Protecting the Health of Your Children

The Children’s Health Insurance Program provides children with health insurance coverage. It was signed into law in 1997 by way of the Balanced Budget Act. It was created for children in families with incomes too high for Medicaid but do not receive private health insurance coverage. The creation stemmed from the millions of children that were without health insurance in 1997. With CHIP installed in every state, all families could seek coverage for their children.

Eligibility varies depending on the state. Determination for eligibility is done by assessing the Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI). This income assessment determines the family’s financial eligibility for CHIP. In some states, pregnant women are eligible. 2018 Medicaid statistics report that over 9.6 million children have been enrolled in CHIP.

According to the Medicaid website, the following list determines eligibility:

  • Under 19 years of age
  • Uninsured
  • A citizen or meets immigration requirements
  • A resident of the state and,
  • Eligible within the states CHIP income range, based on family income, and any other state specified rules in the CHIP state plan

Benefits can vary by state. For the state of Maryland, the benefits included are:

  • Doctors’ visits
  • Dental care
  • Vision care
  • Prescription medicine
  • Immunization
  • Hospital Care
  • Lab work and test
  • Mental health wellness
  • Transportation to appointments
  • Substance abuse treatment

To apply for coverage, you can call 1-800-318-2596 or fill out an application Health Insurance Market Place on healthcare.gov.  

This blog written by Family and Consumer Sciences student intern Ashante Scott.

Help, I’m Homeschooling, or Schooling at Home! (Part 2)

Who would have guessed that when schools shut down this past March, they would be shut for the remainder of the school year? Fast forward several months, and most are not re-opening in-person this fall.  Administrators and teachers are doing their best to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children amidst a pandemic which will keep most students learning remotely. But what about parents? Other than maintaining a sense of humor, what are some of the considerations as the new school year begins? 

For most families, this means schooling at home. The children remain enrolled at their current school.  Parents are receiving guidance from their county district, school, and teachers. Students receive materials and take lessons online with their teachers.

Are you homeschooling? Technically, no. Your child’s school or district is responsible for providing the curricula, teaching, and record keeping. Most Maryland school districts are still providing meals for eligible students, and devices for children who need them. 

One of the most challenging aspects for many families is space for each child to attend class and complete assignments. It is helpful for each child to have a designated “school space.” It does not need to be set up like a classroom, and it might have to be transitioned into the meal room in the evening, but having a special space, equipped with necessary supplies, will help your child maintain focus and a sense of normalcy. A private area might be unachievable, but a simple partition made of three taped file folders could create a similar feel. There are many other tips on time and family management as well as emotional wellbeing in my earlier article.

However, one of the greatest needs right now is grace – for yourself, for your children, and for your children’s teachers and school. COVID has added unanticipated challenges requiring adaptation from all.   

What is homeschooling then and how is it different? Homeschooling means the child has been unenrolled from school.  Many parents are making the choice to homeschool their children, but there are many important factors to consider:

  • Notification – Families must notify their child’s school at least 15 days before switching to homeschooling.
  • Responsibility – According to Maryland law, parents must “provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.” This does not mean you need to use the same materials. There are myriad curricula options for purchase.
  • Finances – Switching to homeschooling means the family becomes responsible for all costs, including books and materials, software, and more. Usually, children can no longer participate in school activities or receive school related services such as lunch services. 
  • Organization – Families must maintain a portfolio of their child’s work, submit to an annual review by either the school system or an approved homeschool umbrella program, record grades, and issue graduation diplomas. 

What steps should families take who are considering the option of homeschooling? 

  1. First is to read the code of Maryland as it pertains to homeschooling. It is not long, and it describes the state’s and the parent’s responsibilities.
  2. Second is to research the pros and cons.  A helpful resource is the Maryland Homeschool Association (MDHSA).
  3. Finally, connect with experienced families. They can answer questions about curriculum, socialization, and much more.  MDHSA provides a listing of local groups and resources. 

5-2-1-0: Four Simple Strategies to Help Your Family Stay Healthy

Have you heard of 5-2-1-0? 

The idea is to use this simple set of numbers to help people remember four important strategies for keeping kids healthy! 

  • Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Limit screen time to two hours or less
  • Get at least one hour of physical activity every day
  • Drink zero sugary drinks

Health promotion groups across the country are promoting 5-2-1-0  and using the strategies to design programs aimed at helping families find ways to keep their children healthy and reduce childhood obesity. 

Even during these times, where social distancing is so important for the health of our communities, there are still innovative activities available to help families incorporate these strategies into their daily lives. 

I, along with several other amazing organizations, recently started working on a program centered on two of these important strategies: The LiveWell Frederick Story Path. It is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors, take a break from screens, and enjoy physical activity. 

I can’t claim credit for the idea. Story Walk was developed by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT with the help of Rachel Senechal and the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. The idea was simple, take a story book, separate the pages, and then place the pages on signs. Once you have the book on signs, you can place them in a park, along a popular walking path, or in some other outdoor area. The Story Walks offered a way to get moving while enjoying a story. These Story Walks have become extremely popular and all 50 states and 12 additional countries have some sort of Story Walk. 

Here in Frederick, Md., we thought the Story Walk idea was brilliant and decided to implement our own, which we called Story Path. You can check out more info at https://www.livewellfrederick.com/programs/story-path/

Currently, the Story Path is set up at Utica Park and will be for the rest of the summer. Six books will be on display and all of them focus on themes centered around healthy eating and physical activity. 

While the Story Path is an excellent way to encourage more physical activity and less screen time, there are many other fun ways to help your family live the 5-2-1-0 lifestyle. 

You could try:

  • Selecting a new fruit or vegetable to try as a family
  • Starting your own garden (check out container gardening for limited space options)
  • An activity jar – write activities on slips of paper and place them in a jar. Then, draw one out whenever you need a fun family activity
  • Find a Story Walk near you
  • Check out a local park

Although it can be challenging, 5-2-1-0 resources, like these from Pennsylvania State University, can help you find a place to start. The most important thing is that you and your family find ways to maintain your health and strength.

A Family Routine for Your Child’s Well-Being

The evolving COVID-19 pandemic poses an ongoing threat to what is normal in children’s lives. Many have experienced upsets in routines related to school, changes to summer plans, and even family traditions. 

Leaders of children’s organizations around the world agree that focusing on having and keeping routines is a necessary part of family well-being during and after a crisis. Routines provide a sense of life being normal, and help children manage their feelings throughout the day. For adults, routines contribute to a sense of shared purpose and identity. 

Research suggests that children may gain security and positive well-being out of the spontaneous moments of being together. Those moments can happen during ordinary, daily routines such as doing chores together. Family routines are an important part of coping with challenging situations. Examples of family routines include consistent meals, bedtimes, and recreation. 

4 Basic Routines for Children’s Well-being 

What can we do to help our children? 

You can use the following four questions to rate the quality and consistency of your family’s routines: 

Do we do the same thing every morning during the work week? 

Ensuring that wake-up times and morning routines are consistent sets the tone for the day. Adequate nutrition in the morning should be considered in the morning routine. 

Do we eat at the same time each day? 

Sharing consistent mealtimes together can help the family improve communication, discuss upcoming plans, and spend quality time with one another.  

Are there consistent routines related to chores? 

Doing chores may not seem like quality time. However, when done consistently as part of a family routine, chores provide another context for quality moments to arise like jokes and games while folding laundry together. 

Do children have special things they do or ask for every night at bedtime?

Nighttime rituals may not be conducive to a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Make sure you are sensitive to what each child finds comforting or soothing as part of a nighttime routine. Being able to change routines to suit children’s unique needs is an important skill. 

If your answers to the four questions left you thinking, we can do better or do more to support our children, good. But, starting and maintaining routines can be challenging. So, think about these actions to get going. 

Steps in Starting and Keeping Routines 

  1. Before making changes, talk to your family about how well the current routines are working.
  2. Listen to everyone. 
  3. Agree to a new routine that everyone is willing to try. 
  4. Talk over what each person is expected to do. 
  5. Give the new routine a try. 
  6. Talk again about how well the routine is working and make adjustments if needed 
  7. Repeat to work on another routine until you have worked on all four. 

Work schedules, extended family obligations, and other external pressures can interfere with the consistency of routines even when your family wants to have regular routines. Just remember that every action you take toward quality and consistency of family routines will help your children cope with their feelings that arise when they experience stress. 

It may be hard for your family to find large enough blocks of time for family game nights, movies, special outings, or other activities. If that’s true for your family, the four daily routines provide many opportunities for children to experience quality moments with the family. 

Even if your family experiences chaos or uncertainty, routines can help your children manage their feelings and behavior more effectively. Daily routines work because when children believe that their environment is comforting, safe, and predictable, they are more likely to show resilience during stressful times. 

This article written by Alexander Chan, special guest blogger

Resources for Personal Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Risk Management Solution Crisis Identity Planning ConceptIt was March 12 when we found out that offices were closed, and the following day that schools would be closed in our state.  At that time, it was supposed to be for a two-week period, but now we have moved beyond that. While many are still working, others are laid off or furloughed. Even if you are still working, you may experience fluctuations in your income or even unexpected bills. Since the beginning, I have been keeping a list of resources shared by my friends and colleagues during this difficult time. 

Now is the time to share them with you.

Several government agencies have pulled together resources for consumers. The list is not comprehensive and focuses primarily on finance related topics. An important note is that the federal tax filing deadline is extended from April 15 until July 15. Now if you are expecting a refund, you probably should not wait to file your taxes. You should also check the filing requirements for your state. Maryland residents have a filing date of July 15.  Click on the links below for government resources in response to COVID-19.

Cooperative Extension has responded with resources available for food preservation, nutrition, mindfulness, and finance. Most of the links provided will focus on finances, as that is the role I serve with Extension. The most important item to remember is that you need a plan. Figure out your current situation and develop a plan in case your situation changes. Always seek credible resources for information. There are people out there that are trying to take advantage of you in this challenging environment. The Cooperative Extension resources listed below are credible. You should also check the Extension resources available in your state.

I am a member of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS).  The organization has pulled together a list of resources around emergency preparedness, cleaning, hand washing, and food safety, family resources, and financial wellness resources.  Click here for its COVID-19 resources.

Some parents are looking for free resources to teach your children at home. 

Colleagues have sent me other resources as pdf files.  If you are interested in them, please email me at jketterm@umd.edu.

It is important to keep in mind that this situation is temporary. Stay positive as this will pass. During difficult times, you need to take care of your mental and physical well-being. Take time to unplug and stop reading all of the negative coverage.  

Stay healthy.

Surprise, You’re Homeschooling! 

Cute girl playing on a computerMarch 2020 has turned quarantine into a verb and millions of parents into homeschool teachers. Welcome to the COVID-19 surprise school-at-home event. The challenges are many, but not insurmountable. As a former homeschooling parent myself, I’ve compiled tips and resources for those finding themselves on the educational front lines for the first time.

Start easy and take activity breaks. Sherrie, an occupational therapy practitioner and experienced homeschool parent, suggests focusing on a few selected subjects as you get started, knowing that you can build as needed. “Definitely build in movement breaks between subjects to improve concentration and regulate mood,” she advises.

Decide what works best for you and your family. Include your children in making a schedule that everyone understands. You don’t need to imitate the school environment in your home. Some might prefer a relaxed learning environment, others thrive on a detailed routine. Regardless, communicating a workable plan is important for you as a parent, and for your children, to have a sense of structure.

Learning takes many forms.  This could also be a good opportunity to have your child learn about topics of personal relevance. For example, your kids could research your family’s cultural heritage, investigate a special interest, or learn a new skill. Ask them to research how math, writing, and science are used by people in different careers. They can take notes and tell you about their findings during meal time. Older children can plan and prepare meals. Double win!

Young caucasian girl hands mixing cookie dough in a bowlDon’t stress about covering every topic. Make the most of the extra time with your children. Talk to them about their interests, hopes, fears. Bill, an educator and homeschool dad says, “Always remember you’re teaching children, not subjects.” You can weave character, values, and faith into lessons and conversations. For learning responsibility, teamwork, and skills, Tina, with 28 years of homeschooling experience, suggests kids be included in daily chores.

Help!  I have toddlers and older children! Becky has experience to share. She suggests setting the younger children up with a fun activity they can do on their own, and is only taken out during “school time.” This makes them feel special and included in the learning process, while still allowing you to work with your older children. 

Other tips:

  • If you have a safe environment, take regular breaks from screen time and get outside. Alternate watching kids with a neighbor, if possible. 
  • Working from home? Schedule individual time for each child as possible, so they know when they can have your attention. Set clear expectations. 
  • There are many safe and helpful internet resources available. 

What if I don’t have WiFi or my own computer? Some schools are handing out WiFi “hot spots,” and many utilities are offering free services during school shutdowns.  Check with providers in your area if you don’t have home WiFi. 

Parents and caregivers, most importantly, cut yourselves some slack. You know yourselves, your family, and your kids, the best. There is no one right way to educate your children. The most important consideration now is your family’s health and wellness.  

For information on helping your kids deal with the changes and stress caused by COVID-19, check out last week’s blog post on managing Coronavirus anxiety.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) — Protect Your Health and Find Help for Financial Stress

Questions about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) continue to swirl through daily updates and new information. How do I stay healthy? How can I afford to be sick? What happens if I lose my income? How do I protect myself and my family?

coping-with-stressStress is often the result of uncertainty. Because stress alone can make us sick or more susceptible to disease, it is important to take steps to reduce uncertainty by staying informed and planning ahead when possible.

How can I stay healthy? Most importantly, get answers and information from a reputable source. Helpful suggestions can be found from the CDC, The World Health Organization, and your state or local health department. All provide instructions for simple preventative precautions that you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting sick:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Keep a distance of three feet from others whenever possible.
  • Stay home from work or other activities if you are sick.

Coping with financial stress

Can I afford to get sick? The new virus strain might be scary, causing worry about paying for the virus testing and hospital bills. Staying home from work might mean a missed paycheck, or even a lost job.

There is help. Many insurance providers are covering the cost of the test as well as waiving co-payments. Check with your own insurance company for details. If you’re on Medicare, Medicare Part B covers coronavirus (COVID-19) testing. This test is covered when your doctor or other health care provider orders it.

Important: Call your health care provider first before seeking the test.  A referral is required, and testing is not appropriate in all cases. Do you live in Maryland and do not have health insurance? There’s a checkbox on the MD income tax form to notify the Maryland Health Connection if you don’t have health insurance. Anyone deemed eligible will be mailed a letter allowing them to sign up for health insurance within 35 days under special enrollment.

What about loss of income? Employer response varies widely — some are offering paid or partial paid leave, some are not or simply can’t. Discuss concerns with your employer. Are you self-employed?  Proposed federal legislation offers relief.

How can I meet my obligations and expenses? Policies are quickly being implemented to specifically meet coronavirus related needs.

helping-children-cope-with-stress-printIn Maryland:

  • Eviction is temporarily prohibited for any coronavirus-related delay in rent payment.
  • Shutoffs and late fees are currently suspended.
  • Meals for children. There are over 100 locations across the state to provide three meals and a snack to children impacted by school closings.
  • Mortgage, student loan, and other debts. Talk directly with your lender for updates on terms. There is proposed legislation to provide debt relief for student loan and other borrowers.
  • Help with basic needs. Start with your local Community Action Agency.

How do I plan ahead for events like this? The biggest concern now is to stay healthy. However, when the crisis is over, there are steps you can take to reduce financial stress in the future.

  1. Have an emergency fund just for loss income. Start saving with small steps. If you can save one hour of pay each week for a year, you will have more than a full week’s pay saved.
  2. Evaluate your health insurance plan each year during open enrollment to make sure the plan you have is your best choice. Resources for this can be found here, especially on pages 13-18.
  3. Know your health insurance deductible and estimate your annual health care costs so they can be included in your spending plan.

It is very important to receive information about the coronavirus and financial help from reliable sources.  A few are listed below:

Protecting Your Health

Coronavirus information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Coronavirus information Maryland Department of Health (MDH) 

Tests for the coronavirus-Frequently asked questions from the Maryland Department of Health

Updated information from the Maryland Governor’s Office

Stopping the spread of Coronavirus (available in English, Spanish, and Chinese)

Symptoms of Coronavirus(available in English, Spanish, and Chinese)

Coping with Stress

World Health Organization (WHO), coping with stress during the coronavirus outbreak

World Health Organization (WHO), helping children cope with stress during the coronavirus outbreak

Coping with Financial Stress

National Extension’s Financial Security for All