Focus on early learning, part 2: Our advocacy efforts and the impacts of COVID-19

Megan Veith and Katara Jordan are Senior Managers at Building Changes, leading policy and advocacy efforts to impact children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness in Washington State. Megan received a B.A. in English (Honors) and Political Science from the University of Washington. She also holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, with a certificate in Refugee & Humanitarian Emergencies. Katara holds a B.A. in Women’s Studies from Barnard College, Columbia University in New York City, a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Washington, and a law degree from the University of Washington School of Law.

This was originally published on Building Changes’s website. See the original post here.

In the first post of this two-part series, we shared the early learning and homelessness work Building Changes did through its State Partnerships Grant from Education Leads Home. In this post, we will share some of the updates to our work since it ended and the impacts of COVID-19 on children and families.

Our early learning partners, Child Care Resources (CCR) and the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP (WSA), have expressed concerns about how COVID-19 has negatively impacted young children and families experiencing homelessness and child care providers. Immigrant families and families of color have been hit especially hard during this time. Some of the biggest issues our partners have raised include:

  • Contact from families experiencing homelessness has dropped off, especially between April and June.
  • Confusion around where child care facilities were open and whether families could continue to bring their children.
  • Fear of using child care and venturing out of where families were staying because of increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Extra child care support needed to make virtual schooling work.
  • Child care centers struggling with class size requirements, lowered enrollment rates, staff layoffs, lack of financial alternatives, high levels of stress and anxiety, lack of supplies such as diapers, technology use and access needs, and an aging workforce.
  • Child care providers are also experiencing high levels of anxiety around contracting COVID-19 because many have family members who are essential workers. There is also a lack of mental health supports for child care providers themselves.
  • Providers and families are concerned about the eviction moratorium ending, as well as lay-offs, furloughs, lack of employment benefits, and limited work hours due to the pandemic, which are causing disruptions in families’ eligibility in the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program and other support programs that are dependent on employment.

In our webinar and through our ELH project, one of our main advocacy strategies was extending the Homeless Grace Period (HGP) under the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program. WCCC is a state program that provides subsidized child care benefits to families in low-income households. The HGP originally allowed families in WCCC, who were experiencing homelessness, to have four months to submit WCCC documentation. We helped pass House Bill 2456 during the 2020 Washington State legislative session to extend this to 12 months. While there has been success with this extension, we are concerned about how the Department of Children Youth & Families (DCYF) is implementing parts of this law. We urge DCYF to: 

  • Ensure that all families who are experiencing homelessness under the McKinney-Vento definition in the WCCC statute will be able to use HGP as they are entitled to under the law. DCYF should be working with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) which already has a long history of determining eligibility under McKinney-Vento.
  • Change its new practice of requiring families to wait a full year before they can use the HGP again. It can be incredibly difficult to find work for families experiencing homelessness and COVID-19 is making this even harder. It is unfortunate that DCYF is making it harder for families to use HGP to help them secure work during this time. 
  • Not create additional barriers for families experiencing homelessness that put families’ WCCC eligibility at risk.

We know that this legislative session will come with new challenges and that the next few months will likely show increases in COVID-19 deaths. During the 2021 legislative session, we are also working to ensure that children experiencing homelessness have automatic and prioritized access to ECEAP. Currently most children experiencing homelessness can enroll, but some are “over income” due to ECEAP’s extremely low income eligibility level.  Building Changes and our partners will continue to advocate for and support efforts to prioritize the needs of young children and families experiencing homelessness, who are often left out of funding conversations and their needs overlooked. 

Learn more about our policy and advocacy work.