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Child care, mental health and food security programs get COVID money

Skagit Valley Herald - 8/9/2022

Aug. 10—The Skagit County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved several new COVID-19 recovery programs, including one in which the county will spend about $1 million on child care.

Pandemic-era closures and staffing struggles drained the county of 580 child care slots — a 22% drop from pre-COVID levels. This created more scarcity in an already under-resourced industry, said Kristen Ekstran, community health analyst with the county.

"Data shows Skagit County is considered a child care desert," Ekstran said in a presentation Tuesday.

This funding will offer grants to up to 10 minority entrepreneurs who want to start in-home child care businesses, and for a pilot program for business to try on-site care, she said.

Ekstran said this funding should open up slots for children needing care, while also creating jobs.

The county will also partner with Child Care Aware NW Washington to hire a mental health professional to work with child care providers.

Ekstran said this is a retention effort aimed at helping workers deal with stress and better serve children.

The funding proposals passed Tuesday came from a COVID-19 recovery plan authored by the Population Health Trust, a community-led advisory board for the county Board of Health.

The proposals are funded with a portion of the county's $25 million allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners funded a University of Washington program that trains members of the Latino community so they can feel prepared to have difficult mental health conversations with family members, friends and neighbors, Ekstran said.

She said interviews and surveys performed while creating the COVID-19 recovery plan showed a lack of mental health resources for non-English speakers, and significant stigma around seeking care.

"There aren't specific ... resources for Spanish, Mixtec (or) Triqui speaking communities," Ekstran said, referring to indigenous Latin American languages. "There's an access to care issue built into the system."

A lack of access to food also came up frequently in the health trust's work, Ekstran said. As such, the trust proposed — and the county approved — a new food policy council.

Carolyn Connor, a dietician with the state Women, Infant and Children food program, said there are many organizations in the county working on food assistance issues, but they're often unaware of what one another is doing.

"The people who need the food most might not be getting it," she said. "There's families who don't know where their next meal is coming from, or they don't have access to the food they know their family needs."

The hope is that a council should help these organizations communicate with each other.

The final program approved Tuesday will create support groups for women having difficulties after giving birth.

Jennifer Sass-Walton, the county's Child and Family Health manager, said anxiety or mood disorders are the most common issues.

By training peers how to talk to each other, women who have gone through these struggles can use their life experiences to help others.

— Reporter Brandon Stone:, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH


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