Part 2: Education, Children, and Youth Services

Apr 08, 2020

This is the second article in a three-part blog series by Mendi Blue-Paca, Chief Community Impact Officer at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation 

The COVID-19 global pandemic has created unprecedented immediate and anticipated long-term challenges for nonprofit and community-based organizations and Fairfield County residents. No sector within the nonprofit community is immune from operational and economic hardships, although frontline, direct service providers are acutely impacted. No individual is immune from the threat of the virus, although some populations are uniquely vulnerable and the organizations that serve them need added supports.

The community needs and challenges summarized in this series have been identified through conversations between Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Community Impact Team and numerous nonprofit staff, community leaders, and residents in Fairfield County’s diverse cities and towns. The challenges are dynamic and therefore represent a point-in-time assessment of what is being experienced during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responses from philanthropy and local, state and federal government to address these challenges are similarly dynamic. As such, we anticipate that needs will evolve over time and community priorities will shift, particularly once we transition from response to recovery.

Based on what we have learned, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is focused on meeting and addressing the needs and challenges captured below, with a particular emphasis on 1) housing, economic and food security; 2) education and children and youth services; and 3) mental and physical health.

In part two of this three-part series below, we look at the needs and challenges in education and children and youth services.

Click here to learn more and donate to the Fairfield County COVID-19 Resiliency Fund. Nonprofit and community organizations can find additional resources on the Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Nonprofit Resources webpage. And for FCCF’s weekly COVID-19 Response updates, click here. 

Needs and Challenges in Education and Child & Youth Services

Technology and Capacity Building for Remote Learning: Vulnerable and low-income students and families don’t have the technology to shift to remote, in-home learning. For example, many parents don’t have tablets or laptops (or their phones are not newer models) required to comply with virtual learning. There is a need for both hardware, internet access, and capacity building for educators and parents to effectively facilitate virtual learning. One school district informed us, “IT staff is overwhelmed with requests for assistance from families trying to adapt to remote learning.”

Wealthy school districts have more students with access to necessary technology and hardware for distance learning and are better able to provide for students, families and educators who need additional resources for remote learning than less affluent districts. This reality will greatly increase already significant educational opportunity and achievement gaps defined by zip code.

Translation Services: School districts need translation services for documents sent out to families. From one school district, “Normally we can do this [translation] with internal resources, but with the constant flow of information to families and remote learning, we need to pay for additional translation to maintain the required pace. Otherwise, our Spanish-speaking families and English Language Learner (ELL) students will be left behind.” We have heard that in many cases, communication to parents from school districts is currently nominal; this poses a particular challenge for ELL families.

Challenges for Special Education Services: It is costing school districts significantly more to try to translate Special Education services to in-home environments. There is a risk that a number of Special Education services that do not translate well to remote service delivery will be lost or compromised.

No Standardized At-Home Curriculum: There isn’t a standard at-home schooling curriculum at the state, and in most cases, district levels. Almost universally, schools need funding for additional staff time for technical support. As a result, education delivery varies from school to school and teacher to teacher. This reality will greatly increase already significant educational opportunity and achievement gaps defined by zip code.

Children and Youth Services & Trauma: There are growing concerns among youth development practitioners about the relevancy of after school programming as students and educators begin to navigate new online pedagogy. There are questions about what this will mean long term.

Additionally, there is an expectation that socio-emotional issues and trauma will rise among children and youth during these times of social distancing and virtual learning. Domestic violence and child abuse in homes are expected to rise due to a significant increase of in-home time and more family stressors. Yet, it is likely that many instances of abuse will go unreported and/or unaddressed as children and youth will not be interfacing with the daycare providers, social workers, teachers, and youth services professionals to whom many instances of abuse are reported and who have the skills to address children and youth’s therapeutic and/or personal needs. In Connecticut’s first week of social distancing, there was a 66 percent decline in reports of child abuse and neglect to the Department of Children and Families’ Careline.*

*CT Mirror: Connecticut’s most vulnerable children even more at risk during coronavirus crisis

Childcare & Caretaking:

Increased Childcare and Caretaking Demands: As schools temporarily close, women and girls who are primary caretakers of both children and elders face increased responsibilities. This is compounded by the fact that many have to work full-time either in person or at home while simultaneously maintaining caretaking responsibilities.

Needs of Childcare Providers: Many family childcare providers that are open and serving families lack sufficient cleaning supplies. They are in dire need of gloves, paper towels, disinfecting wipes and sprays, and thermometers to screen children. In addition, some providers do not have enough food to run their programs (typically they serve two snacks and one meal or two meals and one snack per day). Families that are experiencing economic hardship are now asking childcare providers for basic needs items like food, diapers, etc.

Economic and Potential Long-term Challenges for Childcare Providers: Because non-essential staff who are working remotely are not sending their children to childcare providers, some providers are serving only a couple of kids and are at risk of closing. This risk is particularly high for providers with a small number of patrons. Childcare providers are typically not eligible for unemployment relief due to low attendance, although because Connecticut has been declared a major disaster area, many of those otherwise not eligible, including the self-employed, may receive disaster unemployment insurance.* Also, some providers are not collecting co-pays from families who are subsidized by Care4Kids, which further threatens their economic stability.

Presently, childcare providers in Fairfield County have a combined capacity of slightly less than 5,000 slots for children under three years old.* This represents about 16 percent of the region’s children of this age. If many childcare providers are forced to close, the long-term capacity of an already strained childcare system will be further reduced. A reduction in childcare options will have long-term negative impacts on women’s economic security, as many women already face barriers to career advancement and increasing their earnings when they must choose between inadequate options for their children in terms of availability, affordability and quality of care.

* This will be determined on a case-by-case basis upon filing the COVID-19 filing form
* Count Her In: A Status Report on Women and Girls in Fairfield County

Click here to read part 1: Housing, Economic, and Food Security

Click here to read part 3: Mental and Physical Health, Domestic Violence, and Other Key Issues

Mendi Blue-Paca
Chief Community Impact Officer
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation