A Brookings article on tackling funding silos to better serve children

One significant challenge when it comes to helping children and families is running into funding silos – restrictions on public and private funds that do not allow for flexibility in responding to families’ complex needs.

A recent article – “The COVID-19 experience shows government budgeting can become more nimble” — from the Washington, D.C., think tank Brookings, explores the problem – and explains how City Connects is part of the solution.

“Most of the major social challenges facing America, from homelessness and opioid dependency to achieving successful aging and good family health, require the successful coordination of funds from many government programs. In general, we are not good at doing that,” the article’s authors Stuart M. Butler and Timothy Higashi write.

Butler is a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings. And Higashi is a Senior Research Analyst in the Economic Studies program.

“Programs tend to be siloed at all levels of government,” they add, “with most managers reluctant to allow funds to be used outside their explicit purposes. Moreover, eligibility rules, restrictions on data sharing, and other accountability requirements present significant obstacles to collaboration and flexibility.”

The solution: “creating greater flexibility while maintaining appropriate oversight and fiscal management so that funds are used in ways that are faithful to the legislated purposes of each program.”

In other words, city, state, and federal governments should braid and blend funds “to address complex problems,” work that is already being done in key areas. One of the examples that Butler and Higashi point to are Children’s Cabinets, which are typically composed of the heads of government agencies that deal with children’s issues.

As we’ve blogged, City Connects is part of the work being done by the Children’s Cabinet in Salem, Mass. The cabinet and Salem officials worked with the Education Redesign Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education to launch a citywide effort that weaves together educational, cultural, and social service resources from across the city to better serve children.

The example that Butler and Higashi point to is the Poughkeepsie Children’s Cabinet (PCC), which was launched in 2019. The PCC’s 28 members include “community leaders from higher education, philanthropy, hospitals, nonprofits, and students – with the Mayor and District Superintendent as the co-chairs.”

 The PCC “is an example of community leaders working creatively within their means and legal guidelines to break down traditional service barriers and make a positive impact in their community.”

This work grew even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it became clear to Poughkeepsie officials that educational, health, and social service systems needed to be better integrated to serve the whole child.

Poughkeepsie met the pandemic challenge by, in part, blending and braiding funds. As the article explains:

“The PCC convened more than just local leaders. It also brought together the funding tools and mechanisms needed to serve the community in a holistic way through philanthropic challenge grants, funding advice from national-level partners such as The Forum for Youth Investment and The Children’s Funding Project, and through funds for expanded digital learning.”

In addition, the PCC is working with Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab, and City Connect will play a role:

“PCC leaders are also finalizing an integrated student supports proposal with the Poughkeepsie School District; Dutchess County, New York’s Path to Promise; and Boston College’s renowned City Connects program (which organizes wraparound services for students, especially outside the classroom setting).”

As the article concludes:

“COVID-19 brought urgency to the task of using government funds more creatively through greater flexibility and collaboration across programs and departments and with the private sector.”

“However, it should not take a pandemic for these tools to be used widely; they should become a standard feature of government budgeting.”

We agree. As devastating as it has been, the pandemic has demonstrated the urgency of creating new systems of student support – ones that are nimble, customized, and universal – so that every student can thrive. 

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