2020 was looking promising. You were trucking along, making great strides in understanding current funding and working with colleagues to identify gaps and start conversations about how to fill them. You were thinking collectively about how to ensure the best outcomes for children with the dollars you invest. And then COVID-19 happened. Well in case we had forgotten, this is what makes being human interesting. We can pick ourselves up, reassess, and find new ways of working.

So in that spirit, I offer the following advice. Not because I know what to do but because the act of picking myself up, thinking about what I’ve learned and seen over the last 46 years and how it could be applied in this situation, and using some of the tools that we have made (but not necessarily used because things just weren’t that bad yet) is something I can do. I have organized the advice into Children’s Funding Project’s strategic financing levers of Find, Align, Generate, and Activate and provided action steps to consider for the immediate, midterm, and long term:

  • Find: Having a clear picture of your full investments in children and youth.
  • Align: Making policy decisions that encourage the most efficient and effective use of funding we already have
  • Generate: We have big gaps in our federal, state, and private funding. How do we generate new local resources?
  • Activate: Adopting measures to ensure maximum impact of and access to funds

Today, I want to share my thoughts on the Find lever to help you understand where your community currently sits in funding your kids. While these steps may seem unattainable from where we are now, believe me: our hard work will pay off.

‘Find’: Having a clear picture of your full investments in children and youth.

Short term (1 month)
  • If you have already done a fiscal map or children’s budget analysis, USE IT. This data gives an excellent bird’s eye view of what funding you have to work with and what funding you need to protect. You can use your fiscal map to identify what outcome and service areas may be particularly vulnerable or to better understand what streams you are currently tapping into that can now be used more flexibly.
Midterm (within 6 months)
  • If you have not yet done a fiscal map of children’s funding in your state or community, talk to us about how to get a simple version done soon. Let’s get down on paper (now) what the most recent funding levels look like including the amount of funding from state, local and federal sources, numbers of children being served and what services/outcomes are being funded. If the 2008 recession and subsequent ARRA funding is any indicator, we will have large new federal funding that will help states and communities for a couple of years. During that time, however, state and local funding will be supplanted. We want to make sure everyone has a baseline understanding of what was being funded in 2019 in order to advocate for regrowth to current levels more quickly than we did after the last recession. Also, it’s important and will be helpful to compile the amounts coming in to your state or community from the new stimulus bills.
Long term (within 1-2 years)
  • Because of the likelihood of a recession, we will have to remain vigilant in tracking the trends in overall funding and from different levels of government. Once you have completed a fiscal map, it is easy to update the data with new budget information. Remind people of where we were headed with funding levels from all sources before all of this started. Also, continue to use the fiscal data to inform how to allocate funds in subsequent budget years. If you are interested in instilling the practice of a ‘children’s budget’ into your state/locality, we can help. We will need to take all measures we can to quickly mitigate the effects on our child and youth sectors.

Elizabeth Gaines is CEO of Children’s Funding Project.