by Pete Nabozny, Director of Policy, The Children’s Agenda
Monroe County received $144 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden. The funding is designed to address revenue shortfalls that may have occurred over the past 16 months since the pandemic began in the United States, provide flexible funding to the county to support businesses and residents struggling from challenges related to the public health crisis, and ensure our economic recovery is stronger and more equitable.
The Children’s Agenda, in collaboration with 14 parent groups and other community partners, is advocating for specific Rochester City School District expenditures for its ARPA funds, and we are also recommending a set of priorities to govern decisions made by local governments and school districts.
A key challenge faced by all levels of government is the one-time only nature of this funding. These federal relief funds must be obligated by the end of 2024, and all funds must be spent by December 31, 2026. Government bodies are reluctant to establish permanent programs with non-recurring federal relief funds.
The Children’s Agenda has long supported the establishment of a real-time Child Well-Being Dashboard. This moment for COVID-19 recovery is an ideal time to create such a tool. This dashboard would also support the county’s efforts to streamline and reinvent its delivery of human services.
A Child Well-Being Dashboard is an internet-based tool to publicly share information on children’s well-being in our community. It represents a commitment to transparency with the public, allows the broader community to have a better understanding of activities to support children and families, and can help guide the community’s efforts for an inclusive and equitable recovery. It can also identify key priorities related to children’s services and evaluate whether progress is being made against those priorities.
As the foremost provider and primary source of data related to children and family services, Monroe County has a special role to play. The Monroe County Child Well-Being Dashboard would include a number of community measures related to child well-being, including “lagging indicators” such as CPS cases and caseload-to-caseworker ratios, or foster care placements disaggregated by race to gauge equity. But it would also include “leading indicators” of child well-being to gauge success in prevention, such as healthy births and wait times for early intervention services. Beyond some community-wide indicators outside the County’s direct control, Monroe County would also identify and publish measures of the County’s budgetary and programmatic activities related to children. Each county department with a substantial children’s role would publish key indicators on the dashboard, ideally updated monthly. As the county identifies key priorities around children (e.g. increasing the uptake of available child care subsidies), the dashboard should also include measures related to those priorities.
King County, Washington is an excellent example of a county government that has embraced this child well-being dashboard concept.
The costs associated with this dashboard would primarily be for start-up and short-term (design, data gathering, visualization, etc.), though some costs associated with updating measures and establishing new priorities would remain. For that reason, along with the dashboard’s key role in monitoring the community’s recovery from COVID-19, a Child Well-Being Dashboard is an excellent candidate for the county’s ARPA-related spending.