It’s no secret that the programs and services that help nurture and prepare children and youth—from child care to after-school programs to youth workforce development—are dramatically underfunded and deeply inequitable in our country.

The American Rescue Plan created an incredible opportunity to change this status quo, pumping more than $500 billion into states and communities that, if used strategically, can serve as a down payment for sustained and robust investment in kids and other needs going forward.

To ensure that these funds are truly transformative rather than one-off investments, states and localities must think now about how to sustain them long term with strategic public financing. Strategic public financing helps community leaders make sense of the current investments in their goals for children and youth, calculate what it would take to fully invest in these goals, and identify ways to fill the gap between what they have and what they need. That additional funding could come from existing federal, state, local, and private sources; going to the ballot to generate new funding streams; or pursuing other creative sources of funding.

Though promising, this work can be labor intensive. It’s also no secret that state and local governments are understaffed, struggling to hire and retain qualified workers, and exhausted from nearly three years of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Years of underinvestment coupled with national workforce shortages have left government staff with extremely limited capacity to handle the influx of federal relief dollars, let alone take on long-term planning. Many of us in the national technical assistance world are experiencing off-the-charts demand for financing consultants and contract-based support, even as the greater need is to embed this type of capacity locally.

States and localities across the board can benefit from having a person who wakes up everyday thinking about the money that supports the programs and services our kids need. Someone who can dedicate time to the coordination, relationship building, and research needed for strategic public financing. We’ve created a job description template for a children’s funding coordinator that states and localities can tailor and use to fill this role. This investment will yield immediate impact with its explicit focus on tracking down untapped sources of funding.

Finding the right person for this role in the face of widespread shortages of qualified, interested workers will require rethinking outreach strategies with an eye toward increasing diversity and widening the pool of candidates. This could include recruiting from associate degree programs in accounting and finance or increasing the commitment to train entry-level hires. It also will require a shift in how we think about government jobs. Instead of seeing these new hires solely as narrowly focused specialists, we need to envision mission-oriented, flexible, and collaboration-focused roles—a change that Route Fifty predicts will define government jobs of the future.

As more and more communities are posting and filling a locally tailored version of this children’s funding coordinator position, we’ve increased our own capacity at Children’s Funding Project to train the incoming hires in public financing tools such as fiscal mapping, cost modeling, and sourcing additional funding. And we’re learning that this role is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For some communities, it makes sense for the position to live within local government, while in others the role makes more sense within a local foundation or intermediary organization. For some communities this isn’t a new hire at all, but rather a shifting of responsibilities of existing staff to increase their focus on advancing sustainable and equitable funding for children and youth.

Currently, we have an opportunity to build up the emerging child and youth financing field in a way that reflects the racial, political, and geographic diversity of local communities. This is particularly important as more communities explore public financing strategies for kids in preparation for the impending funding cliff they will face when their American Rescue Plan dollars end. We’ve written the job description template with equity in mind and the idea is that hiring managers would share that goal in their outreach and hiring.

We are at a unique point in history where dollars are actually flowing toward children and youth programs and services, yet states and communities lack the human capacity to fully seize the moment. Hiring a local children’s funding coordinator is one strategy for building local capacity to sustain and increase investments in kids for the long term.

If you are interested in becoming a children’s funding coordinator, check out these job opportunities in Montgomery County, MD, and Cleveland, OH.

Allie Farrell is partnerships manager at Children’s Funding Project.