A safe, stable, and food-secure home and neighborhood environment is important for everyone’s well-being but is especially crucial for the healthy development of young children. There is significant data and evidence demonstrating that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted this stability for many young families, exacerbating existing social inequities as seen by a skyrocketing prevalence of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, health care inaccessibility, education interruptions, mental illness, and domestic violence.

Childhood hunger, in particular, has reached startling levels. According to a report from Feeding America on the impacts of COVID-19 on food insecurity, an estimated 17 million children across the nation could go without enough to eat this year. This webinar, made possible by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, explored practical strategies to assess and address hunger needs faced by families during the pandemic and beyond, including leveraging early childhood systems and the Help Me Grow system model to address child food insecurity. It highlighted innovative solutions used in Vermont and Washington State, with examples from federal, state, and community-level resources. It was the first in a three-part webinar series focusing on opportunities for early childhood and Medicaid programs to better support families with young children in the current and post-pandemic environment.

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About the Early Childhood and Medicaid Innovations Amid COVID-19 Webinar Series

This webinar series spotlighted state efforts to align or innovate early childhood and Medicaid programs to help families with young children find resiliency in the face of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions and beyond. This series is a product of Aligning Early Childhood and Medicaid, a national initiative made possible by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and led by the Center for Health Care Strategies in partnership with ZERO TO THREE, the National Association of Medicaid Directors, Social Determinants of Health Consulting, and the Public Leadership Group.


I. Welcome and Introduction

Speaker: Armelle Casau, PhD, Senior Program Officer, Center for Health Care Strategies

A. Casau welcomed participants and provided a brief overview of the Aligning Early Childhood and Medicaid project and the webinar series.

II. Session Overview and Goals

Speaker: Daniela Lewy, Managing Partner, Social Determinants of Health Consulting, LLC

D. Lewy provided an overview of how the pandemic has impacted infant and child hunger in the United States. She outlined the goals of the webinar, share a brief summary of Help Me Grow, and introduce the speakers.

III. Vermont’s Statewide Approach to Hunger Screening: Lessons from the Pandemic

Speaker: Beverly Boget, Director of Early Childhood, Health Care, Integration, Let’s Grow Kids, Tanya Lachapelle, Community and Program Supports Specialist, Let’s Grow Kids, and Lauren Smith, Help Me Grow Coordinator, VT Department of Health

The Vermont team discussed how they expanded early childhood hunger screenings by: (1) piloting the Hunger Vital Signs tool with early care and learning partners; (2) framing all screenings from a resiliency perspective; and (3) educating health providers, as well as early care and learning practitioners, on the Help Me Grow referral system. The team also shared how the pandemic has amplified the importance of early childhood to legislators, resulting in policies and funding opportunities that helped scale food security, and developmental and other social determinant of health screenings and referrals to more young children and families.

IV. Destigmatizing Emergency and Long-Term Solutions to Food Insecurity in Pierce County, Washington

Speakers: Taylor Caragan: Healthcare Liaison, Help Me Grow Pierce County, and Stacey Crnich, CEO, Bonney Lake Food Bank

The Pierce County, Washington team shared how they responded to pandemic-related food insecurity for young children and families, beginning with emergency diaper banks and moving to a long-term health-related social needs screening and referral system with pediatricians, early childhood practitioners, and community-based service providers. Additionally, a local food bank shared innovative practices to destigmatize hunger, such as unlabeled delivery trucks and facilities that look like high-end grocery stores.

V. Moderated Q&A

Moderator: Daniela Lewy, Managing Partner, Social Determinants of Health Consulting, LLC