COIVD-19’s Lasting Impact on Child and Family Policy in North Carolina

Duke in DC in partnership with Duke State Relations, the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy hosted a virtual briefing, “COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on Child and Family Policy in North Carolina,” on June 11. The three panelists, professors Carolyn Barnes, Anna Gassman-Pines and Donald Taylor, all discussed how their ongoing research has been affected by and can help inform a policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many states, like North Carolina, have implemented temporary changes to federal and state assistance programs to help families who are struggling due to income loss and increased family burdens due to the global pandemic. Professor Carolyn Barnes, who researches childcare policy, family services, and support for young children explained that “the way social policy is carried out in the state requires revenue, which is why you see such variation in each county’s provisions.”

Barnes also noted that during COVID-19, nutrition assistance programs have made a huge impact for families. While it doesn’t account for job loss and housing costs, families are really experiencing the benefits of these programs.”

Another area of temporary policy change in North Carolina is the state placed a moratorium on evictions in response to COVID-19, which all three panelists supported as important to assist vulnerable families. “What we see is that children whose families face eviction are more financially disadvantaged, more likely to be children of color and more likely to have special education needs, and these challenges all intersect,” said Professor Anna Gassman-Pines.

Mental health is another concern for children and families during the pandemic. Gassman-Pines pointed out that in her ongoing survey work with service industry workers she has found extremely high rates of maternal mental health issues during COVID-19. She stated that mental health is another real challenge that we face right now and our “system is not set up to support the mental and behavioral health issues that we are now seeing in low-income groups.”

In order to fully recover from the pandemic, Professor Don Taylor stated that the U.S. will need to implement asymptomatic testing, especially in nursing home facilities. Skilled nursing homes are wells of infection that put tenants, nurses and other administrative staff at risk of contracting the virus. According to Taylor, “the federal government is the only entity that has the ability to [financially] support this.”

In response to a question about access to sick leave and paid time off, Taylor noted that many workers who we consider essential do not receive paid time off. He stated, “folks working in nursing homes are not to be blamed – they are to be honored and protected.”

The coronavirus crisis has illuminated many of the issues facing U.S. families. All of the event’s speakers shared the opinion that as our nation and the state of North Carolina move forward, we will need to reflect on the fact that the crisis has heightened economic vulnerability for already vulnerable families. In order to address and ameliorate such disparity in overall wellbeing, all levels of government should consider creating more forward-looking family-centered policies.

“This pandemic has helped raise the salience of government for a lot of people,” said Barnes, “many of us have taken for granted the ability of the state to protect families. We need to figure out how to have more conversations about how we can build on our existing program strengths and build new government programs to help families.”