Office of Science and Technology Policy Spotlights the Importance of Early Literacy

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was written by Child Care Aware of America staff member Michelle McCready. Michelle is our Director of Public Policy, a working mother to her young son, Aiden, and a dedicated advocate for child care policy.

Yesterday Child Care Aware of America joined the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy to highlight early literacy challenges and successes in communities across the country and share best practices and lessons learned. The word gap refers to children in low income communities starting school with 30 million less words  than their peers of higher socioeconomic status. The day consisted of advocates, led by Too Small to Fail, alongside top researchers and scientists, as well as federal and local policymakers, discussing the importance of creating a strong literacy foundation for all children.

Panelists

This strong literacy foundation helps prepare students for kindergarten and  sets children up for better outcomes throughout their life. This foundation also supports a workforce needed to compete in the global economy and create a prosperous future for generations to come. In the first three years of life early language and rich literacy experiences are especially important. As research has proven, the brain undergoes its most dramatic development during this time as children acquire the ability to think, speak, learn, and reason. As a mother of a 19 month-old son, I get to witness this dramatic development every day. On our ride home from child care, I talk, read, and sing with him and see how his vocabulary is exponentially blossoming.

But it’s not just my son. On a typical day more than 11 million children under age 5 spend an average of 35 hours a week in the care of someone other than their mother. About one-quarter of these children are in multiple child care arrangements. In these settings, children are naturally communicating with their caregivers on what they think, feel and are experiencing. This “conversational duet” not only promotes language skills, but also critical thinking skills, and strong social and emotional development.

Speaking and honoring home language is also critical.  Children  need to have lots of fun and meaningful chances to talk, read, and pretend-write in their home language. Each of the opportunities to interact build skills that will help all children be prepared for a successful life.

Make sure to visit ChildCareAware.org to get more information on how you and your child’s caregiver can best build your child’s early reading and writing skills. A call to your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency (CCR&R) can give you additional information about literacy resources.

Also, make sure to check out what some of our coalition partners are doing: Too Small to Fail’s Talk, Read, Sing Campaign http://talkreadsing.org/. And ZERO TO THREE’s new web portal, Beyond the Word Gap http://www.zerotothree.org/policy/beyond-the-word-gap/, which offers multimedia resources to help parents, professionals, and policymakers to support early language and literacy.

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.

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.

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:

 

Summertime Child Care

Guest blog by Judy L. Francis, Communications and Marketing Associate, Child Care Aware® of America.

Summer is a beautiful season to spend extra quality time with the family, whether you’re planting flowers in the garden, going for a swim at your local pool, or flying across the country together to your favorite vacation spot.  But keeping children productive throughout summer vacation can seem like a difficult task. Research tells us that children who don’t engage in educational activities during summer vacation experience something called summer learning loss. According to the National Summer Learning Association, learning loss during the summer months can set children back nearly two months on their grade-level mathematical computation skills and low-income children can lose more than two months in reading achievement.

Children’s health can also suffer during the summer holiday. Unhealthy eating habits and inactivity can put children at a risk of weight gain and obesity. Unfortunately for most parents, the office doesn’t close when the weather gets warm. But there is a solution – a quality child care environment can keep children active and learning all summer long.

So for many families, the last months leading up to summer vacation mean a desperate search for a safe and educational setting where their child can spend 8- 10 hours a day. Get a jump on this year’s search and put your mind at ease early with these helpful tips below for finding quality summer child care.

Finding care

One of the easiest and most common ways parents find care is through word of mouth. Ask trusted friends and family members with children for their recommendations. Most people are happy to share their experiences and will give you their honest feedback on any persons or programs they’ve used. If your social circle has a lack of quality recommendations, you may want to place a call to the Child Care Aware toll-free hotline. A program of Child Care Aware® of America, Child Care Aware® helps families locate child care programs in their communities by referring them to their local Child Care Resource and Referral agency (CCR&R). Your local CCR&R will be able to connect you to a quality, licensed child care provider in your area.

What to look for

As with any search for child care, your priority will be the quality of the environment where your child will spend so much of their time. Schedule a time to stop by and see the school in action before you enroll. Make sure there is an adequate ratio of teachers to children. The lower the ratio, the more individual attention your child is likely to receive. Pay attention to how the adults interact with the children. Are they engaged and stimulated, or do the children look bored? Ask about the teachers’ qualifications. The more training and education they have in child development, the better they will be able to understand your child’s needs and help them learn.

If the program is summer-only and you are unable to visit an active center before enrollment, try to speak to the program director over the phone where you can discuss things like program accreditation, teacher turnover, average group size, and other important details.

Alternative Options

Another option you may want to consider is enrolling your child in a summer camp. Local day camps can be active and engaging learning environments, and are often a great way to get your child more involved in a specific interest or hobby. Day camp costs may also count as an expense towards the child care and depend care tax credit, saving you money on your tax bill at the end of the year.

Have a Back-up Plan

Once you’ve chosen the best option for your family, don’t forget about a back-up care plan. Even the most reliable child care providers may be unavailable in the case of an emergency, or may want to take time off during the summer months for their own vacations. Check with your provider to make sure you’re well aware of any time-off they plan to take, and take steps to make other arrangements in advance.

With a little planning, summer child care doesn’t have to be an annual burden. Summertime should be carefree, but that doesn’t mean pressing pause on your child’s healthy development. Do you have tips for creating a summer care plan? Share them in the comments.

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.