Building Relationships with Exceptional Families

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog by Richard Schott, Senior Chief of National Programs at Child Care Aware® of America. Rich is a 25-year veteran and retired colonel in the United States Marine Corps.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of visiting Langley Air Force Base to take a deeper dive into Child Care Aware® of America’s U.S. Air Force Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).  For those of you not already familiar, the Air Force EFMP serves approximately 736 families stationed throughout the country in need of quality child care services. Many of these families have children diagnosed with moderate or severe special needs that require unique child care considerations and sometimes require specialized continuity of care. This program, free for eligible families, provides parents with brief, but vital relief from the daily tasks that come with a special needs child.

Upon arriving at Langley I met with Ursula Santiago, a U.S. Air Force EFMP-Family Support Liaison.  As an EFMP liaison, Ursula regularly attends Langley Air Force Base newcomer orientations with the responsibility of making parents aware of the EFMP program and encouraging eligible families to participate. Ursula showed a wealth of enthusiasm toward the work that she does.  As a mother of an EFMP child herself, Ursula understands first-hand how a little bit of time to yourself or with a spouse can make a world of difference.

“We try to fill in the gap and connect military families with what they need. I can honestly say that everyone involved has a heart to help. The Respite Care program gives families relief when they need it most.” said Santiago. “It has saved marriages.”

While at Langley, I also had the pleasure to meet with staff from The Planning Council, Child Care Aware® of America’s partner agency.  I visited their office and had a chance to speak with some of the case managers who work with EFMP child care providers, Air Force families at Langley, and Navy EFMP families in Norfolk, Virginia.  This dedicated group of individuals listen with intensity and work with sensitivity when connecting parents with their ideal provider.  The intake process may start with simple paperwork, but it moves quickly to over-the-phone conversations and in-person meetings between case managers and families. Case managers make every effort to completely understand the needs of the child, the capabilities of the provider, and the type of support both need to maintain such a close relationship for many years.

Everything I’d seen that day—from Ursula, to the case managers, to my own work—came together when I met Emma.  Emma is a child enrolled in the Navy Exceptional Family Member Program. She has a condition that requires her to wear a back brace.  I met Emma in her home, along with her mother and child care provider.  Emma’s happy interactions with them made it clear that her provider was more than an occasional caregiver, but a trusted partner in Emma’s care and a critical relationship in her development.  In one month, they would celebrate five years together. And those five years are what make the of the EFMP liaisons, The Planning Council, and everything that we do here at Child Care Aware® of America so inspiring. I returned home with a deeper sense of both pride and responsibility. The Exceptional Family Member Program is an invaluable system of support for families. To the providers, it’s more than just a job; it is about the relationships and the commitment to care. And to me, it’s a promise to building relationships that will positively impact the lives of children and families.

The Tragic Truth About Vehicular Heatstroke

You’ve seen it on the news. Every year as temperatures across the country rise, quiet children are forgotten in hot cars. The result is serious injury or death and families that are changed forever.

Never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute.

Image via Safe Kids Worldwide

Vehicular heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger. Heatstroke has claimed the lives of 606 children from 1998 – 2013. Forty-four children died in 2013 alone. In 2014, there have already been eighteen deaths. With hyperthermia deaths occurring 11 months out of the year, that number will almost certainly rise. The good news is that these deaths are preventable.

What’s the number one cause of child vehicular heatstroke? Forgotten child care dropoff. The truth is that the majority of children who fall victim to heatstroke have the most loving and responsible of parents. The terrifying fact is that this mistake could happen to anyone… Even you.

Everyone has days where their thinking is distracted. If you’ve ever jumped in the car and reached your destination in what seems like record time, it’s probably because part of your brain set itself on “auto-pilot.” This is an instinctive reaction, a function of the primitive side of the brain, and can happen for any number of reasons. You could be sleep-deprived, stressed, doing too many things all at once or all three. So your brain sets your body in motion. Normally, your husband drops your baby off at child care. So on the day of his six-month dental cleaning, the same day your water heater goes on the fritz, the same day you’re running late to work because the baby spit up on your first outfit, is the same day your brain clicks to autopilot and allows you to drive past the turn to your child care provider’s home without a moment’s hesitation.

If you’re lucky, you’ve already made an absence verification plan with your provider and she calls you the moment your baby fails to show up for care. This simple phone call could save your baby’s life. The alternative is too horrific to imagine. I urge you to take the time to set up a plan right now. And follow these steps to prevent vehicular heatstroke from happening to another child:

  • NEVER leave a child alone in a car—not with the windows down, not with the car running, not even for a minute.
  • Remember that children overheat up to five times faster than adults. Heatstroke can happen even on mild or cloudy days.
  • Always check your backseat before you lock your car. Simple habits like keeping your purse or cell phone in the backseat are great ways to ensure a quiet child is never forgotten in your car.
  • Thirty percent of children who died of vehicular heatstroke gained access to an unlocked car and then trapped themselves inside. Never leave a vehicle unlocked and teach children never to play in or around cars.
  • Use technology to your advantage. The Kars4Kids Safety App, is a free, downloadable app that works with Bluetooth-enabled cars. The minute you and your phone leave the car, an alarm goes off reminding you to yes, check your backseat.
  • Watch our archived heat safety webinar for more prevention tips.
  • If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check that your child has arrived at their destination safely.
  • Visit safercar.gov/heatstroke for fact sheets, flyers, and other helpful heatstroke awareness materials.
  • For more information, visit the Safe Kids Worldwide page or check out these resources from the Administration for Children and Families.
  • If you see a child alone in a car, take action immediately. Don’t wait for the driver to return. If the child appears to be in distress, call 911 immediately.

Don’t let another child fall victim to heatstroke.  Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle and always check the backseat.

Working Families Summit Recap

working families summit

On Monday, I joined President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at the Omni Hotel in Washington D.C. for the first ever White House Summit on Working Families. The place was packed with policymakers, business and labor leaders, economists, reporters and their cameramen, and of course many advocates for working families, including parents and small business owners from across the country. The sum of us gathered for opening remarks with the same questions on our minds: What will it take to help working families succeed in the 21st century workplace, and how can we, as a nation, make it happen?

The theme of the day revealed itself early, as Dr. Jill Biden spoke about her personal experiences as a mother of three, working and going to school full-time in earlier years. Her husband and Vice President and later the Obamas would also speak to their own experiences of struggling to balance their careers with family and their children. The message was clear that although issues vary from one individual to another, no one is alone in these experiences. All working families experience these challenges.

I was very interested to see Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at New Republic and author of the Hell of American Daycare, would be moderating the opening plenary. Not surprisingly the issue of children’s health and safety in America’s child care system was brought up almost immediately. Jonathan raised the question of working families’ accessibility to quality child care, and though the panelist varied from Ivy League economics professor to Global Chairman and company CEOs, all seemed to agree that among the most basic needs of working families is the need for high-quality, early learning environments… Early learning environments where children of America’s working families can flourish in a safe and healthy setting that will stimulate their brains during the most critical of time in their development.

President Obama took the stage to talk about bringing the American economy into the 21st century and prepare workplaces to support working families in the coming decades.  He touched on the importance of spending time with family, the necessity of having flexibility in the workplace, the struggles of the “sandwich” generation who must deal with raising children, maintaining their careers, and caring for aging parents. He discussed his and Michelle’s experience as young working parents and the struggles they faced, and what he wants as a father for his two daughters.

President Barack Obama

“…I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies.  And I want them to be able to have families.  And I want them to be able to have careers.  And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them.  And I want a society that supports that.“

And perhaps most importantly, the President talked at length about child care in America. He quoted directly from Child Care Aware® of America’s 2013 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report when he pointed out that “in 31 states, decent child care costs more than in-state college tuition.” Obama went on to say that America must find a solution to rising child care costs and the burden it puts on so many families. In his own words, “child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage… these are not frills these are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses; they should be part of our bottom line as a society.”

As fate would have it, my phone lit up just as Obama spoke about juggling careers and family obligations. I looked down and saw my daughter’s name appear on the screen.  Knowing she was with her grandparents visiting from Arizona.  I had to giggle. Really? Now?  The text exchange that followed went something like this:

ME: “Can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later”

MY DAUGHTER: “Kk”

MY DAUGHTER: “I’m just really bored, what are you doing?”

ME:  “Guess who this is?? President Obama!!” (with accompanying photo as I sat tables away from the President)

ASHLYN: “Cool, what is he doing?”

ME: “Giving a speech about kids like you and working parents like me!”

ASHLYN: “Oh”

ASHLYN: “I’m still bored”

I found it so ironic that just hours earlier I had listened to Vice President Biden emphasize the importance of every day moments, of which I am fortunate to have many with my children, and then, on that particular day, during that particular hour, my daughter was reaching out to me – at work – listening to President Obama!

Vice Preseident Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden

The President concluded his remarks by urging the audience to take action.

“As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we’re going to need you to raise your voices.  We need you to tell Congress don’t talk about how you support families, actually support families.  Don’t talk the talk.  We want you to walk the walk.

In the meantime, if Congress will not act, we’re going to need mayors to act.  We’ll need governors and state legislators to act.  We need CEOs to act.  And I will promise you, you will have a President who will take action to support working families.”

Later, the First Lady’s remarks echoed this call, saying “It’s up to us to change the conversation… That’s the job of all of us and it starts here… These conversations have to continue at the regional level. This is just the beginning. And it has to be a movement, and there has to be momentum, and it has to continue to the point where the pressure is real.” So let me also close by asking you to raise your voice. Help us walk the walk. Or as Maria Shriver put it, “We all have a story to tell, tell it.”

Lynette M. Fraga with Maria Shriver

One way to tell your state’s child care story is to share our 2014 State Fact Sheets with legislators and policymakers in your community. Child Care Aware® of America’s state fact sheets  provide data useful to child care advocates, policymakers, and program administrators as they make decisions around child care programs and expenditures in their state. The fact sheets look at the cost, use, and supply of child care in individual states, as well as family characteristics related to the need of child care, services provided by Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, and the child care workforce.

Visit usa.childcareaware.org  for the latest data on your state, or visit the workingfamiliessummit.org for more ways to get involved.

You can watch the President’s full remarks from the Summit below:

 

Raise Your Hand discussion continued at Symposium

Child Care Aware® of America hosted its first Raise Your Hand for Child Care virtual event. This event included a live reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) and Twitter chat to conclude our Raise Your Hand for Child Care five-month webinar series, which was created to build awareness about federal and state policy opportunities to support child care.

18500129_ryh-social-media-ad-redditThe Raise Your Hand series united coalition partners and early childhood advocates nationwide and the virtual finale event gave the public the chance to ask questions about early childhood policy, the child care subsidy system, the Preschool for All movement, and more. To view the entire reddit event, click here. support child care. 

Not only did our virtual event help us engage parents and families around the country, but it also generated lots of questions that we’ll be addressing at our 2014 Symposium.  Many of 27 breakout sessions taking place at Symposium will talk about the new funding for Early Head Start – Child Care partnerships, research about families and best practices for training providers, and so much more we chatted about during the Raise Your Hand virtual event.

Get more at Symposium
The Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium will take place April 2-4 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. This three-day event will focus on child care and early education policies and bills currently before Congress, as well as research, practice and innovation approaches for child care that are shaping how families access quality child care. To register for Symposium, please visit our website here and follow the conversation on Twitter using #RYH4ChildCare.

Sneak Preview
Be sure to check the Early Directions blog often. Over the next few weeks you’ll get a peek into some of the 2014 Symposium sessions through guest bloggers who will also present at Symposium.  We are proud to present sneak preview blogs from:

Join us in preparing for the 2014 Symposium where we’ll celebrate our field and keep the momentum forward as we do something BIG for children in child care.