Early Child Advocates, Lawmakers, Gather Virtually for Advocacy Days

Early Child Advocates, Lawmakers, Gather Virtually for Advocacy Days

Last week, Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) partners and advocates from across Oregon gathered virtually for Early Childhood Advocacy days.

To prepare for three days of meetings with legislators, the ECC hosted a kick-off event on May 4th, which included nearly 50 participants. Three guest legislators also joined us — Representative Karin Power, Representative Jack Zika, and Representative Tawna Sanchez.

Representative Sanchez from North and Northeast Portland explained to advocates why it’s important to share their stories with legislators: “What matters to the future generations is right here and right now,”  she said. “What it takes is all of us with a voice to stand up and say something, to try to make change and shift around here. Our future generations are depending on us to make something happen.”

By the end of the kick-off, participants knew how to write an advocacy letter, learned tips for talking to legislators, and practiced giving testimony.

Over the next few days, nearly 50 attendees including child care providers, educators and parents from across the state met with more than 20 lawmakers. 

During meetings, advocates shared their own experiences and urged legislators to commit to continued improvement in early care, education, and supports for all of Oregon’s young children and families, and to center the voices of those most impacted by legislative actions in their decision-making.

Staff from Healthy Families Oregon, a voluntary home visiting program that serves families expecting or parenting newborns, described their first-hand experiences working closely with families, and expressed a critical need for home visiting services. They also addressed the ways that low-wages create a barrier to hiring and retaining qualified home visitors. One of the ECC’s 2021 legislative priorities is to expand early childhood investments, which includes expanding funding for Healthy Families Oregon home visiting and providing wage parity for relief nurseries, to reduce turnover and stress among early childhood providers.

Not to mention, disparities in early childhood have only been intensified by the ongoing pandemic which advocates say will have lasting effects. Advocates reminded lawmakers that children born during the COVID-19 pandemic will be entering kindergarten as the state is climbing out of a recession and the decisions made during this session will influence the trajectory of their lives and Oregon’s future.

“We have seen first-hand the impacts of the pandemic on families,” said Robin Nelson with Multnomah County’s Nurse-Family Partnership. “We know that the setbacks are huge and will continue for years.” 

Overall, the response from legislators was hopeful. Representative Jason Kropf acknowledged the challenges that many organizations face when they are asked to fill service gaps with limited funding and resources, and voiced his support for front-end investments that will help children, families and providers. As to the prospects for the state budget and investments in early childhood, Senator Dembrow of Portland expressed optimism. “There is a lot of support in the legislature right now for child care programs and early learning,” he said. 

We want to thank our ECC partners and advocates who shared their stories with lawmakers, and were early childhood champions during Advocacy Days.

 

Oregon HB 3073 to Establish Early Learning Authority, Expand Child Care and Early Learning

Oregon HB 3073 to Establish Early Learning Authority, Expand Child Care and Early Learning

Oregon House Bill 3073 (HB 3073) will streamline Oregon’s child care system by establishing a new state agency: the Early Learning Authority. The agency will be separate from the Oregon Department of Education.

A new department focused on early learning and care is a necessary next step for Oregon to expand equitable early learning opportunities and unify its child care system,” explained Miriam Calderon, Oregon Early Learning System director. 

“With this change, our state’s children, families, communities, providers, and businesses will benefit from greater access, higher quality, and efficient delivery of services. After a pandemic that has focused our state and our country on the importance of child care, and new federal resources, there couldn’t be a better moment to act,” she said.

Currently, the state’s Early Learning Division (ELD) oversees the majority of Oregon’s early care and education programs, which include state preschool, state infant-toddler programs, professional learning and the Quality Improvement System, parenting education, and an early childhood equity fund that targets resources to culturally-specific 0-5 and multigenerational programs. 

 

The Future of Child Care in Oregon

HB 3073 is a critical piece of legislation that addresses Oregon’s child care crisis and will strengthen the child care system statewide.

Children ages 0-5 are the most racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse Oregonians. They are also the most likely to live in poverty. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic only continues to compound the effects of racism and inequality among children in this age group. 

“Babies born during the pandemic will be starting kindergarten as we start to recover from a recession,” explained Dana Hepper, director of policy and advocacy at Children’s Institute. “Brain development during this time period creates a foundation for their whole lives, which is why it’s critically important we make progress for them, now.”

HB 3073 will provide every child age 0-5 in Oregon with the opportunity to succeed in school, work, and life by providing high-quality early childhood education programs. It will also allow the state to be more strategic in its use of funds to rebuild the early child care and education sector from the devastating effects of the pandemic; make programs work better for children, families, and providers; and create a critical opportunity to advance equity. 

Establishing the Early Learning Authority will streamline the administration of child care and early learning by housing Oregon’s child care subsidy program, Employment Related Day Care (ERDC), with other early learning and child care programs.

It will also shift ERDC into a child care assistance program that better serves low-income families, and creates more financial stability for child care business owners and educators 一 especially Black, Native, women of color and other women 一 who perform this essential work.

 

Early Childhood Advocacy

The Child Care for Oregon Coalition (CCFO) is leading advocacy efforts to build a comprehensive child care system in Oregon and HB 3073 is a top priority. 

Oregon’s Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) collaborates with and supports CCFO’s leadership and vision to build a universal, publicly-funded child care system in Oregon that is equitable, affordable, culturally-relevant, inclusive, developmentally appropriate, safe and community-led. Both the CCFO and ECC have made a commitment to be guided by the experiences of Black, Native, and families of color; and families and providers historically excluded from policy and budget decisions. 

With HB 3073, Oregon is well-positioned to provide a model for how to transform early childhood governance, improve the delivery of services to children and families, and better support child care providers.

 

RAPID-EC Survey Highlights Challenges for Families During COVID-19

RAPID-EC Survey Highlights Challenges for Families During COVID-19

New data from the RAPID-EC Project (Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development-Early Childhood) highlights the challenges families with young children face during the COVID-19 pandemic. “How Are Our Children? Updates and Policy Implications from the RAPID-EC Surveys,” explores how financial hardships as a result of the pandemic impact the well-being of caregivers and the emotional health of young children.

RAPID-EC Survey

Launched in April 2020, RAPID-EC is an ongoing, nationally representative survey of households with children ages 0-5. The survey focuses on five key topics including parent emotional well-being, child emotional well-being, material hardship, child care, and issues related to pediatric health care.

Led by Dr. Philip Fisher from the University of Oregon, the survey aims to collect essential information on the needs and well-being of children and their families impacted by the pandemic; and provide ideas about how policymakers and advocates should respond to these issues.

To date, more than 9,000 parents and caregivers have participated in the survey from all 50 states and their responses tell a clear story: families with young children are struggling to meet their most basic needs like housing, food, and utilities.

This is especially true for low-income households and families of color. Disparities based on income, race and ethnicity, and family structure have widened considerably during the pandemic. There are higher levels of hardship and stress in Black, Latinx, and single-parent households and in households where a child has a disability.

A Chain Reaction of Hardship

RAPID-EC reveals compelling data about the experiences of families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 42% of households are worried about paying for at least one basic need like food, rent or utilities
  • 52% of children within families with financial hardship are facing emotional distress
  • 47% of parents may not be able to return to work due to lack of child care
  • 60% of Black, Latinx, and single-parent households report difficulty paying for rent, utilities and/or food

Researchers also found that parents who report that they are having difficulties paying for basic needs in a given week also report higher levels of distress in follow-up surveys. This pervasive struggle to meet material needs leads to a sequence of events that the RAPID-EC team describes as a “chain reaction of hardship,” which filters down from caregivers and causes emotional distress among children.

Policy Responses to Support Children and Families

The RAPID-EC team’s overall policy recommendations focus on continued financial support to families, addressing racial inequalities, and supporting a range of child care options for parents and caregivers. These are issues that Oregon’s Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) addresses in its 2021 legislative agenda. Specifically, the coalition advocates for programs that support families and communities, such as investing in strong Early Learning Hubs and affordable housing, and strengthening support networks for families of children with disabilities.

Researchers from the RAPID-EC Project also suggest using data to support equitable policies that target families and communities most impacted by the pandemic, as well as gathering new data to create sustainable resources in the future.

 

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