Many Californians were forced to shelter at home during the pandemic to protect themselves against COVID-19 but, as the state’s Department of Social Services director said at the 4th annual Emergency Child Care Bridge Program convening, home isn’t always a safe place for every child.
California’s Emergency Child Care Bridge Program helps stabilize foster children in the best possible settings while ensuring that caretakers have adequate support to balance their work and home lives. This first of its kind statewide program is designed to assist those who care for a foster child with emergency child care needs. In addition to providing vouchers for emergency child care, the Bridge Program connects the Child Welfare Agency and Early Childhood Education systems in counties across the state, provides Child Care Navigators to caregivers, and Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) training and coaching to child care providers in order to meet the needs of this vulnerable population of children.
Child Care Resource Center’s Research and Evaluation team conducted an analysis of the program in 2020 to gauge its effectiveness. The evaluation found that a majority of caregivers had a positive experience with the program. Specifically, child care vouchers helped reduce the financial burden for 7 out of 10 respondents, and 1 out of 3 reported improved levels of emotional stress as a result of being in the program. Without the Bridge Program, 35% of respondents said they would not be able to care for the child. That means without the program, nearly 2 in 5 children would not be placed with a caregiver, potentially increasing the risk of multiple placements and more time in the foster care system.
CDSS Director Kim Johnson spoke during the November virtual conference, sharing that the agency saw a roughly 40% decrease in child care referrals during the pandemic. Studies show an 18% decrease in child welfare reports nationwide, which experts believe is due to a lack of reporting rather than a decline in instances. Johnson said the decrease in available child care providers along with the increased likelihood that children remained in unsafe environments is one of many reasons the Emergency Child Care Bridge Program is so essential.
A panel of Bridge Program administrators from both child welfare and child care weighed in on different issues related to the implementation of the Bridge program during the pandemic. One of the key elements to the success of the program is the availability of child care providers for children in the system.
“Finding providers for nontraditional hours has been almost impossible,” said Mona Kazemi, CACFP and Regulatory Compliance Manager at Valley Oak Children’s Services in Butte County. “And finding day care slots, especially for infants, have been a struggle.”
One mother who participated in the Bridge Program said it was only because of the consistency of child care that she and her husband could welcome a foster infant into their home.
“It was nice to have a provider who cared enough about him to give him what he needed,” said Tiffany P. of her now 2-year-old foster child. “Not what everyone needed, but what Isaiah needed.”
According to Johnson, over 1,700 trainings were held to support Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) approaches and nearly 15,000 providers participated in the trainings. Even still, panelists agreed that recruitment efforts and other improvements to the Bridge Program are needed. Some of the improvement areas identified by CCRC’s Research and Evaluation team include:
- Extend the length of the Bridge voucher and have it follow the child after reunification or adoption.
- Provide more statewide guidelines and create a data system consistent across all counties.
- Coordinate a dedicated effort to outreach and recruit Bridge Program child care providers to participate in TIC training and coaching.
- Include in TIC trainings a breakdown of material by child’s age and should offer different skill levels.
- Increase outside partnerships to support the families/providers, particularly for those counties serving large numbers of families.
- Stabilize budgets for counties.
- Train Navigators and Child Social Workers on the program and each other’s roles.
In the short term, panelists believe there are some strategies that could be employed to help increase the inventory of providers trained in Trauma Informed Care (TIC). Panelists said curricula is being translated into Spanish in some counties so more providers can be introduced to the training, and creation of a community of practice is underway for trainers and coaches who provide services in Spanish. Two pilots of TIC training of trainers and coaches took place in September and this service will continue to be offered on rolling basis.
CCRC will continue to advance the Bridge Program through direct services to our communities, continued evaluation of program outcomes, and state budget advocacy.