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Wisconsin is Leveraging American Rescue Plan Act Funding to Address the Needs of Infants, Toddlers, and Their Families

In early 2023 ZERO TO THREE interviewed 8 states to understand how they are leveraging American Rescue Plan Act funding to meet the needs of infants, toddlers, and their families.

This article describes Wisconsin’s efforts.

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Consultation

Wisconsin is working to advance a systemic approach to IECMH consultation. While consultation existed in the state prior to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), there was not a systemic, statewide structure and approach for providing services. One factor contributing to the identification of consultation as a priority in ARPA was increasing focus in the state on the need to prevent/eliminate suspension and expulsion as a key racial equity issue and the recognition of IECMH consultation as a promising strategy for doing so. Another factor was the general increase in awareness of the importance of addressing mental health needs in the wake of the pandemic and the specific impacts of the pandemic on children’s social-emotional development.

Interviews conducted with providers about their experience previously receiving support through the Pyramid Model, which many cited as fundamentally changing their practice, helped to demonstrate the need and demand for statewide access to mental health supports. Interviews with parents who had access to mental health supports via their participation in Early Head Start/Head Start also helped to demonstrate the value of an integrated approach to providing services in the context of early childhood settings.

Following the allocation of funding for IECMH consultation by the state legislature, the Department of Children and Families released a Request for Proposals seeking a vendor to administer a statewide consultation system. The Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health (WI-AIMH) was selected, and WI-AIMH and the Department are now working in partnership to move forward with implementation.  Implementation of IECMH consultation will begin on July 1st in the Milwaukee and Southeast regions of the state focused on the early care and education sector. The project will scale up services to other regions and sectors over time to develop a universal statewide model.

Learn more about IECMH consultation in Wisconsin HERE

Child Care

Another key area in which Wisconsin is using ARPA funds to meet the needs of babies and their families is child care. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the state undertook a needs assessment using Preschool Development Grant Birth-Five dollars. This included listening sessions with parents and providers. The needs assessment informed the development of a strategic plan focused on child care access, affordability, quality, and workforce. Access emerged as a significant issue for infants and toddlers. This plan helped to inform decision-making about how to allocate ARPA dollars when they became available.

The state approached the issue of addressing child care with ARPA dollars from the perspective of three categories of investment: providing immediate relief to families and providers; piloting collaborative and innovative approaches; and building long term infrastructure for a stronger system than what existed before COVID.

Child care investments specifically targeting infants and toddlers include:

  • A pilot called Partner Up to incentivize businesses to support child care for their employees through contracted slots that are funded 25% by the employer and 75% by the state. ARPA is being leveraged alongside other funding sources. The slot rate is based upon the estimated cost of care rather than market rate. The pilot prioritized infants and toddlers.
  • Enhanced tiered child care subsidy rates for infants and toddlers for providers demonstrating improved quality.
  • The Inclusive Birth to 3 Child Care Pilot, a partnership with IDEA Part C to make families with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) eligible to receive 12 months of child care subsidy, regardless of family income or work status. In addition to improving services directly for participating families, the pilot also aims to build the capacity and skill of providers to serve families receiving Part C services. The pilot includes funding to serve approximately 1,300 children.

Navigating Challenges

As is the case across states, Wisconsin navigated a variety of challenges associated with implementing ARPA activities. These included the lack of existing infrastructure and staffing to manage the influx of funding combined with the tight timelines associated with the funding. Looking forward, the state faces questions regarding sustainability once ARPA funding ends.

Additional ARPA Resources

Interested in learning more about how states are using ARPA to support babies? Visit our landing page to read the summary brief, States are Leveraging ARPA to Move the Needle for Infants and Toddlers, and the full series of state articles (featuring Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin).




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