Investing in Our Children and Families

June 1, 2021

--by Kim Firth, EH Program Director

Investment in children and families is an investment in the Granite State’s short and long-term future. When we invest in systems that strengthen families and support children’s healthy social-emotional development, we not only create an environment for kids to flourish, we also create an environment for our economy to thrive.

As a state, we have all weathered through a lot this past year. Job loss and the repercussions of the economic shutdown continue to be felt by New Hampshire families. In tough times we lean on family and friends and those stalwart institutions that we have come to rely upon, like public education. COVID-19 separated us from those lifelines impacting children and families’ mental health and well-being in profound ways. New Hampshire’s children are struggling and deserve our support.

As our state and our nation struggle to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, we need to make smart investments in our future – investments that get families back on their feet, kids back in the classroom, and our economy firing on all cylinders.

Supporting the Mental Health of Children and Families

The numbers of children and adults in acute psychiatric crisis being “boarded” in our hospital emergency departments is unprecedented, heart-wrenching, and inhumane. Solutions identified in the recently released 10-Year Mental Health Plan, including investments in mobile crisis, mental health in schools, our community mental health centers and other public programs that support children and families, must be a priority. Funding for community-based services prevents the need for more acute services, and helps kids get back on a healthy developmental trajectory.

The network of Family Resource Centers and Home Visiting programs have provided critical supports and services to families during the pandemic and beyond. Investment in this infrastructure mitigates the impact of toxic stress that families have endured and provides concrete supports needed to get back on track.

Jump-Starting the Economy

Pre-pandemic, 70% of children had all available caregivers in the workforce. Not surprisingly, women with children under 13 have had the largest decrease in labor force participation since the pandemic. Recovery for families and the economy will require intentional investment in childcare. Concrete supports like the New Hampshire Childcare Scholarship Program help parents to afford childcare costs without which returning to work would be impossible. When we remove barriers for working families to participate in the labor force, we support upward mobility and the economic growth of the state. It is a win-win proposition.

Additionally, the healthcare industry is a driver of New Hampshire’s economy, offering good paying jobs and providing lifesaving care for Granite Staters. Healthcare workforce shortages existed pre-pandemic but have been exacerbated by COVID-19 creating a crisis in mental health and substance use services, as well as primary, specialty and long-term care. This impacts children and families’ access to the care they need. The state’s student loan repayment program is a smart investment to help rebuild the healthcare workforce. The program can help parents begin new careers in the health and healthcare sectors and will reduce the access issues impeding pediatric and adult primary and mental health care.

Diversity As a Competitive Advantage and a Civic Health Imperative

New Hampshire’s growing diversity is a strength and yet – as the racial justice movement is teaching us – we have considerable work to do to make our places of business welcoming and inclusive for all. In the children’s mental health field, cultural competency is a core value of the state’s work to build a system of care. Training and professional development is an essential element of efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within our children’s mental health workforce and across the health and human services sector. New Hampshire must continue making progress in its efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of life in New Hampshire. Fostering a welcoming environment for all enhances our economic growth, global competitiveness, and the overall prosperity for current and future generations.

Supporting Educators as they Support Kids and Families

Teachers, guidance counselors, school nurses and administrators are unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. New Hampshire schools have responded to community needs in unprecedented ways, addressing food insecurity and increasing access to mental health supports for students. As we debate our collective priorities and our shared values, it is important to acknowledge that not all districts have the same access to resources. In fact, those districts with the least resources often have students with the greatest needs. If we truly seek to create a state where all children thrive, it is time to reckon with the deeply inequitable system of financing public education.

New Hampshire communities have shown in so many ways how they can band together to support each other through a crisis. As we come out on the other side of this historic pandemic, we can’t lose sight that children and families are the bedrock of the Granite State. Will our state budget prioritize the needs of children and families? The future of New Hampshire may depend on it for generations.