The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has taken notice of Oklahoma’s HOPE Centers.
The state used $15 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to set up dozens of centers where school-age kids can go during the week while schools are on distance learning plans and their parents are at work, and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services provides access to their services at each one.
HHS announced Monday at an Oklahoma City HOPE Center it is offering states more flexibility in using child care block grants for similar arrangements.
"We appreciate the work of states like Oklahoma that have already taken on this challenge through innovations like HOPE Centers. It is our goal to be a partner with Oklahoma and all other states facing similar challenges to ensure that parents have options that fit their real needs," said Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary at HHS Administration for Children and Families.
The changes by HHS will let states use funding for things like subsidizing child care for kids aged 5 to 13 when their schools are closed and supporting services like homework help in child care settings. Oklahoma Secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives Justin Brown said the changes could help the state keep HOPE Centers running after the pandemic subsides.
"As we’ve been busy building the platform to serve the immediate needs that have arisen from the pandemic, it’s clear the model represents a head start on the future of human services delivery. It is our mission to reach families where they are, removing systemic barriers that keep them from being successful," Brown said.
The state intends to open about 30 HOPE Centers by the end of the year using its federal coronavirus relief funds, though officials aim to open more than that if possible.