No matter what is happening in the world, our job is to make sure that funds earmarked for children are used fully and responsibly. This was true before COVID-19 and it is even truer now. Pre-COVID, that meant developing long-term strategic investment plans, designing an accountability infrastructure, and coordinating multiple stakeholders. Now, we must attempt to be just as diligent in a very different context: states and localities will have to figure out how to do more with less and providers will have to meet increasing need with potentially fewer or different resources.

Our previous articles focused on FindAlign, and Generate, the other three levers we need to pull to comprehensively finance children’s services, especially now. This final article focuses on the steps we need to take to use resources as effectively as possible.

‘Activate’: How do we adopt measures to ensure maximum impact of and access to funds?

Short term (1 month)
  • Don’t assume that someone else is doing the hard work of coordinating funding in your community. Find out or – if you’re positioned to do so – get to it yourself! Use your children’s cabinet, coordinating body, dedicated fund community board, etc. to help lead this charge. Minnesota’s children’s cabinet, for instance, has created this guide for its residents and is working on many fronts to coordinate and distribute funding.
  • If you have a local dedicated funding stream that has flexibility, you’re in luck. Many of these are nimbly supporting their networks of providers to keep working and be creative about how their community delivers services, reimburses for those services, and fills gaps where no other funding is available. We’ve put together a compilation of how these funds are finding creative ways of addressing COVID-19 here.
  • Remember to administer funding with the long game in mind. Many quick decisions are being made to repurpose funding for direct response to COVID-19, but we encourage you to pause before spreading resources too thin. We could be in this scenario for a while. Before you decide to buy PPE with the grant you were going to use this school year to ensure safe passages for youth to and from school, consider your options. Perhaps it would be better to ask for a no cost extension to your grant and apply those dollars to the fall school year? Maybe not, but make sure that you are considering the long-term in the short-term.
Midterm (within 6 months)
  • Determine where there are opportunities for better consolidating the flow of funding (see Align) and begin a process of implementing those. Our current method of funding children and family services is simultaneously scattershot and extremely complex.
  • This is the time for some serious revenue forecasting and reviewing of your overall budgets to support youth (and where a fiscal map comes in handy). What needs to be adjusted and what needs to be eliminated? How are you using performance and outcome data to direct resources and how do those targets need to change? The key here is to do your best and remember that the process of predicting needed changes and making them is an iterative one. If cuts need to be made it is always better to use a scalpel than an ax to do so.
Long term (within 1-2 years)
  • Because of all the unknowns clouding the horizon, it seems this is an area I can’t yet envision. In order to be at a place in one to two years that will allow your state or locality to effectively and accountably administer public dollars, you must be deeply engaged in whatever stage of the policy lever process that you’re in. If you haven’t yet mapped investments in youth, make sure that you are pursuing a fiscal map or children’s budget (see our Find post here). If you already know where your community is putting its dollars, great! Now is the time to do the challenging work of aligning funding and programming for children and youth to maximize efficiency of current investments (see Align) or lay the groundwork for a public dedicated fund to generate new dollars (see Generate). If you currently have a local dedicated fund, use this opportunity to reevaluate your current processes, practices, and infrastructure. What gaps or opportunities have become more evident as part of the COVID-19 crisis and how can you use that knowledge to improve your fund’s efficacy overall? It will take all of these levers as well as creative American spirit and ingenuity to determine how to activate children’s funding comprehensively, effectively, and transparently in the long run. I can’t wait to see the innovation!

Elizabeth Gaines is CEO of Children’s Funding Project.