We have known for quite some time that our schools play a stabilizing role in many families’ lives, providing access to resources along with an education. Many schools were helping to ensure children were eating on a regular basis at reduced or waived rates, connecting children and parents to social services and community supports, and providing some mental health supports. During COVID-19, the question is: how do we now get these supports to children during a global crisis?

On top of that, children being out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic to halt infection rates has caused parents across the state headaches. As well, for parents who do not have the ability to work remotely, this pandemic has created much different obstacles including lack of income, which may lead to food and housing insecurity.

AllCare Health has long been dedicated to ensuring that children have access to resources that they need so they can succeed in school. For example, AllCare noticed that the children of color in a specific school were graduating at far lower rates then their white counterparts. To rectify this, AllCare invested in a Graduation Coach for the school, who was able to increase graduation rates in children of color from about 21% to 96% in the span of five years.

Now, during COVID-19, AllCare is not only ensuring that children are getting fed despite their lack of access to school meals, but they also just invested $10,000 in the Chetco Community Public Library to provide Grab & Go Summer Activity Kits for children across their service area! In June, 950 Summer Activity Kits were handed out, which contained activities that encourage children to stay engaged in learning during the summer. These activities included: sidewalk chalk, crayons, pencils, notebooks, birdhouse kits, paints, flower seeds with soil disks, flowerpots, literacy games, new high-interest hardcover books in English and Spanish, and inserts in the bag from local health and social services in English and Spanish, letting kids and families know where they can turn in emotional or financial distress. These bags are even color-coded to show the differences between preschool, school-age, and teen youth activity kits.

AllCare understands that many parents who have been laid off are trying to navigate life without an access to income, all while caring for their children and trying to facilitate distance learning. By providing these kits, AllCare is providing children with fun, engaging activities for the summer, information on much-needed resources and how to access them, and a sense of support and community. AllCare Health also knows how important education is and hopes that this program can continue to support at-risk children in their journey to becoming an independent learner.

These Grab & Go Activity Kits were so popular with families in their service area, AllCare expanded the program to give out 500 Activity Kits each Wednesday in July. At this rate, by the end of the month, more than 2,500 children will have access to activities that keep them engaged and learning while parents are hard at work. And, every single one of those families will have information on the community supports they may need if they are in emotional or financial duress.

Wondering how AllCare Health can fund initiative like this, even though their technical job is ensuring Oregon Health Plan (OHP) members get their needs met? The truth is that all the COHO CCOs are incredibly dedicated to shifting our definition of health to include the food you eat, the air you breath, access to education, access to stable housing and food, access to transportation, and whether you face discrimination as factors that all significantly contribute to your health. Because AllCare and COHO are all seeking a shift in how we talk and think about health, we have strong, aligned policy priorities that help guide investments like these.

Our recent policy priorities have included ensuring that Oregonians on unemployment have access to healthcare during the crisis, increasing access to mental health services for children in schools, and our continued support of the expansion of telehealth. All these pieces are part of a strategic, member-centered plan to help the state through crises, and continue to improve our CCO model.