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How Are Our Children? Updates and Policy Implications from the RAPID-EC Surveys

RAPID-EC has been surveying a national representative sample of families with young children since April 2020. In this webinar, we heard the story about children and families that’s emerging from the data and ideas about what policy responses are needed to respond to the toll the pandemic is taking on these families.

Watch the recording.
Download the slides.

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, the Alliance dedicated its March NI>SA national webinar to learning how it has impacted young children and their families – and how state policy leaders and advocates should respond. The discussion started with a presentation about the RAPID-EC project, led by Dr. Phil Fisher of the University of Oregon and Dr. Joan Lombardi, Chair of the project’s National Advisory Group. RAPID-EC has been conducting ongoing surveys with a national representative sample of parents and caregivers with young children about their experience during the pandemic – first weekly, then biweekly – since April 2020.

We also heard from Karla Pleitéz Howell, Chief of Policy and Programs from Advancement Project – California (AP-CA), who shared her organization’s data-driven response and proposals for addressing the impact of the pandemic on California’s children and families.

RAPID EC early childhood findings

Major takeaways from the webinar included:

  • Use data to support equitable policies. Use data to identify the families and communities that are hardest-hit by the pandemic and use a “targeted universalism” approach to develop policy responses that address the racial and income inequities experienced by families. A “one-size-fits-all” approach will exacerbate these inequities.
  • Gather more data to sustain what works. Document the use and impact of federal and state relief funding to learn what works for which families, and to make the case for sustaining these resources in the future.
  • Think ambitiously, even with one-time funding. Use funding from the America Rescue Plan to not only restore and stabilize programs and systems, but also fix what’s always been broken and inequitable by coming up with better policies and strategies to support each and every child and family in the future.
  • Supplement federal funds with state investments. State leaders can and should invest their own resources to sustain at least some of improvements made possible by one-time federal resources and build stronger policies and systems for children and families.

Fisher and Lombardi started by describing the devastating and pervasive impact the pandemic had on parents’ ability to meet the very basic needs of their families, including paying for food, housing, and utilities. The surveys found that these material hardships were associated with higher caregivers’ stress, which is related to distress among children. Moreover, these impacts were felt much more profoundly by Black and Latinx families, single-parent households, and families with lower incomes. They also found that families used most of the unemployment assistance and direct payments from previous COVID relief funding from the federal government to address these basic needs. Finally, access to child care was also critical to families’ stability.

Fisher and Lombardi stressed the importance of sustaining financial supports to families; shoring up the supply of reliable, quality child care options (including licensed home-based and “Family, Friend, and Neighbor” care); and ensuring that state and federal supports take a comprehensive approach – as opposed to choosing among child care, family economic security, and other family supports.

For more on RAPID-EC, review their ongoing series of reports and briefs based on their survey findings. States interested in collaborating with them on more state-specific survey efforts can learn more about the surveys, samples, and explore their bank of questions and responses, or contact Fisher at philf@uoregon.edu.

Karla Pleitéz Howell from AP-CA then shared the Statewide COVID-19 Vulnerability and Recovery Index, a tool designed to help policymakers and advocates understand which communities were most impacted by the pandemic and, just as important, develop an equitable, need-based strategy to help communities recover from the pandemic. She also described her organization’s efforts to advocate for three initiatives that would support such an equitable response by establishing:

  • A Whole Child Equity Fund to support cross-sector interventions, including education, child care, health care, and other social services. Funding would be allocated based on an Equity Index and through the Whole Family Wellness Hubs in the state’s highest need areas.
  • A statewide Office of Racial Equity that would coordinate cross-agency data collection and strategies to address structural racism, increase access to equitable opportunities, and improve outcomes.
  • An Equity Corps, modeled after the state’s outreach efforts around the 2020 Census, to enlist and fund trusted, community-based organizations to support the vaccination efforts, especially in the hardest-hit communities, where residents face the greatest barriers to accessing vaccines.

National Issues>State Action

The presentation was part of the Alliance for Early Success National Issues>State Action series, which features a national expert on an early childhood policy topic, followed by state advocates who care share their experiences in the same area.

Sign up here to receive invitations to the series presentations.

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