By SARAH CRAIG
Every one of us in Grand Junction has a story to tell about how we are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis. I feel fortunate that my story does not stand alone, but because of my job as a home visitor, it is tied to that of more than 60 families in our community.
Under normal circumstances, I meet with families in their homes, to ensure parents have the tools they need to raise healthy, happy, thriving children. Sometimes, I am belly down on the carpet with mothers, showing them how to best babble with their babies to develop speech. Or, I am at the kitchen table helping parents navigate application forms for food support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Or, I may settle into the couch to help a new mother work through the challenges of breast feeding. Since July, my fellow home visitors and I have carried out more than 600 visits with families and their kids.
The essence of home visiting is personal, it is one on one, and it is vital to the well-being of kids in our community. The current COVID-19 pandemic challenged the heart of the home visiting model by cutting me off, physically, from the families I serve. But home visitors have been quick to adapt and through phone calls, text messages, video chats, and a lot of patience, I am able to connect families to resources they need.
One of the most pressing needs for families I serve are essential supplies for children, including food, formula, diapers and wipes—all of which are expensive and difficult to find, safely, in stores during this health crisis.
The parents I work with value education, and prior to COVID-19 had invested significant energy into helping their children learn. Continuing to do so during the current pandemic is a tremendous stress. Many families, for example, cannot access reliable internet for their children to engage in online learning.
In Grand Junction, we only have one internet provider that is working with families to offer free internet access. Some families have past due balances with the company and therefore cannot receive this service. In other cases, parents are undocumented, thereby unable to access this resource for their kids. As a result, some families with vehicles must sit in their cars outside of closed businesses with Wi-Fi — sometimes for up to three hours — as their children complete required school work.
Other families I work with were employed in the construction sector and have been laid off. They cannot make rent payments. Some are homeless, and in an effort to abide by social distancing orders, are seeking support to stay in hotels instead of shelters.
I, along with seven home visitors of Hilltop Family Resource Center, have been helping families to connect with food pantries, secure funds to pay for hotels, communicate with rental companies to develop delayed payment plans , and help secure translated documents for families unable to apply for vital services in English. In some cases, my hands are tied, and I serve as a shoulder to lean on.
Prior to COVID-19, home visitors in Grand Junction had established relationships of trust with families. This trust, tied to our efforts in recent weeks, means we have helped kids and families survive in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have a lot of work ahead, and our community — especially children — will continue to struggle.
My story of this pandemic is tied to that of the families I work with, but it is also connected to the decisions of policy-makers. That is why I call on our Colorado senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, along with our full federal delegation to support a one-time, $100 million investment in flexible emergency funds specifically for the Maternal Infant and Early Child Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV), which helps to fund home visiting. These funds are needed, urgently, to support training, access to technology and sustained outreach to families in the face of COVID-19.
Home visiting has long enjoyed bipartisan Congressional support and is more important now than ever, as families in Grand Junction have been thrown into deep crisis by COVID-19. Congressional support for MIECHV is an investment in families, and one that would help our community remain intact and emerge strong after this crisis.
I look forward to getting back on the carpet with parents, their babies, and lots of toys, but until I can do so safely, I will rely on new tools and support to do my job. I urge Congress to pass emergency funding for MIECHV, and thereby help me serve the children of Grand Junction.
Sarah Craig is a home visitor and family navigator at Hilltop Family Services in Grand Junction and a Save the Children Action Network advocate.