Despite all that 2020 has thrown at us and at struggling families – and I won’t get into that horrible list now – there are moments when I am truly filled with hope for our future. For example, this year we witnessed a historic election where North Carolinians made their voices heard in record numbers. In March, amid tremendous uncertainty and fear about an emerging global pandemic, advocates quickly pivoted to address the critical needs of children and families as many of our community institutions and workplaces had to shut down. So many people – child care providers, grocery store workers, teachers, pediatricians, and many others – continued to show up every day, to care for our children and to keep our communities running against all odds.
Reflecting on what this year has brought, I’m especially grateful for advocates like you who spoke up for children and their families day after day with North Carolina’s elected officials, and who support NC Child as we work to create a better future for our children.
Despite an incredibly difficult year, there have been some important policy victories for kids in 2020. Together we were able to tackle the very real issues that kids and families are facing, especially the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous families hit hardest by the pandemic.
Here are some policy victories from 2020 that we’re incredibly proud of:
- Fighting Hunger: In response to community advocates, NC DHHS granted greater SNAP program flexibility, including the approval of the Pandemic EBT program and emergency SNAP allotments for families. Through HB 1023, legislators allocated tens of millions of dollars to fight hunger through local food banks and free school meals during the 2020-2021 school year.
- Securing Child Care COVID relief: The child care system received $20 million in relief funds through SB 808 that helped allow programs to remain open safely during the pandemic. Child care is vital so that parents who are essential workers can do their jobs – and we need centers to stay in business so that others will be able to go back to work once the crisis passes.
- Keeping Families Together: We helped stop damaging legislation that aggressively targeted parents with substance use disorders. HB 918 would have resulted in more children taken permanently from their birth families when what families need is treatment and support to stay together. Now, more infants and young children will have the chance to remain with their birth parents instead of being placed into the overwhelmed foster care system. Black families are more likely to be punished for substance use with family separation than white families are – and HB 918 would have made this tragedy even worse.
- Removing Outdated Barriers to Kids’ Dental Care: In January 2020, the North Carolina Rules Review Commission gave final approval to a rule change to ease restrictions on dental hygienists, increasing access to dental health services for children in high-need settings. Tooth decay is the number one childhood chronic disease in the US. If left untreated, cavities can cause serious health complications that mean unnecessary pain and suffering, missed school, and costly treatments. This rule change will help make preventive care available to many more children across the state, particularly in “Dental Access Shortage Areas.”
Besides these policy victories, NC Child also launched a new website, LeadFreeNC.org, that helps parents and pediatrician understand the hazards lead poses to children where they live. In 2020 NC Child and our partners were recognized for our lead prevention work with the prestigious Roy Award for Environmental Partnership from Harvard University. Our ultimate goal is to end childhood lead poisoning in North Carolina – and this work is an important step along the way!
When we work together to advocate for kids, amazing things can happen, even in these incredibly uncertain times. NC Child continues speak up for North Carolina’s kids and their families so that every child in North Carolina has the opportunity to thrive – no matter their race, ethnicity, or place of birth.
We couldn’t do this work without you. Thank you for your commitment to making a difference for kids in North Carolina! 2021 is shaping up to be another challenging year, but also a hopeful year for all of us. I am incredibly grateful to be facing it together with you.