Responding to Challenges and Embracing Learning Opportunities from COVID-19

July 15, 2020
| Nicole Deterding, Laura Hoard, Nancy Margie, Ivelisse Martinez
Visual depiction of the COVID-19 virus

As the human services field responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, OPRE and our research partners are working to capture information on the pandemic-related experiences of ACF programs and the children and families they serve. In keeping with our mission of building knowledge to improve human services, our goal is to preserve the progress and value of our ongoing work within the constraints imposed by the pandemic, while also capturing lessons from this unique time and laying the groundwork for future learning to inform program improvements.

Three overarching questions frame our COVID-19 pandemic-related learning:

1. How does the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery efforts affect ACF programs and service delivery?

  • What challenges and opportunities has the pandemic provided to existing programs?
  • How did ACF programs adapt to new federal guidance issued during the pandemic and recovery?
  • What new program components or models emerged in response to the pandemic?
  • What does the pandemic response teach us about the resiliency of ACF programs and their ability to adapt to unexpected events?

2. How do current and potential recipients of ACF services experience the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • How do the circumstances and needs of individuals, families, and communities with low-incomes change during the pandemic and its aftermath?
  • How do pandemic-related experiences vary within and across the demographic groups and geographic communities of children and families that ACF programs serve?

3. How do OPRE technical assistance efforts contribute to evidence building and program improvement during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • What technical assistance needs arise during the pandemic?
  • How can lessons learned inform future evidence building or program improvement efforts?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, OPRE quickly adjusted ongoing projects to address these questions - modifying contracts and seeking OMB approval where necessary. Some projects are adjusting or adding data collection in order to collect survey, qualitative, and administrative data that documents families’ and programs’ experiences during the pandemic. Others are developing special papers or new analyses exploring how programs are responding to the pandemic and its effects on individuals, families, and communities.

These guiding questions also provide a framework for new learning opportunities focused wholly or partially on the COVID-19 pandemic. Guided by this framework, we will seek to ask and answer questions that describe the experiences of ACF programs and the children and families they serve during the pandemic. The goal is to generate insights and lessons that could improve organizational resilience for ACF and our partners.

It is clear that our understanding of the pandemic and recovery will continue to evolve over a long horizon and will raise challenges and opportunities for human services that are unprecedented in recent history. The mission of building knowledge to improve human services will remain our guiding principle as this learning continues.


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