Late Breaking Development: Governor Wolf Announces Mask Mandate for Schools, ECE Settings
Today, the Wolf Administration announced effective Tuesday, September 7th masks will be mandatory for students in school entities (including public and private schools, charter schools, career and technical centers, intermediate units, etc.) as well as early care and education settings including child care centers.
Citing alarming increases in case rates for COVID-19 in the child population due the delta variant, it should be noted the declaration for the mandate is being made under the Disease and Prevention Control Act and the authority of the Secretary of Health – and therefore is not subject to the intervention of the legislature after 21-days. This power of the General Assembly was instituted earlier this year via a constitutional mandate.
Read more about the Gov. Wolf’s announcement here.
Kinship Care Highlighted Nationally Throughout September
September is National Kinship Care Month – a time to recognize, celebrate and support the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives (as well as non-relatives with a meaningful connection to the child or family) who care for children when they cannot safely remain with their parents.
It is critically important for these children to be able to live with someone they know, trust, and have a connection to, as these relationships provide a sense of security, community, cultural identity, and can reduce the trauma of being removed from their home. Unfortunately, not all children who are removed from their parents are provided the opportunity to live with kin.
National Kinship Care Month is a reminder that we must work together to find policy solutions to keep children connected to their kin. Additionally, we should thank those caregivers who are supporting abused or neglected children both inside and outside of the child welfare system.
Pennsylvania’s KinConnector program provides valuable resources to kin who are caring for children formally through the child welfare system, or informally. Every Wednesday in September, the program is hosting virtual information forums on a variety of topics of interest: financial assistance, legal rights, education and child care, and mental health, among others. Registration for these events is now open to the public.
Coming soon: PPC’s Annual State of Child Welfare Report for 2021 – while our 2020 report was released in June of last year, don’t worry: we are aiming to bring you this year’s edition soon! We are working with the Department of Human Services to finalize needed data and will still provide you with the same great statewide and county-level data snapshots as well as our narrative report in the near future.
Health Insurance Matters for Healthy Development in Babies and Toddlers
A new fact sheet from PPC as part of the Thriving PA campaign highlights the important role that health insurance plays when it comes to regular access to health care for infants and toddlers at a time when their brains are growing most rapidly – from birth to age three. That’s why we’re closely tracking the uninsured rates for young children in Pennsylvania.
The latest data shows that while Pennsylvania is moving in the right direction with better results than the prior year, there are still more than 18,000 children under the age of three who lack insurance coverage, which is 4th highest in the country.
Since the vast majority of these children would be eligible for public health insurance like Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), we’re focusing our efforts on educating families on free or low-cost options. Help close the uninsured gap for Pennsylvania babies and toddlers, because one infant or toddler without health insurance is one too many!
Thriving PA Video Series Highlights Children First and Work on Lead Screening and Abatement
Approximately 8,000 Pennsylvania children are poisoned by lead every year. The Thriving PA campaign wants to change that. Watch this video from Children First’s Health Policy Director, Colleen McCauley, who shares Thriving PA’s lead screening and abatement campaign goals:
- Improve Medicaid and CHIP managed care adherence to the EPSDT required schedule of lead testing for children, including removing barriers to getting capillary tests.
- Create a regulatory or legal requirement that every child tested for exposure is referred to early intervention for services.
- Advocate for state funding for lead paint remediation.
Learn more about this campaign and other focus areas within Thriving PA: perinatal health, children’s health insurance, and prenatal & children’s nutrition at Thriving PA’s website.
In addition, the Lead-Free Promise Project released a comprehensive guide for Pennsylvania health care providers and other child-serving professionals with critical follow-up care resources for children poisoned by lead. The guide includes crucial information on how to get free home lead inspections for children with Medicaid and CHIP; connecting low-income families with free programs and assisting higher-income families on lead paint removal; and how to access care management staff at Medicaid and CHIP health plans. Access the guide here.
House Children & Youth and Education Committees Hold Hearing on Education Policies
Last week the House Children and Youth and Education Committees held a joint public hearing on the mental health impacts on students and educators as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as barriers to accessing treatment and potential solutions to ensuring that care is easily accessible.
Dr. Sherri Smith, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), noted in her testimony that Local Education Agencies (LEAs) work with PDE to identify social-emotional and mental health concerns experienced by students and teachers, and described a recent grant to study the impacts on schools.
When discussing federal American Rescue Plan funding directed to schools, Dr. Smith noted that some of the funds received by LEAs are specifically earmarked for mental health concerns, but this is one-time funding and will not cover recurring costs. Of the $500 million available in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding that could be allocated at the discretion of the state, half – or $250 million – has been directed to learning loss, with at least 30 percent of that $250 million required to be used to address social, emotional, and mental health needs of students and 10 percent required to be used for professional development related to that purpose.
Several school administrators, school mental health specialists, and county staff also testified to the important roles LEAs play in providing mental health services in schools, but that challenges exist with varying resources by district, high caseloads, staff turnover, and insurance coverage. It was further noted that mental health concerns in schools are not a new issue, but are exacerbated by the pandemic and will require ongoing, committed collaboration between PDE, LEAs and local human service agencies. The Chief of Staff of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, Michael Humphreys, also testified to the importance of accessing behavioral health coverage during the pandemic and options the Wolf Administration has highlighted to ensure this care is available to students and school staff.
Watch a recording of the joint hearing on the Education Committee’s website.
OCDEL Gearing Up to Release ARP Child Care Stabilization Funds Mid-September
The Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) is preparing to distribute federal stabilization grant funding for child care providers, which was received through the American Rescue Plan Act passed earlier this year. Pennsylvania received approximately $728 million in funding specific to the stabilization grants to help strengthen the child care sector in the state in the wake of the pandemic. OCDEL is making this funding available through grants that will be distributed to child care providers who apply for the funding and are eligible. The application is anticipated to be released in mid-September.
The grants and required reporting will be completed by child care providers in the Professional Development (PD) Registry. In order to apply, child care providers will need to create an account in the PD registry, as well as claim your organization. Child care providers can learn more about how to create PD registry accounts and claim their organizations here. Further, to qualify for the grants, certified child care providers must:
- Have a regular or provisional Certificate of Compliance on or before March 11, 2021;
- At the time of application, be either open and available to provide child care or be in a temporarily closed status due to a COVID-19 pandemic related reason (providers in a temporarily closed status must plan to reopen by Sept. 30, 2021); and
- At the time of application, a provider’s Certificate of Compliance cannot be in the Revocation or Refuse to Renew status with the OCDEL Bureau of Certification Services.
While OCDEL has put out information on preparing to apply for the child care stabilization grants, no formal details have been provided about how funding will precisely be allocated in the grant award, nor have further details been publicly released around the $455 million in discretionary funds Pennsylvania also received in the American Rescue Plan Act.
The Start Strong PA campaign proposed recommendations for these two pots of federal stimulus funds earlier this year.
Recently, the BUILD Initiative, in collaboration with the EducationCounsel, Center for Law and Social Policy, Georgetown Center for Children and Families, and Linchpin Strategies released Supporting Prenatal-to-Three with Federal Relief Funds, which showcases how federal relief funds can be used to support infant, toddler, and family well-being.
ZERO TO THREE Report: How States Can Strategize to Strengthen Infant and Toddler Care
ZERO TO THREE recently released a report outlining different strategies states are taking to strengthen early care and education (ECE) programs. Research has shown that high-quality ECE is essential for the healthy development of children, as the brain grows fastest during the first three years of life and continues to develop rapidly throughout the preschool years. This is because high-quality ECE programs strengthen cognitive and socio-emotional abilities that best prepare children for kindergarten and grade school. High-quality ECE is also more likely to offer children the nurturing providers and engaging learning opportunities necessary to reach their early development potential.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of parents sought care for their child or children outside of the home due to participation in the workforce. As the pandemic has forced many programs to close, however, many parents have been forced to leave the workforce. This has illuminated the important role that programs play in the broader economy as well as the urgent need to invest in high-quality infant-toddler child care.
One way that Pennsylvania seeks to improve the quality of child care is through contracting directly with infant-toddler programs. The state’s Infant Toddler Contracted Slots (ITCS) program provides high-quality programs with higher rates of payment than those with traditional subsidies and is cited as an example in the ZERO TO THREE report. The pilot program was found to foster financial stability, steady enrollment, and high-quality care and education.
Read the report to learn more about other strategies that states are implementing to strengthen infant-toddler care.
In Case You Missed It...
- The Start Strong PA campaign wants to know more about the current staffing crisis facing the industry. Take a short survey and get a chance to win a $100 gift card.
- Federal legislative activity continues in Washington: last week the House of Representatives passed a resolution setting up the Biden Administration’s $3.5 trillion budget framework that passed the Senate the week before. This starts the formal process of drafting the FFY 2023 budget reconciliation bill, with leadership setting a goal of committees needing to draft their respective portions by September 15th. The affirmative vote bypassed rumblings in the House from some Democratic members who wanted to first vote on the infrastructure bill also sent to them by the Senate: the House set a date of September 27th to vote on that piece of legislation. PPC continues to work with its partners in the Start Strong PA campaign to advocate for critical investments in the child care sector as part of the final budget package.
- PPC president and CEO Kari King promoted well-child visits and catching up on routine immunizations ahead of the school year: read the article and be sure to check out our fact sheet we co-released with the PA Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the PA Immunization Coalition.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released updated guidance related to planning for the resumption of normal state Medicaid and CHIP operations upon conclusion of the public health emergency (PHE). No date has been declared yet for the end of the federal PHE.
- Last week Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health announced during a press conference the Lead-Free Families initiative, a 10-year community health improvement project with a goal to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in Lancaster County.
- The latest on masks in PA schools: Pennsylvania Teachers Unions Urge K-12 School to Require Masks; Gov. Tom Wolf Calls on State Lawmakers to Return to Harrisburg to Pass School Mask Mandate before Republican leaders reject Wolf’s call to pass school mask mandate.
- The House Children and Youth Committee last week held a regional public hearing in Montgomery County on deficiencies in information sharing between child welfare agencies, law enforcement, and education agencies and what approaches can be taken in the Child Protective Services Law to address them. Watch a recording of the hearing.
- The House Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing in West Chester hosted by Rep. Dianne Herrin on the need for high-quality child care to both aid children’s early development and boost Pennsylvania’s economy. Testifiers included child care providers, scholars, economists, and our advocacy partners from First Up and the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children (PennAEYC). Thanks to those who cited our annual child care fact sheet data!
- Another bill seeking to expand school choice recently received attention: Rep. Andrew Lewis (R-Dauphin) held a press conference on HB 1, which was introduced in July and would dedicate state funding to cover the cost of home schooling or private school as well as increase funding for the state’s EITC program.
- Family finding is an important process for foster children and a recent article outlines challenges with child welfare agencies adequately searching for and connecting them to kin. Noted specifically is how the system needs more consistent practices across counties and increased data collection on outcomes.
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
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Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101