State Advisory Council Recap, April 2020

SAC members present: Chloe Leary, Cheryle Wilcox, Auburn Watersong, Julie Cadwallader Staub, Flor Diaz-Smith, Steven Berbeco, Emily Merrill, Amy Johnson, Renee Kelly, Jessica Brumsted, Janet Kilburn (sitting in for Breena Holmes), Kristy Swenson, Kate Rogers, Aly Richards

Staff present: Morgan Crossman, Beth Truzansky, Dora Levinson, Amanda Biggs, Katie Mobbs, Anne LaTulippe, Linda Michniewicz, Ellen Taetzsch, Jay Austin, Liz Hamel, Robin Stromgren, Jen Olson

Community participation: In addition to SAC and BBF staff, there were 40 additional community members and partners joining the meeting via Zoom.

Welcome & Introduction

Morgan welcomed the group and reiterated that BBF’s role under Act 104 is still the same as we navigate COVID-19: 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.  BBF ensures that all of our different early childhood partners are working together and coordinating to meet the needs of families. Just as important, we’ve been 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 disseminating guidance for EC practitioners and families from our agency partners.

BBF has been monitoring the system and elevating the needs of families and providers as they emerge. Some of the priorities and issues we’re hearing about include:

  • 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 those 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

Regional Priorities During COVID-19

Morgan then turned the floor over to Ellen Taetzch, Regional Coordinator for the Springfield Area and Northern Windsor and Orange Regions.  She presented a map of current regional priorities, which have naturally shifted during COVID-19. Family safety and mental health has emerged as one of the unilateral concerns across all of our regions. Other top regional concerns include childcare, food security, and basic needs. Naturally priorities are shifting rapidly at this time.

BBF also invited representatives from state agencies as well as other SAC members to provide a brief report on emergent priorities and challenges faced by their sector. 

State Advisory Council & Agency Reports

Morgan Cole, Children’s Integrated Services, Child Development Division

  • CIS services are continuing to be delivered via remote methods (telephone and/or telehealth)
  • Many families are engaging but some have chosen to pause services, or are unable to easily access remote services
  • CIS providers are seeing increased complexity of cases due to COVID-19 impacts
  • CIS providers have shared concerns regarding child safety and mental health among families during this challenging time, especially those that they are unable to effectively reach via remote methods
  • We are anticipating a further increase in case complexity and potentially caseload volume as well as in-person services when we eventually begin to resume and common referral sources reopen (e.g. child care programs)
  • The State is creating a fiscal relief fund to offset current fiscal impacts to providers, and CDD is considering how to move forward July 1 with the planned contract changes in light of COVID-19

Cheryle Wilcox, Department of Mental Health

  • Vermont received $2M to support crisis service expansion from SAMHSA
  • Communications Work being done by DMH
    • Public Service Announcements with the following partners/topics: 
    • DMH has created a number of one-page reference documents that focus on overall mental health, suicide prevention and mental wellness 
    • DMH is also collaborating with first responders to create and disseminate mental health information 
  • School-Based Mental Health Services and all Designated/Specialized Service Agencies continue providing services-most are through telehealth but for emergency and high-risk situations face-to-face services are happening.
  • Crisis Text Line Use:
    • There has not been an upward trend in the monthly data yet, but there has been an increase in the last two weeks that DMH is monitoring
    • Texters are mostly LGBTQ or female and between ages 14-34
    • Depression and anxiety are top issues, and about 25% reference suicidality
  • Fiscal relief is a huge issue facing mental health agencies. DAs are mostly doing telehealth, but also are providing crisis support as an essential function. We’ve seen great creative work to serve those with mental health concerns. Received a federal grant from SAMHSA to serve people with severe mental health concerns and substance use disorder. This targets an adult population but of course impacts children.
  • There’s been a lot of work to push information out via PSAs about mental health. 
  • Crisis line is being accessed primarily by women and LGBTQ people, ages 14-34.  
  • Looking forward, we’re looking at how children with anxiety and depression will handle re-integrating as things reopen.  We’re looking to support both children and their parents.

Janet Kilburn, Department of Health

  • Daily child health calls with VCHIP and pediatricians, with discussions of food insecurity, child safety, and mental health issues.
  • Help me Grow ASQ system is being used to support telehealth and we’re including child care providers, home visitors and others in this system.
  • We’re exploring ways that medical students and child care providers could be available for in-home care.
  • Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders: Providers are being kept up to date to support pregnant mothers. We’re using STAMP grant money to provide concrete supports for families to access care.
  • WIC is open and is reaching out via phone to support parents.
  • Help Me Grow can refer families to resources they need.  Calls are dropping off so please remind people that this service is available

Julie Cadwallader-Staub, Stern Center

Literacy was already at a crisis point before COVID, but now we are worried that children will fall further behind, especially those with an IEP and others with learning differences.  We have scholarships available for students. We are offering Building Blocks for professionals and parents to help foster literacy, it’s free online via Champlain College. Learners can go at their own pace. Also our e-learning program has expanded dramatically and is widely available. Stern is strengthening our work around social-emotional topics during this time.

Flor Diaz-Smith, Vermont School Boards Association

This Pandemic has brought into focus public attention to children and education.  Schools and child cares are closed and the inequities in our society are now on every community member’s mind: food insecurity, limited mental health access, health care, homelessness, broadband, income inequality, etc.  We have the opportunity to not get used to them or just try to solve them for the moment- these are uncomfortable realities of our society that we as a group have been trying to address and now have a platform.  We should take advantage and do something to re-design and prioritize community and common good and let that be the basic focus for the well-being of all our children.  Meeting children’s needs inside and outside of school. How do we align this with the “cradle to career vision”? Our BBF mission has not changed but now we have megaphone. How do we influence and help support policy that supports the cradle to career vision or birth to age 21?   We can change the structures that create poverty.

Aly Richards, Let’s Grow Kids

We had a positive forum with Congressman Welch this morning, he stated we must make early childhood education part of this recovery, and that federal dollars should be able to fund it.  LGK is turning our attention to the reopening of child care so that we can be prepared when the time comes. One key issue is getting child care needed supplies so they can be ready also.

Early Childhood Partner Updates

Dr. Ric Reardon, Castleton University

We are developing an Early Childhood Institute option that will take place all online this summer. We’ll still offer special ed, nature-based learning, social-emotional learning and other key offerings, and we’ll be offering a “Self Care in the Time of Trauma” class as an addition. Stay tuned for information on how to register for the Early Childhood Institute, and please spread the word that it will be offered this summer. 

Roundtable Discussion: Family Safety & Mental Health

After these important updates, we then engaged in a roundtable discussion to share stories of resilience, and then identify where there are gaps that will require systemic response. 

We started by asking the question: How are we seeing families and communities display resilience in these challenging times?  Some key partners from around the state chimed in.

Kheya Ganguly, Assistant Director of Youth and Family Services, United Counseling Service in Bennington

We are open and we’re doing more than just telehealth. We’ve been working with OneCare to create a psychiatric urgent care for kids, called PUCK for short, which has been really successful.  We still have a crisis line, and have expanded the hours for COVID.  We worked closely with our crisis response team to ensure we have a tight web of support around children and families.  We’ve seen a decrease in calls, but an increase in intensity.  After assessing, we realized we had to reopen PUCK, which we did this week. We work with case managers and community partners to prevent a crisis- when we know a child is headed toward trouble we schedule them before they are at crisis level.  We invested some funds in inexpensive tablets to give people access to support.  We’ve been having our crisis counselor dropping off groceries for families. We’ve been delivering sensory tools to the door to support children. We are doing whatever we can to support families in new ways. We are also working to plan our reopen.

Noreen Shapiro-Berry, Northeast Kingdom Human Services Children’s Department School Based Services Director

We are reaching children primarily through telehealth and limited face-to-face support.  We’ve had requests to work in child care settings for essential workers to support children in that way also.

We’ve staffed a parent support line, and just moved to 24/7 support, to serve parents of all ages of children. We’re thinking about how we would sustain this effort after the pandemic has passed.

Ann Dillenbeck, CIS Coordinator

STARS assessors have shifted their focus to professional development to introduce and teach tools for early care providers.  The response has been really positive.

The next question we asked was: Where are there gaps or barriers that will require strategizing and coordinated response?

Stacy Garciadealba, Recruitment and Retention Specialist with DCF Family Services Springfield Area and United Way/211

In March, many Vermont 211 calls were about housing, and many of those people were homeless.  We also receive after hours calls for emergency housing. 

In April, we’ve been receiving calls for general information about COVID, tax prep, and again still housing. We’re seeing a lot of unemployment calls.  Also calls responding to the governor’s press conference info.

I am also a Foster Parent recruitment specialist.  We’re seeing some decrease in referrals, because kids aren’t in school or child care.  In Springfield, we actually saw an increase, we think because of substance use. 

I work with kinship and foster care families, and we’re seeing an amplification of what we normally see, as kids are isolated (and caregivers, too). There are several kids waiting for families and no families are available.  Foster families are struggling- we’re trying to connect with them to talk about what they need.

George Karabakis, Executive Director, Health Care & Rehabilitation Services of Southeastern Vermont

We are a designated mental health agency in Southeast VT.  We pulled together an emergency response team to figure out how to address issues.  We’re 90-95% remote, and supporting acute kids in person and therapy groups, skills groups, etc. in person. We’re seeing a lot of resilience as people are working through this. People who are challenged, their challenges are compounded during the current crisis. We’ve been bringing tablets and phones to clients and helping them find hotspots to connect with services. We’ve been helping families with food insecurity.  We’re trying to be creative with everything from Karaoke to games to skills group, all on Zoom. We still operate our Kimball Farm school, a therapeutic school. We’ve even been cooking full meals for some families. We started a “warm line” for clients that we then expanded to 24/7. 

We recognize that right now the most important thing is the health and wellbeing of our staff. We’ve started staff support groups, yoga groups, and a lot of Zoom support for staff. 

Gretchen Elias, Executive Director, Good Beginnings of Central Vermont

We are a community-based service for families in the post-partum time. I wanted to share a story of one client to illustrate how things are especially challenging right now  A woman was referred to us during the prenatal period, she has mental health issues and had just moved to Vermont with her partner and 14-month-old.  She also had a traumatic birth experience with her first child.  Before COVID, she was already isolated as a new Vermonter, with many other factors in her life. With COVID, her plans for the birth of her child fell through, which was significantly stressful.  She was able to schedule her birth so that she could drive herself as she has no other transportation, and she had doula support, and her family members attended via Zoom.  Now she’s home with two small children and a challenging relationship with her significant other. Good Beginnings is supporting her remotely, but it’s been difficult because what she really needs is respite.  Through these challenges, we keep working with her the best we can. I worry more about the families that haven’t stayed in touch. 

Closing Remarks

Morgan closed the meeting with a walk-through of BBF’s Early Childhood COVID-19 Response page, and some reflections on the work of BBF and our partners during this time. For more information on what’s happening in the Vermont early childhood arena state-wide and Building Bright Future’s response to COVID-19 see the links below:

  1. A quick video message from BBF’s Executive Director to the early childhood field 
  2. A letter from the Executive Director to the field about BBF’s role during COVID-19 and emerging priorities based on what we’re hearing from families and early childhood partners on the ground. 
  3. BBF’s Early Childhood Response Web Page Highlights
  • 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.

While our work hasn’t changed, in other ways we are seeing people coming together and new and innovative ways. BBF is available to support partners however we can. Thank you for all you do to support children and families in Vermont!


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