The Children’s Health Foundation’s initial approach to addressing the coronavirus pandemic

Gail Garceau Headshot
Gail Garceau

President Gail Garceau’s remarks to NH Funder’s Forum, June 3 / /

The COVID-19 crisis has a potentially far-reaching, long-term negative impact on children. Added family stresses related to the COVID-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home, including both between partners and by caregivers against children.

Households with children are more likely to be food insecure. Closures caused by the coronavirus have led to a rise in unemployment and poverty heightening the risk of food insecurity. Food banks are reporting increased demand, while facing operational challenges, including declines in volunteers and food donations.

In light of this, the NH Children’s Health Foundation Board discussed a number of ways the Foundation could provide COVID emergency support. After considering a number of funding options, we determined that our best approach would be to focus resources on our food insecurity funding – a core issue that we have funded for many years.

Mobile food markets

One innovative concept we have supported for several years is the implementation of the mobile market model to reach food insecure children and their families who have difficulty accessing traditional school or community kitchen programs.

In response to the pandemic we’ve made a couple of emergency grants to help quickly activate or expand the mobile market model which is particularly effective in a time of school closures and the stay-at-home-order.

One was to GATHER, a Seacoast area nonprofit which developed a Meals For Kids pilot project that delivers a week’s worth of food to upwards of 200 children per week in Rochester. Additionally, Gather has made food from their pantry available to Meals For Kids families. They are hoping to extend the pilot for as long as possible.

Another was to Nashua United Way which partnered with the Nashua School District, Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua, and the Nashua Transit System to provide meals and food to children. They have provided breakfast and lunch “to go” across 10 fixed sites and 12 mobile sites, with fresh produce and frozen meals for the weekend delivered on Friday, and have distributed thousands of meals per week.

Health system stabilization

In another of our priority areas, we are concerned that the impact of COVID-19 on New Hampshire’s nonprofit health care providers had the potential to create a very destabilized health care delivery system, both during the crisis and beyond. With an eye on systemic change, we provided additional support for a project originally funded by the Endowment for Health, the COVID-19 Health Care Providers Stabilization Support Campaign led by the DuPont Group with New Futures. Their work includes developing a public policy action plan which provides coordinated communications, needs assessments, and a package of governmental policy actions, to assist in the immediate delivery of services and to help stabilize the financials of an already fragile health care delivery system.

Assessing the long term outlook

Additional funding will be required when the next phase of community COVID impact becomes visible. We believe that in the next two, four, six months we will have a better understanding of where the gaps are.  There isn’t enough data available to know what the long-term consequences of this could be, but we do believe that the landscape is most likely going to look different. For example, as mentioned, the COVID-19 crisis has a potentially far-reaching, long-term negative impact on children.

Childhood trauma

Pandemic-related school closures and the stay-at-home-order have had a significant effect on Adverse Childhood Experience Response Team projects we are involved with. These teams bring together police departments and area human service providers in a highly coordinated effort to connect children and families with services to help children overcome trauma and its effects.

In-person visits by the teams in Concord and Manchester have been reduced or temporarily suspended (people don’t want others to come into their homes out of concern of coronavirus).

Calls reporting abuse and neglect to DCYF have dropped by 50%, not because there are fewer children experiencing that, but because children are not interfacing with those that are the primary sources of reports (school teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.) Children are not in the usual environments and far fewer reports are not being made.

Food insecurity

Food insecurity for children is likely to increase. School programs have made an incredible response – buses dropping off meals to homes, nonprofit organizations establishing food pick-ups and neighborhood drop off sites for food.

The upcoming concern is summer meals. Will school districts still have the ability to provide food for families? We will have to determine where the gaps are as the high demand for food assistance is expected to remain at elevated levels for the foreseeable future.

Crisis breeds innovation

This difficult moment in time nonetheless offers us and the organizations we work with the opportunity to emerge from the pandemic with new, creative ways of addressing the impacts of food insecurity and adverse childhood experiences and other issues affecting children being experienced throughout New Hampshire’s communities.