Lynn Johnson: Help during coronavirus — US doing this to uplift those hit hardest by pandemic

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It’s no surprise that when crises hit, populations most in need are hit the hardest.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), housed in the Department of Health and Human Services, has been working non-stop to care for those most impacted. Now, more than ever, it is important to protect, support and uplift children and families by providing services pivotal to their stability.

As a part of President Trump’s whole-of-government and whole-of-America approach to the coronavirus, ACF has thought strategically, innovatively and out-of-the-box about ways to support our programs and our communities during this time of crisis. Through actions like granting regulatory flexibilities and waivers, sending guidance, hosting webinars and much more, we have been able to continue serving America’s children and families during this time.

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In recognizing the critical importance of protecting the health of our child welfare workers and service providers, ACF worked with Eric Hargan, deputy secretary for HHS, to send a letter to governors. We encouraged them to work with their emergency management programs to classify child welfare workers and service providers as level 1 emergency responders in order for them to have greater access to personal protective equipment.

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We also looked for opportunities within our programs like Head Start, which promotes school readiness of children under 5, where we can use their resources and talent to serve our communities in supporting emergency child care. Recently our Office of Head Start clarified how programs can support, when possible, the use of closed Head Start centers as temporary child care centers for medical personnel and essential workers. These efforts will help support our front-line workers with a safe and child-friendly environment so they can continue their important work.

ACF also took action by urging child welfare legal and judicial leaders to work together to ensure that necessary court hearings continue during this pandemic. We encouraged access to visits and other activities virtually where physical contact is not possible and in addition to physical contact, as well as clarified questions around the evolving crisis where courts have had to restrict parent/child face-to-face contact.

We also advised child welfare leaders of the flexibility of certain requirements regarding fingerprint-based criminal records checks and caseworker visits to a child’s home.

Through our actions during this pandemic, we have developed countless new ideas that are adaptable to how we serve vulnerable populations nationwide in the months and years to come.

Finding ways to be innovative virtually has made a difference in helping to meet the needs of children in foster care during this time, because life doesn’t stop for them during pandemics.

The historic coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act, which President Trump signed into law on April 23, delivered a strong financial foundation of over $6 billion for our programs affected by COVID-19, including child care and child welfare.

In an effort to support the learning of children disrupted by the crisis, the bill includes up to $500 million for summer Head Start programs. We also secured $3.5 billion in supplemental funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to help states, territories and tribes address COVID-19 impacts on child care. Among other purposes, these supplemental funds can be used to provide child care assistance to health care workers, first responders and other essential workers playing critical roles during this crisis.

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We also understand how important it is to inform our grantees and the vulnerable populations we serve about the actions taken and assistance we are providing, which is why we dedicated a web page to providing a comprehensive list of resources, information and services.

Through our actions during this pandemic, we have developed countless new ideas that are adaptable to how we serve vulnerable populations nationwide in the months and years to come. Going forward, we want to continue implementing better, stronger and more innovative ways to deliver human services. And if this crisis has taught us anything, it is that we can better serve individuals, children, youth, families and communities in the years ahead.

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