Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some Thoughts On What It Means to Be An Advocate

I entered the field of Early Education some 30 odd years ago as a summer job while in high school, and then again in college to help support myself. As someone who did not see it as a career, I was not worried about the pay or the quality or really even the respect- it was a job that paid my bills which were meager. However, somewhere along the line it became my career and then everything changed. I don't remember exactly when it was that I decided this was my Profession, but I did, and then I cared about the pay, the quality, and the respect. I cared because I knew that I would never be able to support a family without the help of a spouse, I knew that the children in my care received quality but I worried that other children did not and what that would cost us all down the line, and I resented the lack of respect for doing something that I viewed as the most important job in the world. And while that point may be arguable, because after all, all jobs are important, Early Learning professionals (and I would add parents of young children) play a vital role in ensuring the future of our cultures, nation, and world. And without someone performing that role, it would all go. . . well, let's just say downhill.

However, many Early Learning professionals did not choose this field, but rather it was something that they dropped into and when you do not see something as a choice or a career, you are less likely to fight for it. The workers in the factories of the past saw their jobs as something that should support their families, but many Early Learning professionals do not. But this does not make what Early Learning professionals do any less important, and so the job for advocating for a better paid, higher quality, and better respected field falls on those who see Early Learning as their career and a profession. And as more Early Learning professionals advocate for themselves and the field, others in the field will see themselves as professionals and slowly (so slow it may not feel like we are moving at all, but we are) more and more of those who work with young children will see themselves as professionals. While this may seem like a burden for those who are willing to speak up (that's advocating in a nutshell), there are very simple things that anyone can do to make one an advocate and will have a tremendous impact on Early Care and Education.

Nancy Amidel in her article "Policy Advocacy: The Ten Minute Version" gives some easy tips for advocating. She gives 3 steps to being an advocate. The first of which is to be informed so that you can present information in a coherent, understandable manner to those who may not know the facts about Early Education. The second step is to be involved so that you are taking an active role in providing solutions to the problems that have been identified. The final step is to be an advocate which means speaking up, in big or little ways, for the issues that you find important. As she says in her article this is often the most difficult for people, and I think, especially for Early Learning professionals who may not have been given the message that their voice matters. But, of course, it does since those in field who work with children everyday know the problems first hand. A common phrase in most (probably all) Early Learning classrooms is "use your words." It's time to start to model this for the young children we teach by speaking up for practices, such as adequate funding, that support the quality we know young children need and deserve to thrive.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Impact of the Child Care Assistance Program on Quality

Many families drop their child off at an Early Learning program where they trust their child's needs will be met, but few of these families realize how Early Learning funding impacts the quality of the early care and education that their child receives.  However, as with most things in life, funding does impact quality which has real consequences for the children in Early Learning programs.

These consequences, such as children not having care from a consistent teacher, have social and emotional impacts that society will pay for in the long-term. For example, we know that children who do not have consistent, trusting relationships are more likely to develop emotional problems that may lead to the need for special education services and remedial education, failure to graduate from high school, not attending college, and becoming incarcerated.  Unfortunately, as the country continues to struggle with a long recession, states are cutting Child Care Assistance Programs (CCAP) that allow many families whose incomes are at or near the poverty level to work and their child(ren) to be in a quality Early Learning program.

The National Women's Law Center recently published a report titled State Child Care Assistance Policies 2011: Reduced Support For Families In Challenging Times which details how many low-income families are receiving less support towards the cost of child care than they were a year ago. The report, also, looks at reimbursement rates for Early Learning programs and notes that most states set their reimbursement rates below the 75% of market rate that is recommended by the federal government. As states have struggled financially, reimbursement rates for Early Learning programs have fallen from 23 states reimbursing at least 75% of the market rate in 2001 to 3 states reimbursing at least 75% of the market rate in 2011.  The economic impact on already underfunded Early Childhood Education programs is enormous and has led to many programs struggling to maintain high quality practices, such as retaining consistent staff.

While it would be easy to point fingers at policy makers for cutting programs, such as CCAP, the decisions to make cuts to these programs reflects a lack of understanding about the value of Early Care and Education on the part of the general public. Unfortunately, as Early Learning advocates, we have not always let the story of why there is value to programs like CCAP.  I urge those of you who have a story to tell about the impact CCAP has had on your program, as well as the families and children you serve to share it with everyone you know, but especially the media and policy makers. As we begin to tell the story of Early Care and Education, the respect and funding our field needs and deserves will follow.