Dear Vermont’s Early Childhood Community,
The events of this past month have been intense and tested the strength of families, communities and Vermont’s early childhood service system. Our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is evolving rapidly in a climate of uncertainty and we’re grateful for thoughtful decision-making.
I want to take this moment to reach out to the early childhood community and offer my support during this challenging time. We all recognize that the COVID pandemic took the entire world by storm and it’s changing our daily lives. This past month has not been easy and I am amazed everyday by the dedication and strength that I’ve seen from essential workers, parents, caregivers, educators, health care providers and our state leadership. I’m also very mindful that the challenges posed by this pandemic are not just related to physical health. We’re seeing impacts to the economy, challenging logistics and an ever-growing need to focus on our mental health and well-being.
It’s also important for me to directly acknowledge how hard this period is for families. I see you. I’m the mom of an almost three-year-old daughter who is not in child care while I’m working full-time. My partner is navigating unemployment and we’re also having to relocate our family in this period of uncertainty. I feel how challenging our new normal is and you are not alone. These challenges are not unique to our family and yet, I know we’re lucky to have each other and family close by to support us. Everyone’s struggle with this pandemic is different and I wouldn’t want to be any other place than Vermont right now.
I am so proud to have returned to my home state to raise my daughter, because Vermonters are truly leaning in to our values. People care about their neighbors, their communities, our kids and families. This isn’t something that Vermont does just in times of crisis. We live these values everyday because we know that we’re better together. We’re modeling the way for the rest of the country.
As Building Bright Futures’ Executive Director, I am writing to let you know that our statewide team is here for you and is working hard to meet the needs of children and families and the systems that support them. We’re doing our very best to model those same values to support the early childhood system and Vermont’s youngest and most vulnerable kids and their families.
Our role hasn’t changed during this crisis. Our responsibility is to support communities by identifying their needs, and gaps within the early childhood service system and bringing people together to strategize and take action within regions and at the state level. Our job is also to make sure all of our different early childhood partners are working together and coordinating to meet the needs of families. Just as important, directly connecting with our agency partners and other decision-makers to make sure they understand the questions, concerns and needs of those on the ground. We are also ensuring that we’re disseminating guidance from our agency partners.
Below you will find an in-depth overview of BBFs COVID-19 response as we lean into our three key charges under Act 104. Here are a few examples of our work within communities and in collaboration with the state:
- Convening Vermont’s early childhood community to foster coordination and collaboration on behalf of children and families (e.g. Hosting Statewide Early Childhood Forums, connecting partners to distribute diapers across the state, and hosting Mister Chris and other amazing presenters to celebrate young children and families)
- Monitoring the system of services and child and family well-being (e.g. collecting questions from families and community partners)
- Advising the Governor, administration and legislature on the current status of Vermont’s children and families (e.g. testimony to the legislature; recaps from the State Advisory Council meetings and weekly meetings with the administration to inform guidance and FAQ documents)
I’d like to take a minute to thank the early childhood community and the essential workers in Vermont for your tireless efforts to ensure that the needs of our children and families are met in this time of uncertainty. As we move through different phases in this pandemic, we will continue to face new and unforeseen challenges. The team at BBF stands ready to embrace those challenges and help families and the field find solutions. We are all in this together.
I hope you are all healthy and safe. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or a member of my team if you have questions or need anything. We’re here for you. #vermontstrongkids
Morgan Crossman, Ph.D., M.A.
Building Bright Futures
Building Bright Futures’ Response to COVID-19
Highlights of BBFs On-going Community Collaborations
- Week of the Young Child: BBF planned a week of fun, engaging activities and performances on Facebook for Vermont families and early childhood partners to enjoy! Exciting virtual engagements were scheduled for five straight days, from Monday, April 13th to Friday, April 17th. This was a hugely successful week for all of our communities. You can find the videos on our Facebook page.
- Distributing Diapers across Vermont: Thanks to our partners at The Junior League of Champlain Valley, BBF has been able to get 7,500 diapers out to partners in the Northeast Kingdom, Addison, Rutland, and Windham Counties.
- In support of teachers who have little to no experience conducting virtual meeting and teaching from home, the Chittenden Regional Council sponsored a “Virtually Supporting Families” training for early childhood professionals in collaboration with Alyssa Blask Campbell from Seed & Sew.
We have witnessed a number of incredible efforts to support the needs of children and families across the state of Vermont. To celebrate and to share joy and hope during this challenging time, Building Bright Futures just launched our #vermontstrongkids campaign!
Where are you seeing family and community resilience?
Who are the everyday heroes and helpers supporting kids and families near you?
How is your family staying safe and strong?
We would love to hear from partners statewide and to highlight the incredible work of your teams and the families you serve! We’re so proud of the early childhood community’s response during this challenging time. Help BBF spread the word through social media and by sharing with your community! Use #vermontstrongkids to share your story, photo and/or video on social media, share it online or share it by email.
Adapting Regional Council, Early Childhood Action Plan, and State Advisory Council Meetings
BBF held its first ever, all-virtual State Advisory Council meeting (SAC) in March, attended by more than 65 early childhood leaders from across the state. The meeting served to create a unified response, share key early childhood agency updates and priorities, assess the changing needs of families and communities, and identify strategies for BBF to support the early childhood system during this time. Our on-going, virtual SAC meetings in the coming weeks will continue to act as our platform to support communication, coordination and alignment with early childhood initiatives to promote the overall wellness of our children and families.
Since March 14th, BBF has transitioned all of our regional, State Advisory Council (SAC) and Early Childhood Action Plan (ECAP) Committee meetings to virtual status. Because of our team’s expertise in facilitating and convening virtual meetings, this shift does not drastically alter our workflow given the statewide nature of our work. Our team is pivoting alongside our partners to convene meetings to specifically address early childhood emergency response and strategy. We have heard a range of questions, concerns and updates from regional partners and have developed processes to share this information and strategize with our state partners as time and capacity allows. Now, more than ever, our BBF team is poised to adjust our work to meet the needs of our statewide partners and communities. We have been in contact with numerous agency and community partners and are monitoring efforts across BBF’s core infrastructure of regional councils, Early Childhood Action Plan committees, and the State Advisory Council.
The April State Advisory Council Meeting will be held on Monday, April 27th from 1:30-3:00pm. The meeting will include a roundtable discussion on Family Safety and Mental Health to identify regional and state strengths, needs and gaps to inform Vermont’s strategic response to support children and families. The agenda also includes agency updates from Children’s Integrated Services in the Child Development Division, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Health and the Family Services Division. We’d love to have a larger pediatrician presence. You can register for the meeting here: BBF SAC Eventbrite
Early Childhood Forums
Our team also developed a new series of Early Childhood Forums to connect folks on the ground to agency partners on a range of key topics. The first series of forums, in partnership with the Vermont DCF Child Development Division (CDD) and the early childhood team at the Vermont Agency of Education, focused on childcare and PreK. Representatives from the CDD and AOE have utilized these forums to clarify guidance for parents, childcare providers, early childhood educators and early childhood partners. The recording from the first forum on Friday, April 10 is available here and the recording from Friday, April 24 is available here.
Topics for future Early Childhood forums for the month of May will be announced in the next few weeks. We are actively monitoring the needs of families and sectors to determine the appropriate topics.
Collecting, Aligning, and Sharing Information
Early Childhood COVID-19 Response Webpage
BBF is both identifying gaps in the early childhood service system, and providing the field with the most up-to-date, high-quality information and resources. We developed a new webpage on Early Childhood COVID-19 Response that includes the following:
- A compilation of regularly updated statewide COVID-19 resources including national and Vermont-based information on COVID-19, basic needs, mental health, safety, health, childcare and regional resources.
- Updates on Early Childhood Forums hosted by BBF in collaboration with early childhood partners to provide clarity and make connections throughout our early childhood systems
- An “Ask a Question” portal to gather questions and concerns about early childhood and family support systems, which we share weekly with state partners to inform their guidance and FAQ documents.
- A “Stories of Resilience” portal to capture ways communities are supporting children and families state wide.
Gathering Essential Questions and Concerns
Since the onset of the COVID-19 emergency, BBF has been closely monitoring the concerns of families and strategies emerging from communities and agency partners. Our team has been gathering questions and concerns across the state to share with agency partners and decision-makers.
Early Childhood Emerging Themes and Priorities
This is an initial list of concerns we are hearing most frequently related to the wellbeing of children and families (in no particular order):
- Child care: emergency childcare for essential workers, financial support for child care programs and families during the childcare closure period
- Food security and basic needs: access to food and basic needs such as diapers, wipes, and baby formula. Concern for the growing reliance on food shelves and their limited capacity, promoting use of WIC/SNAP and school food programs
- Family safety and mental health; challenges for caregivers to take care of themselves and children in their care; how to get help, isolation and connection with other adults, mounting economic pressure on parents; risk for domestic violence and abuse as well as substance misuse; long term impacts of the trauma
- Health care: access to health insurance for all children and families, health care and health insurance for early educators serving children of essential employees, telehealth access for children and families, concerns for pregnant and postpartum women (access to lactation, home visiting and mental health supports), challenges for families with children with special health needs
- Technology: limited or no connectivity for families in rural areas, no access to a phone or computer, additional remote learning needs, WIFI and training for providers now providing services via phone/computer
- Distance learning: support for educators, children and families in distance educating and remote learning, appropriate expectations
- Reopening/recovery: clear guidance and expectations for the process of reopening Vermont and the safety measures that will remain
In addition to BBF’s annual publication, How Are Vermont’s Young Children and Families, BBF’s advisory role has transitioned in a few key ways. On a weekly basis, members of our team meet with representatives from the Agency of Education, the Child Development Division, the Vermont Department of Health and other private partners to elevate the needs and questions resulting from the field. BBF’s Executive and Deputy Directors bring together the Early Childhood Interagency Coordinating Team on a bi-weekly basis, which includes leadership from multiple agencies and divisions statewide to provide updates, share information, identify gaps, and discuss aligned strategies to address challenges. We have also increased the frequency of our State Advisory Council meetings to ensure our state board has the most up-to-date information and hears directly from the field. Additionally, our team provides monthly updates to the legislature, the Governor’s team and members of our national delegation to make sure Vermont’s decision-makers understand what’s happening on the ground for children, families and the early childhood service system.
How to Get Involved
As always, there are many ways to be involved with BBF!
- To stay up to date, sign up for our emails and follow our Facebook and Instagram.
- To be connected with any of our regional councils, Early Childhood Action Plan Committees or the State Advisory Council, you can contact any member of our team (pictured here). You can also use our new “ask a question” portal!
- You can also get involved in one or more of BBF networks!
BBF’s Statewide Network Infrastructure
- A Regional Council network serving Vermont’s 12 AHS regions working locally to identify gaps, share best practices, take action to improve systems and services for young children and families, and support integration and alignment by bringing together community members across sectors, and elevating regional successes and barriers to state partners
- Upholding the Early Childhood Framework and Vision for Vermont which includes maintaining and supporting the implementation of Vermont’s Early Childhood Action Plan (ECAP)
- The Early Childhood State Advisory Council (SAC): brings together 23 governor appointed and at-large early childhood leaders and decision-makers from across sectors for systems-level discussions on how to best coordinate and enhance services for young children. The next meeting is April 27th, 2020 from 1:30-3:00pm. A gentle reminder that all of our meetings are open to the public and we encourage your participation!
If you’re not sure who to contact, check out our BBF Team Spotlights (you can find these on our FB Page!). As our state and early childhood system continues to adapt, support, and adhere to the evolving climate around COVID-19, BBF developed daily staff profiles so partners and families could learn who to contact for more information on all things early childhood.
To see a video message from Morgan on Vermont’s early childhood system work during COVID-19, click here.