Supporters rally for change at first-ever Family Advocacy Summit

Parents and real families are a powerful voice for children and child care. Many of our parent and family advocates have participated at past Symposiums, sharing their stories with Members of Congress and strengthening their advocacy skills through workshops and training. This year we decided to do things a little differently and hold another kind of event, separate from Symposium, fully focused on families and amplifying their messages. If you weren’t able to participate, here’s a quick run-down of the two-day Summit.

Parent Advocates

Parents and quality child care advocates from all across the country landed in Washington D.C. as early as Sunday for the first-ever Family Advocacy Summit.  Monday morning kicked off with an advocacy training presented by Jennifer Greppi, Efuru Lynch and Michelle Garcilazo of Parent Voices of California. Advocacy leaders Efuru and Michelle spoke to fellow family advocates on developing brief but powerful personal testimonies.

Here’s a quick rundown of their surefire tips for capturing the attention of policymakers:

  1. Start with the basics. State your name, the state you’re from, and what groups you are connected to (i.e. I am Jane Doe, a family advocate and member of Child Care Aware® of America/Parent Voices/etc. from Virginia).
  2. Follow with why you took the time to reach out to them. Paint a clear picture of the issue you want addressed and how it is affecting you and those in your community or state (i.e. I am here because last May, I was forced to leave my job because I had no access to quality, affordable child care…)
  3. Finally, leave the policymaker with a call to action. Tell them what they can do to help solve the issues you’re facing (i.e. reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant this November).

Efuru and Michelle also reminded family advocates to share their plans for following up, especially if the meeting is with policymaker staff rather than the elected official. By letting staff know when to expect your call or email, it gives them a deadline for regrouping with his or policymaker to gather his response to your message.

Efuru speaks to the crowd

After the first workshop ended, parents Avonda Fox, from Texas, Vicky Dougherty from Pennsylvania, and Elly Lafkin, of Virginia shared their own compelling and inspiring child care experiences with the group during a panel discussion. Avonda talked about her efforts to pass Jacob’s Law on behalf of her son, who died from heatstroke after his caregiver left him in a van for an unknown period of time in 103 degree temperatures. Vicky, who lost her son Warren when he was placed to sleep in a faulty crib, discussed her grassroots advocacy for the licensing and inspections of all child care providers. And Elly, an experienced campaigner for comprehensive background checks, discussed her experiences working with press and the media to gain exposure on the tragic and preventable death of her daughter Camden. Elly and her husband helped pass Cami’s Law in 2013, after their daughter died in the home of a provider who used five different aliases to hide a criminal history. All three of these women demonstrated their courage and conviction by sharing their tragedy and committing to taking powerful action toward change.

Parents Efuru and Avonda

Staffers from U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) and Senator Barbara Mikulski’s (D-MD) offices joined the group for lunch. Both talked hopefully about the passage of the Child Care and Development Block Grant when Congress returns from recess in November, and shared updates on what their respective officials were doing to support quality child care and early learning.

In the afternoon, parents gathered for a facilitated discussion around building a national policy agenda that would reflect child care and early learning issues facing parents from all walks of life. Health, safety, access and quality were key themes of the conversation. The parents also came up with solutions and advice they would give to all working families grappling with finding and affording quality child care. The discourse was thoughtful and eye-opening and left us energized as we concluded the day with preparation meetings for the following day on the Hill.

Parent Advocates

The next morning, over sixteen family advocates from eight different states boarded a bus with Child Care Aware® of America staff and travelled just over the Arlington Country line into D.C. The advocates separated into small groups as we all arrived at Capitol Hill and the families dispersed for their respective meetings with Congressional staff. As each group returned, they recounted their stories on camera and to each other. Together the families celebrated an overwhelming feeling of progress as a result of sharing their voice.


families and bus

The Family Advocacy Summit attendees returned to Arlington for lunch with the former Child Care Aware® of America executive director and current Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families. The conversation ranged from the progress the Administration has made on issues related to children and families, to how our parent group could be an action task force for child care across this nation.

The Family Advocacy Summit was an incredible success and left both our family advocates and Child Care Aware® of America staff with renewed energy to work toward solving the complex issues with our current child care system. Our first hurdle is just around the corner, as we continue to push for the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) when Congress returns from recess in November. We know one thing for sure, without our exceptional  family advocates we would not be on the brink of celebrating such a win for millions of children and families across this nation.

family advocates

We hope that those of you who were unable to attend the Summit will be inspired by the work and dedication of these families to take action in your own way and help us in the campaign to strengthen the quality of child care for working families in every state.

We look forward to sharing important updates on CCDBG in November, and in the meantime, ask you to keep your advocacy efforts going. Child Care Aware® of America will continue to share ways for you to raise the volume on child care and early learning issues. Be sure to bookmark usa.childcareaware.org and watch for video clips from the Summit coming soon, including videos of our families telling their story on Capitol Hill.

Hoping motherhood can inspire Chelsea to push for affordable child care

Editor’s Note: This blog is a repost of a Chicago Tribune article written on September 29, 2014 by Heidi Stevens (@heidistevens13).

Chelsea Clinton with family

For the love of baby Charlotte, can we please do something about the cost of day care now?

Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, as you know, welcomed a baby girl into the world over the weekend. Charlotte’s life probably won’t be uneventful. (The New York Post already labeled her “another liberal crybaby” on its tasteless front page Sunday.)

But neither will it be disadvantaged. Her dad is an investment banker and her mom pulled in a reported $600,000 annually from NBC News, where she was a special correspondent for the past three years. Quality child care won’t break this couple.

But Chelsea could make it her signature platform at the non-profit Clinton Foundation, which counts “empowering women and girls” among its noteworthy missions.

According to the 12-year-old foundation’s website: “Our programs empower women and girls by expanding access to education, increasing economic opportunity, and providing critical health care to young mothers and their newborns. Our goal is to lift millions of women out of poverty — and with them, their families and entire communities.”

Affordable child care would be a great place to start. Currently, the Census reports that 12.5 million children 5 and younger are enrolled in child care. In 35 states and Washington, D.C., a year of center-based infant care costs more than a year of in-state tuition plus fees at a four-year public university, according to a 2012 report from the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

A recent report from Child Care Aware of America found that sending two children to full-time day care accounts for the biggest single household expense in the Northeast, Midwest and South. (The West escaped the list by having such exorbitant housing costs.) Full-time child care costs more than the annual median rent in every single state, according to the report.

The poorest of poor families receive a tiny bit of government assistance, but not much. Only 1 out of 6 children eligible for federal child care assistance actually received it in 2012, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

Which isn’t all that surprising, given how severely The Child Care and Development Block Grant, the primary source of government-assisted child care subsidies, is underfunded. A recent analysis of the program found that total spending on child care assistance fell by $1.2 billion in 2012 to its lowest level since 2002.

And the vast majority of families, of course, receive no assistance to offset the costs of child care.

Chelsea could use her new status as a mother — and lifelong status as a Clinton — to agitate for change. Remember when Bill Clinton said he thanks God for his high taxes?

“Hillary and I and some of our friends in this audience who live in New York probably pay the highest aggregate tax rates in America,” he told a crowd at Georgetown University in May. “And I thank God every April 15 that I’m able to do it.”

This is Chelsea’s in.

She could say, “And I thank God some of my dad’s — and my — tax dollars are being used to make child care safer, healthier and more affordable for the 12.5 million children in this country who utilize it.”

She could gather a group of her young mom friends, throw in a few Washington insiders, add a lawmaker or two, and engage them on this national challenge. She could quote the 2013 Child Care Aware report, which says, “Ensuring this care is high-quality, affordable and available for families is crucial to our nation’s ability to produce and sustain an economically viable, competitively positioned workplace. The consequences of the lack of affordable, quality child care are often overlooked, the dots are rarely connected. This does not mean the problems they produce are not real and severe.”

Cheers would fill the auditorium. Bill and Hillary would beam with pride from the sidelines. Charlotte would look on adoringly from the arms of her supportive, loving father.

And the rest of us could take comfort in knowing that someday we won’t need the salaries of an investment banker and a six-figure special correspondent to afford day care.

PBS NewsHour on the Cost of Child Care

Last week PBS NewsHour aired a story about child care and featured three families whose stories represent millions of others in the United States today; the story of families who find it is sometimes more affordable not to work, than to pay for child care, and the quality of child care they can afford.

I sat down with PBS NewsHour for the broadcast as well. We are often contacted for  comments, facts and history on the rising costs of child care – but few stories capture the real point behind our Cost of Care reports; that child care is an economic and education issue that affects everyone.

The cost of child care is certainly financial news, but more importantly the cost of child care highlights how our nation’s child care system is preventing families from working because it’s simply too expensive and families don’t often know what they’re really getting for that price.  Instead of a child care system that empowers families to make a better life for them and their children, we have a child care system that is fragmented and frankly, in too many cases, simply unsafe.

This summer, Child Care Aware of America will release its annual Child Care in America State Fact Sheets. These reports lay bare the numbers beyond cost – availability, how families pay for child care, what states pay to subsidize child care and many more facts about working families today. We look forward to the dialogue.

Meanwhile, what did you think of the PBS NewsHour broadcast? Watch,  then comment below.

 

Buzz on early childhood is good; progress still needed

Struggling to get out of poverty: The Two Generation Approach” tells on NPR, the story of two mothers who participate in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Career Advance program. It’s one of at least three stories I’ve seen over the past week highlighting early education, the benefits and the costs.

Career Advance puts to practice the “two generation” approach to ending poverty, by providing quality early childhood experiences to children while at the same time supporting their parents’ economic advancement.

Starting education at age four is too late
NPR’s new education team also laid out some answers to the question; what is quality preschool?  The story does well to share the facts on early education in this country, and it also rightly, if not intentionally, highlights a huge gap in the way we think about early childhood education.   We need to ensure we consider the entire developmental continuum.  Preschool is important and we cannot forget about the babies.

Children learn from birth, and of the 1.1 million families who received child care referrals from child care resource and referral agencies in this country, more than half were for infants and toddlers.  Babies and toddlers must receive the same level of quality in child care as they should in preschool programs they enter at age four.

Or, as written in a 2011 Forbes article about George Kaiser: “Oklahoma, like a lot of places in America, has universal preschool, but it begins only at age 4, at which point many poor kids are so far behind their rich peers that they’ll never catch up. Early Head Start programs for infants and toddlers offer slots for only 3% of Tulsa’s 10,000 low-income kids, a rate similar to the national one.

‘Reaching 50% wouldn’t be impossible, at $30 billion per year,’ says Kaiser, except it would never happen because the dispossessed don’t have many lobbyists.’ ”

Parents pay costs of early education
The NPR story was also compelling because it also showed the depth of investment needed to achieve positive results. The program got off the ground thanks to support from The George Kaiser Family Foundation. The program is now funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For most families, it’s the parents who pay for child care – quality or not.

Cost of Care graphic

Our “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report”  generated more than 400 media stories across the country last fall and has seen a renewed interest following the Pew Research Center’s report on the increase in women opting out of the workforce to stay home with their children as well as a Washington Post story.

The question I get asked most often is why is child care so expensive? The simple answer is, running a quality program costs a lot of money, and in the business of early learning, the bulk of the cost is absorbed by the families.

The more important question is, what are we, or are we not, getting for that price? Are families getting quality care for their children? Families cannot do it alone. In the end, we all pay the cost for low investment and low quality for our children, even in health care.

The health connection
James Heckman, the Nobel laureate who made the economic case for early childhood investment,  recently released findings of a link between investments in quality early childhood programs and preventing chronic disease.

Professor Heckman and his colleagues continue to demonstrate through research that investments made early in quality early childhood programs prove to prevent challenges later in life. Watch the video about Heckman and his team’s research on chronic disease and early childhood programs.

We need to spread the word that early investments matter and quality child care programs have proven to have many beneficial outcomes for our children and their future.

Provider Appreciation
This Friday, May 9th is Provider Appreciation Day. As we seek solutions so that all families can access the opportunities inherent in quality child care we must also applaud and honor the providers of that care and the important work they do each day, in partnership with families, to nurture and prepare our nation’s children for school and beyond.

Will you commit to showing appreciation for those who are helping to raise a brighter future? Join us www.providerappreciationday.org

 

 

Provider Appreciation Day: A call for pay, preparation and promotion of our early childhood educators

Provider Appreciation Day Logo

May 9 is the day we celebrate our nation’s child care providers, early childhood educators and teachers. And while we celebrate, we also must reflect on how we acknowledge their commitment to children through pay, professional preparation, and promotion of the field as an essential driver supporting the healthy development of children.

Low pay, big responsibilities
We know child care providers don’t get paid a lot. But previous statistics like those from Georgetown University’s Center on Education which show an early childhood education degree among the least lucrative of all college majors, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that the median pay for child care providers was $9.30 per hour in 2012, still shock me.  It is so critical that our nation’s providers and early childhood educators get the professional preparation they want and deserve in the classroom, either through higher education or in professional preparation training programs.

Subsiding child care costs
Child care providers are essentially subsidizing the cost of child care with their paychecks.  Even with such low provider wages, families pay a lot for child care. Child care costs eat up a larger percent of a family’s budget – rocketing from two percent of the cost to raise a child in 1960 to 18 percent in 2012. Child care and education, not including college, costs families more than healthcare and food, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report on the cost of raising a child.  Our cost of child care report showed the average cost of child care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.  Two children in child care? That can cost you more than a mortgage in 19 states and Washington D.C.

Quality suffers
But the biggest loser in this low pay and high cost equation is quality. Studies and stories have proven that quality costs money and that quality is worth the upfront investment, returning at a rate of as much as 15 percent, according to economist James Heckman. Supporting our early childhood providers and educators with a living wage and professional ongoing support is essential to delivering quality as well. When child care providers leave the profession because of low pay, the turnover affects a child’s education, and we lose great educators.

Solutions
One solution to a quality child care system that supports child care providers and families would be to diversify the financial support for child care so all children can access quality care no matter their family’s ability to pay.

Join us in honoring those who teach, nurture and care for our children on May 9, and remember they too need our support all year round.  What other solutions would you suggest?

 

From Rhetoric to Reality: Inspiring the Nation to Action

SOTU2014Steeped in history and required by the United States Constitution, the President is required “from time to time” to give the Congress information about the State of the Union and to recommend for their consideration measures he deems “necessary and expedient.”

It’s more than a great speech- it is an opportunity to focus the nation on key national priorities. Some are remembered for their historic moments like President Bush’s first after September 11th when he encouraged “We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

President Clinton when he called on Congress to create “The Information Superhighway” or President Kennedy challenging our nation to land a man on the moon. And who can forget the 50-year-old declaration from President Johnson on a “War on human Poverty.”

Focusing on early education
Last year’s State of the Union Speech by President Obama held that same hope for child advocates everywhere. For the first time in a generation, the President placed early education front and center- much more than a mere mention in a laundry list of domestic priorities.

President Obama reminded us and educated others that a child’s first years of life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school. He made it about education but also about economics, noting the fact that high-quality early learning programs can help level the playing field for lower-income families and put them on the path to economic security and self-reliance. The President took the historic step of calling on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool for every child in America and asserting that a zip code should never predetermine the quality of any child’s educational opportunities.

The good news is that tonight, during his 5th State of the Union address, the President stated, “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education… we can’t wait. So, just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.”

The great news is that he and his administration are already taking important steps to turn that rhetoric into reality.

More than talk
Late last year, early childhood education was one of the biggest winners in the most recent federal Appropriations bill – receiving a more than $1 billion increase in federal funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, Child Care and grants to states. Congress clearly heard the overwhelming support for early learning from key voices across the country including business leaders, law enforcement officials, economists, governors – and many more. This increased federal funding will more than restore early childhood education sequestration cuts, as well as provide a significant increase in funding. A bill reauthorizing CCDBG has been introduced and has bi-partisan support in the Senate. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act has been introduced and has bipartisan support in the House.

Making investments in high-quality early childhood care and education is a clear economic solution backed by a proven body of research, high returns on investment, and it’s the right priority for our policymakers.

By increasing federal investments, we can ensure that our children do better in school, acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21stcentury economy, get higher-paying jobs, rely less on social programs and contribute more to the economy as adults. We also know that learning begins from birth and that quality affordable child care, from infancy, is critical to our nation’s families. We will continue to “raise our hands” and our voices this year to ensure that high quality child care is a major part of the nation’s early education agenda.

To draw from past inspirations from our President, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

So let’s do what works and make sure that none of our children start the race of life already behind.

Get more:
Follow Child Care Aware® of America live tweets from the White House
Discuss the issues live: Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium
Child care provider reacts to Cost of Care Report
Strong Start for America’s Children Act

Children and the War on Poverty

Lady Bird Johnson reads to children in a Project Head Start classroom, March 19, 1966. (National Archives) http://cb100.acf.hhs.gov/childrens-bureau-timeline

Lady Bird Johnson reads to children in a Project Head Start classroom, March 19, 1966. (National Archives)

This month marks the 50th anniversary of “The War on Poverty.” In January 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched several initiatives to help lift the 1 in 5 Americans who were living in poverty at the time.

“Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it”
Lyndon B. Johnson 1964 State of the Union Address


One of those initiatives was Head Start.  Now, the program serves more than 1 million children.

“Head Start was designed to help break the cycle of poverty, providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs. ”  Office of Head Start, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/about/history-of-head-start

In 2014, we still have work to do. Today, Child Care Aware®  of America will join the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity and the Urban Institute and to discuss developments in policy and child care. Register here to participate.

Resources:
Audio Conference: Streamlining child care subsidies: Better for families and state agencies
White House.gov blog on War on Poverty anniversary
Continuum of education – Office of Child Care
Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium