest there.

  • https://mentalhealth.vermont.gov/coronavirus-and-our-mental-health
  • VT School Counselors have started a group to share ideas & resources
  • I have a free guide for teachers and a free guide for parents that folks can access and share for emotional development support
  • We were getting a lot of parent questions about regulation so an OT joined me to support families with how they can structure their day and activities that can support sensory regulation. The video is free on youtube and meant to simply be a helpful tool for folks support sensory regulation as a baseline for emotional regulation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3orvYeoxomo&t=1s
  • Resource: If providers (at all levels) are feeling disconnected there’s a fairly robust facebook group and discussion happening at Let’s Talk Early Childhood Vermont- When it was originally started (11 years ago-) it was to provide a place for conversation.  We’re currently making resource files and making sure as many as possible get information shared/conversations had.  Lots of good conversation provider to provider–

Q: Can Kate/Chris/Melissa clarify the essential workers statement– if one of two parents can stay home, but there’s a parent  who is essential workforce- are they classified as essential workforce for childcare?  Much confusion out there from SUs and Childcares.

A: If the essential worker has determined they need childcare, we are serving that child.  We are anticipating families that have options other than group childcare will take advantage of those options.  This may change in the future as guidance continues to evolve.

  • Superintendent Nease of the Harwood Unified Union School District sent out an email yesterday that notified the community that the district will not be offering childcare for essential employees.  https://huusd.org/blog/superintendent-neases-response-to-the-community-03-22-20-child-care-for-essential-personnel
    • @Rebecca: that response was specific to the under 5 crowd being served in the private childcare system.
    • We are aware of the differentiated response of schools in their ability to serve essential workers’ childcare needs. Executive branch leadership are working to address this.

Q: We are hearing about local shortages of formula and diapers, are there resources that we at RiseVT can push out to families for sourcing these critical items?

Q: In order for the State Advisory Council to be most helpful, there will need to be numerous connections with public school staff.  With the loss of David (David Young’s term expired on the SAC 3/31), what other opportunities are there for public schools to express needs to this group?

A:  will continue to engage with David through this challenging time. He has connected us with an interested superintendent to join our State Advisory Council Board. We will also continue hosting public meetings and encourage participation from all sectors as we recognize the importance of collective impact during this time.

We recognized that voices from the public schools are needed (not just superintendents). We highly encourage the voices of public school representatives to engage with our BBF SAC and regional councils, which are all open meetings, to provide this critical feedback.

Q: One of our questions is how to keep siblings together regardless of which ‘system’ they fall in, early childhood or school-age, and my guess is that this will need to be a local solution, but sharing ideas across districts and regions will be helpful.

A: I’ve heard that schools have been doing a phenomenal job of ensuring some level of continuity with educational offerings. One reflection as a parent of a preschool child, with our youngest kids, it feels very different. My experience was that we went to school one day and then never went back, with very little continuity or support.

It would be very helpful to have VT Employment Security clarify how many hours people can work without be penalized on the unemployment reimbursement.  When centers closed, the employees signed up for Unemployment benefits, now centers are needing staff to cover essential workers, but most will not come back even on a minimal capacity due to this confusion.

 

Participation in the State Advisory Council Virtual Meeting

SAC Members Present: David Young, Emily Merrill, Chloe Leary, Aly Richards, Renee Kelly, Christy Swenson, Auburn Watersong, Melissa Reigel-Garrett (on behalf of Steven Berbeco), Kate Rogers, Representative Jessica Brumsted, Julie Cadwallader Staub, Stacy Weinberger, Amy Johnson, Ken Jones, Flor Diaz Smith, Kim Keiser

Absent: Cheryle Wilcox, Breena Holmes, Nicole Grenier

Community Partners/Guests:

Andrea Malinowski, RiseVT Bennington County Program Manager

Rosy Metcalfe- RiseVT Program Manager, Chittenden County

Matt Levin, VT Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance

Jennifer Chitgopker, Champlain Valley Head Start

Cynthia Greene – VTAEYC and Shelburne Farms/VTFEED

Becky Gadue, Head Start County Supervisor

Janet Kilburn, VT Dept of Health

Karen Bielawski-Branch from CDD – CIS Strong Families VT Home Visiting Administrator

Elizabeth Gilman, Help Me Grow VT Program Manager

Jen Olson, Intern with BBF, Mentor Teacher at UVM Campus Children’s School

Emmy Wollenburg, RiseVT Program Design and Implementation Manager.

Amy Brooks, Early Care and Education Association of the Upper Valley

Paul Behrman, VT Head Start Association and Champlain Valley Head Start

Rey Garofano, Vermont Child Development Division

Ivy Crowe- child care provider. Northeast Kingdom

Rebecca Webb- Winooski Valley Superintendents Association Regional Coordinator

Sandra Graves, Champlain Valley Head Start

Hilary Watson, Family Engagement Coordinator, Children’s Integrated Services, Child Development Division

Pamela Fontaine-  Director of Y Early Childhood Program @ St. Albans

Alyssa Blask Campbell— founder of Seed & Sew

Katie Lavallee, PDG B-5 Communications & Outreach Coordinator with CDD

Eli Hawgood, PDG Grant Manager

Michele Butler Gilbert, RiseVT Program Manager, Addison County

Ann Dillenbeck, STARS Assessor

Becky Millard, Director of Northern Lights at CCV

Lauren Smith from The Health Department and Help Me Grow Coordinator

Eddie Gale- AD Henderson Foundation

Building Bright Futures Staff present: Morgan Crossman, Beth Truzansky, Katie Mobbs, Julia Andrews, Jay Austin, Amanda Biggs, Linda Michniewicz, Robin Stromgren, Darla Senecal, Dora Levinson, Ellen Taetzsch, Liz Fleury, Anne Latulippe

 

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