Good things Come to Those Who Wait – or Push – Part 2

In my last blog, I listed some public policy achievements at the Federal level. It is hard to measure results in advocacy because nothing ends up looking quite like you envisioned. Sometimes it takes many years, and sometimes the political winds never come the way of the issues we care so much about.

It's not time to jump for joy quite yet, but there have been a lot of advances made in #ECE policy in Ohio and Kentucky lately!

It’s not time to jump for joy quite yet, but there have been a lot of advances made in ECE policy in Ohio and Kentucky lately!

But here are a couple of things that have been accomplished or are likely to succeed at some level:

Licensing of Family Child Care in Ohio – Ohio child care resource and referral agencies have been leading the effort to ensure that every child in Ohio who is in a child care setting has health and safety protections. For decades, Ohio has been one of only five states that has not licensed home-based child care businesses that serve six or fewer children for a fee. We never did get a bill through the Ohio General Assembly (this was done by “rule”), but we have a significant – albeit incomplete – improvement. Effective January 1, 2014, Ohio now has licensing for family child care providers who serve children receiving publicly funded child care. There are still thousands of children in legal, unregulated child care – without any standards, trained caregivers or other safety measures – because the state’s priority (rightly, I think) is for those children whose care is partially or fully paid by the taxpayers. We now have licensing. Next we have to get all those operating a child care business required to be licensed.

Administrative and policy changes to strengthen the child care system in Ohio for children of working families. Did you know that if a parent receiving publically funded child care loses a job, or has any break in work (e.g., maternity leave) the child loses his or her early learning program – mid-year or at any time? New legislation in Ohio aims to correct that. This soon-to-be-introduced bill has a great deal of support, but some of the really important provisions may be eliminated – such as a plan to pay a provider based on enrollment and not penalize a center or family child care home because the parent does not bring the child on a particular day. No business can operate with the type of uncertainty that child care experiences. And a child care program cannot build the type of quality that our society is demanding when they don’t know if they will meet payroll through no fault of their own. This is a fix that is still necessary, but that does not diminish the importance of the plan to ensure children can be authorized for a full year even though a parent’s work status changes.

Restoration of Kentucky’s child care subsidy to pre-freeze levels. In April 2013 Kentucky froze all intake for child care financial assistance and then, on July 1, 2013, any child whose family was over the poverty level was kicked off the child care subsidy program. The freeze meant that low-income families did not have the resources to go to work and that first-time parents, at even the lowest wage, had to scrounge for any available person to watch their children. The repercussions have been wide – centers closing or closing classrooms, family child care providers going out of business, teachers laid off, parents losing jobs. Restoring these cuts has been the number one public policy effort of 4C and its Northern Kentucky advocacy partners requiring intensive communication strategies and time. Governor Beshear has recommended the restoration of the eligibility levels and reopening the child care financial assistance program. It appears that the Kentucky Legislature agrees, but that is yet to be seen, so the intensive work continues.

April 7, 2014 at 11:45 am Leave a comment

Good things Come to Those Who Wait – or Push – Part 1

It is nearly impossible to measure outcomes of advocacy as there are so many twists and turns – and time lags – and especially compromises when working on public policy issues. Sometimes you put a lot of time and effort into policies that never get enacted. Sometimes things happen from a regulatory or administrative action instead of the legislation you’ve been working to pass. Other times incremental changes occur and it feels disappointing that we didn’t get the big win. But here are some recent wins for children that are a result, in part, of the efforts of 4C and many other advocates.

This graphic from the US Department of Education depicts the amount of the proposed 2015 education budget going toward different initiatives. Read more on the proposed budget.

This graphic from the US Department of Education depicts the amount of the proposed 2015 education budget going toward different initiatives. Read more on the proposed budget.

Today, I’ll mention two federal items, and in a later blog some state issues.

The deed is not done until the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant passes the House and is signed into law, but nearly unanimous Senate passage is a great start. This bill, the primary legislation and funding for child care for low-income working parents, was first passed in 1995, reauthorized in 1997, and not touched since. Every year a team from 4C has gone to the nation’s capital to advocate for improvements to the law – such as a requirement for comprehensive background checks for those working with young children, an increased focus on quality early learning (not just safe care but learning environments as well), and requirements to pay child care providers a fair rate. The Senate passed the bill this month with great support from Ohio’s Senators. It is now on to the House with a first hearing next week. This thing could actually happen, and 4C staff will be on the Hill this week to push forward.

The Federal budget has increased for Head Start (well, restored to pre-sequestration levels), and for new child care/Early Head Start Partnerships. Of course I’d love to see a grand comprehensive early childhood education bill that addresses the many barriers to ensuring high quality early care and education for all who want or need it. But the reality is this: Since President Nixon vetoed the last comprehensive legislation in 1972, we’ve seen only bits and pieces get proposed, and of those only pieces get enacted. So when the FY2015 budget passed the U.S. Congress this year, we were very happy to see three initiatives with resources to expand/restore Head Start, initiate new partnerships between infant/toddler child care and Early Head Start, and other systems improvement.

These are all positive steps. I’m still holding out hope for sweeping systemic changes that will ensure fair pay for teachers who have appropriate education and services that all families can afford.

March 31, 2014 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

Advocacy as a Team Sport

Advocacy as a Team Sport

Ten staff members from 4C for Children joined about 60 other advocates at the Ohio Statehouse last week. The goal was to educate about and advocate for high-quality child care and early education. After a briefing on proposed legislation to improve access for children from low-income working families, we spread out to meet with legislators and their aides. Between us, we met with about a dozen Miami Valley and Southwest Ohio legislators and/or their aides. For most of our team, this was the first such experience and all felt a sense of exhilaration in participating in our democratic process. I asked those who were “newish” as well as those more experienced to jot down their impressions. Here are some comments.

Shelley Nelson, Education and Outreach Coordinator in Parent Services: “Words cannot describe how I felt knowing that I, as a former infant teacher, center director and recent college graduate had been given this opportunity to tell our stories and to make such a difference in children’s lives. The energy around early childhood education sends chills up my spine, knowing I am from the generation that says early learning is just as important as K-12 and to have policymakers in the great state of Ohio agree.”

Paige Runion, Leadership Coach: “We watched Sallie model introductions and we listened carefully to how she phrased her opening descriptions of the legislation we were there to discuss, a new bill not yet introduced. Soon our own stories sprang out of our mouths. Our passion for children and their families outweighed our hesitancies. Will I return next year? Absolutely. And now I’m wondering what Capitol Hill looks like on the inside.”

Lorna Chouinard, Director, 4C Miami Valley: “Advocacy means such different things for different people. Watching those around me – those who were brand new just taking it in and the old pros, calm and collected! It was inspiring! For me, this was a time to thank those elected officials who work on our behalf and to educate those who still think that child care is babysitting and early investment is a waste of money. Looking forward to doing it again in a few short weeks in Washington.”

Annetta Rutland, Director, Family Child Care Services: “Today I felt like a newbie although it has only been about three years since I last made advocacy visits. We met with six legislators or their aides. Here are some of my take-a-ways:

  1. HB59 (new high quality preschool spaces) is working as 75% of the slots are full with new children. (Happy to hear).
  2. Ohio has the second lowest pay for child care in the nation. (Sad to know).
  3. ‘Enrollment verses attendance,’ ‘presumptive of eligibility’, ‘continuous authorization’—these are pieces of the new bill being introduced soon. (It is a good starting point but we also must get higher rates for providers).

All in all it was a good day.”

Lori Shrider, Communications Specialist: “I am relatively new and Advocacy Day was an eye-opener for me. There are so many important aspects about early childhood education, and many people who are affected, and so it is hard to wrap my brain around it! It is important that we continue to have days like this, where all of the people who are affected by early childhood issues–directors of child care centers, teachers and parents–come together around a single issue. When we work together, we can accomplish great things and we can show that our voices deserve to be heard from the Statehouse to Capitol Hill!”

Kim Ginn, Director of Professional Development: “Being the activator that I am, meeting with aides during my first Advocacy Day three years ago brought relief and disappointment at the same time–relief due to overcoming my nervousness on what to say and disappointment because I thought the aides could not make a difference. I have discovered if you truly believe in your cause, it is easy to share. And regardless of who you meet with, they want to hear your story, and it does make a difference! This year, I joined with others who provide direct services to children. I presented the big picture and they shared the direct impact on children and families. It was an incredible experience. Having multiple voices giving the same message put early childhood education on the minds of many in Columbus.”

Delorise Pennington, Leadership Coach: “Advocacy day felt like a dream come true. Sharing my early childhood experiences with legislators and their aides was phenomenal. At first I was a little nervous, however, as the day went on, watching Sallie share with policymakers gave me the courage to share too. Advocating for children has been one of my personal lifelong missions, so this was a great opportunity to take my advocacy to the next level. Now it’s time for national advocacy.”

My particular excitement came from two things. First, that we were receiving such a positive response from legislators from both sides of the aisle and, second, the degree to which our 4C team became active leaders in advocacy. We each had an important role to play – a great team.

View more pictures of our Advocacy Day visits on the 4C for Children Facebook page!

March 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

An exciting day for Kentucky families

The following is a guest post from 4C’s Director of Kentucky Services Julie Witten.

“Fund Kids First!” was the rallying cry on January 16 at the annual Children’s Advocacy Day in Frankfort, Kentucky. Close to a thousand advocates from across the state descended on the Capitol for a rally and legislative meetings in support of children’s issues. I go to this event every year, but this year was different.

 It was different for me because I have felt passionate that something must be done about the cuts to the child care assistance program in Kentucky that went into effect last April. Over the past year I have heard devastating stories of how the cuts have negatively impacted families and child care centers. Child care assistance gives working families a leg up, so they can get and keep jobs and work their way toward self-sufficiency. The cuts have meant that families already struggling to make ends meet have had to choose between work or reliable child care. I wanted to fight this, and so have many others!

This is the point where I should tell you that there is a silver lining to this story. I promise!

Kentucky State Capitol

It was a beautiful day at the Kentucky State Capitol building!

But first, let’s go back to the Capitol for a minute. Children’s Advocacy Day is coordinated by Kentucky Youth Advocates, the only multi-issue statewide children’s advocacy organization in Kentucky. Amongst 4C for Children’s top priorities is advocating for policies that support the healthy development of young children. This, along with our work of improving quality in child care centers and supporting the families of young children make up 4C’s three-pronged approach to improve outcomes for all young children in our region.

There was an air of excitement as we walked into the Capitol. I could feel the energy pulsing from the rotunda, where people had started gathering. With my talking points under one arm and my “fund kids first” foam finger under the other, I walked to our first appointment. I was accompanied by 4C Board members and a child care director, representing important perspectives on this issue. We had meetings with eight different legislators from the House and Senate. I was overjoyed that all of them understood the issue and felt that it was important, even though some would need more convincing on where the funding might come from.

Meeting with the legislators that day was a pre-emptive strategy to increase their understanding of the child care assistance issue prior to the Governor’s budget proposal. We had heard that to Governor would reverse the cuts in his budget, but we had to get members of the House and Senate behind us so they would preserve that area of the budget when it reached the legislature. We told stories, shared facts on the benefits of quality early education, and waved our foam fingers through our eight meetings and a rally with the Governor.

4C Northern Kentucky Advisory Board member Michelle Kolb, board chair Janice Cushman and director of Kentucky services Julie Witten

4C Northern Kentucky Advisory Board member Michelle Kolb, board chair Janice Cushman and Director of Kentucky Services Julie Witten

On January 21, Governor Steve Beshear addressed the Kentucky legislature and the citizens of the Commonwealth and presented his budget.  Spoiler alert, he has proposed full reinstatement of the child care assistance program. He also presented unprecedented investments in education, now making a name for himself as the “Children’s Governor”. This is great news!

But our work is not finished. The budget will face scrutiny in both the House and Senate, so we will keep up the fight.

So now you may be thinking, “Well this all sounds great, but will it make a difference?” I have to think it will, because the alternative is just depressing. We wouldn’t be where we are now, if it hadn’t been for the collaborative efforts of organizations, child care programs, and parents over the past year. Best of all, there is a super simple way that you can help: join Kentucky’s Voice for Early Childhood and respond to the action alerts. You’ll be in very good company, over 1,000 messages were sent to legislators just last week.

The future of Kentucky depends on children getting a solid start. I’m fighting for the future, are you?

February 7, 2014 at 11:06 am Leave a comment

Families and the High Cost of Child Care — 2013 Version

Is there an echo here? In May of this year, 4C issued a report entitled “The High Cost of Child Care: A Challenge for Working Families.” The 4C report focused on data from Greater Cincinnati, Greater Dayton and Northern Kentucky and concluded that the high cost of child care is a barrier to employment for many parents and a significant financial burden for all but the most affluent.

The cost to provide the level of early education that will prepare children for school and the workforce cannot fall solely on parents

On Nov. 4 Child Care Aware® of America issued a report on the cost of child care across the country. This is their seventh such review, and this year’s report does not paint a pretty picture. Nationally, child care costs more than the entire family’s food budget, more than housing, more than college.

Child Care Aware® of America (which is the national membership organization for agencies like ours and a collector of local data—including ours) hit at the dilemma that is so apparent to us as well: child care must not be seen simply as someplace safe for the kiddies while parents are at work, but also as essential to a strong economy.

According to this new report:

Governors and legislators, law enforcement officials and business leaders see quality early care and education as vital to the nation’s economy and security. Military leaders found that 75 percent of young adults are not qualified to join the military due to failure to graduate high school; a criminal record; or physical fitness issues, including obesity. They concluded that America needs early care and education to ensure national security because each of the issues that are decreasing readiness are improved by quality early learning programs.

Child care—whatever you call it—day care, preschool, pre-K—is where the majority of American children are getting their first “school” experiences.

So what should it cost? An even better question is who should pay for it? I would contend that even though child care is largely unaffordable for most but the wealthiest families, it doesn’t cost enough! Teachers are poorly paid and thus are, in essence, further subsidizing the cost. The cost to provide the level of early education that will prepare children for school and the workforce cannot fall solely on parents. Parents don’t bear the financial burden for K-12 education, and most students and/or their parents don’t pay the full cost of college. Since nearly the founding of our country, we have understood that an educated populous benefits every one of us, and thus we spread the cost to everyone through taxes.

So what does the new report tell us? Right here in our communities and across the nation, child care is hugely expensive for most families. But since we know for a fact that high quality early education is the best strategy to ensure a ready child, ready community and ready workforce, when are we going to finance child care and pre-K in a way that works for us all?

November 6, 2013 at 11:05 am 1 comment

America’s silent workforce: Car Seat Grandmas

Today’s guest post comes from 4C Board Chair Davida Gable.

There is a silent workforce in our country that has often gone unnoticed.  I affectionately call them Car Seat Grandmas. These grandmas have proper car seats hooked into the LATCH system in the back of their cars at all times, ready to glide into the pediatrician’s parking lot with only ten minutes notice. School staff members recognize them, and they already know the directions and days of the week for after-school activities.

Many working parents depend on grandparents for child care. How can we support this silent workforce?

I have awesome parents and parents-in-law. I really do. They are cool, hip, active and travel the world… from international locations to the banks of the Ohio River. I praise the skies that my daughters have such fabulous examples of how people can live to the fullest into their sixties and seventies and beyond.

The downside of having cool, hip, active and world-travelling parents is that they are busy with cool, hip activities and travelling the world. When my water broke before the birth of our second child, my Tender Loving Husband called his parents on the way to the hospital, to see if they could take our older daughter for a couple hours. We didn’t even have time to put on her shoes!

We’re sorry.  We can’t because we have a tennis match this evening.”

“Well, can you cancel?”

“You can’t cancel on DOUBLES!”

Following the emergency caesarian section surgery, they called to say they could help since the match got rained out.

While I personally lacked a reliable Car Seat Grandma, in the United States recent Census data revealed that grandparents were the primary source of child care for 30 percent of working women with children under the age of five. 30 percent!  I bet these grandparents had car seats in the back of their cars.  More importantly, when 30 percent of working women with children under of the age of five need their mothers’ help to maintain employment, it’s clear our society has not addressed the need for affordable, high-quality early child care.  Our collective dependence on this group of women – many of whom stayed home to raise their own children – means that our society has been avoiding reconciling women’s desire to pursue careers with an adequate supply of child care.

The most famous Car Seat Grandma of all is our current Grandmother-in-Chief Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother who moved to Washington DC with the family to help with the girls.  Even new mother Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer had her mother living with the family following the birth of her new son. No wonder it’s been so “easy” for her.

The New York Times in late 2012 declared, “The Ultimate Amenity: Grandparents”:

“The win-win is to have the grandparents live close, but not live with,” said Esther Rein, a Corcoran Group agent, whose client Barbara Yastine just spent $875,000 for a sun-filled co-op with a terrace in a full-service complex hard by the condo where she lives with her husband and their 8-year-old twin daughters. The co-op’s intended resident is her mother, Ann Yastine.

Its next-door locale, not an accident, ensures that the twins can dash down the sidewalk to visit their grandmother without having to cross a street when she moves in next month; conversely, if grandma wants to pop over for a quick visit, the commute is obstacle-free.”

We can’t all afford to move our grandparents to the house next door, but there are many families who rely on them to help out at home. 4C knows the reality behind parents’ child care options.  I have seen the 4C professionals share their distress at the mention of cut Social Security benefits, knowing that many Social Security beneficiaries are a crucial child care resource which allows parents to pursue their careers. That’s what I love about 4C… they know the whole picture… including the existence of Car Seat Grandmas.

September 12, 2013 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Working families—out of luck when it comes to paying for child care

A number of articles in the national media (New York Times and Slate) are confirming what 4C presented in its white paper earlier this summer—that child care is not affordable for any but the wealthiest among us. The report, entitled The High Cost of Child Care: The Challenge for Working Families points out that child care costs more than public college tuition and that financial assistance is becoming harder to get—for increasingly lower income families. In fact, in Kentucky, child care assistance is no longer available to any families who are not already in the system. In Ohio the cut-off level is $19,388 per year for a full-time working parent with one child. Working families of modest income are least likely to be able to access child care.

The High Cost of Child Care

The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation has been sounding the siren for years—describing  the ways in which women are increasingly left out of the economic equation due, in part, to the cost of child care.

The New York Times report adds a national perspective to this issue:

The difficulty of obtaining good, affordable day care is well known as a problem afflicting the working poor. But, increasingly, middle- and upper-middle-class parents are finding that day care is hard to find or access and that, even when it is available, it is startlingly costly.

The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care. When women earn less than their partners, they are more likely to drop out of the work force, and if they do so for two years or more, they may not be able to get back in at anything approaching their prior job or earnings. The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs.

In the 4C white paper, we pointed out that child care costs more than public colleges in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Now we learn this is true in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

In 28 states, yearly child care for two children costs more than a parent earns from a 40-hour per week job at minimum wage.

There are no easy solutions. We have always, as a country, viewed child care as a private matter. A ray of hope is the greatly increased interest in providing a high-quality early learning experience for all children:  hopes for a “preschool promise” in Cincinnati and Dayton, Governor Kasich’s commitment to expanding pre-K and President Obama’s agenda for young children. All of these speak to solutions that are part-day and full-day preschool, school year and year round—all to meet the work demands of parents as well as the development needs of children.

August 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm 2 comments

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