ZERO TO THREE Report Outlines Key ways that States are Addressing Bias and Equity in Policy

ZERO TO THREE Report Outlines Key ways that States are Addressing Bias and Equity in Policy

We know that the first five years of a child’s life are foundational for healthy brain growth and development. Before age five, a child’s brain makes one million new neural connections per second! We also know that racial and economic injustice begin to affect a child’s life before birth, which is why early childhood is such an important time to eliminate disparities based on race, ethnicity, income, geography, disability, language, immigrant and refugee status, houselessness and foster care.

A new report from ZERO TO THREE explores some of the key ways that states across the US are addressing bias and equity. Below are some of the major takeaways from the report, outlining what states are doing to center racial equity in state early childhood policies. 

Thoughtful collection and use of data

  • Data collection must focus on identifying and addressing challenges in reporting on children and families in all racial and ethnic groups, including communities that have been under-reported because of smaller population size. 

  • Data collection must be committed to equity and recognize the experiences of all babies, young children, and families especially from communities who have been overburdened, and under-resourced, and historically excluded from data.

Lifting up family and provider voices

  • The policymaking process fails to center those who are most directly impacted by policy decisions, which reinforces current and historical inequities grounded in systemic racism. 

  • Families and child care providers are the experts in their own experiences and know what they need; it is crucial that they are recognized for their expertise, based on their lived experience. 

Policies to increase equity

  • California’s Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act was the first legislation of its kind in the US, requiring implicit bias training for all health care professionals working in perinatal services. It also required states to track outcomes for pregnant women, and mandated hospitals and birthing centers to provide information on how patients could file discrimination complaints. 

Additional Resources


Building Relationships and Community through Storytelling, with Dr. Johnny Lake

Building Relationships and Community through Storytelling, with Dr. Johnny Lake

Join us Sundays at 4:30pm for new episodes of The Early Link Podcast. Listen live at 99.1 FM in the heart of Portland – or online anywhere at

This week, host Rafael Otto speaks with Dr. Johnny Lake, an international consultant and trainer on community-building, equity, diversity and leadership with a focus on what youth need, and what our education systems need to better serve students and young people. His scholarship has focused on diversity, race and culture, and personal and organizational growth. And he is a writer and a storyteller who uses story to build relationships.  


In addition to the credentials above, Dr. Johnny Lake consults with government, professional and educational agencies and organizations. He is an administrator on special assignment with the Eugene 4J school district and an advocate for needs of at-risk youth and provides teacher training institutes and student learning and leadership opportunities. In addition, Dr. Lake is an internationally recognized writer and storyteller. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Willamette University, has a Masters in educational leadership and administration, and received his Ph.D. in educational leadership, policy, management and organization. Dr. Lake is also a former chairman of the State of Oregon Commission on Black Affairs.


Dr. Lake opens by sharing stories about his childhood growing up in Tennessee, in particular how his grandmother helped him to realize his true potential. Then, he recalls some of the awkward conversations regarding race that crossed his path upon his move to Oregon more than 3o years ago. Next, he touches on some of tools he uses (especially storytelling) to truly connect and explore diversity, equity and inclusion with the school communities he works with. Among those being Yoncalla, a small rural, predominantly white town here in Oregon. He then talks about the integral role of the teacher in the measured success of the child, some of the essentials of that relationship, and ultimately how this could create ample institutional change.  Dr. Lake concludes with what he hopes will change in the next 30 years, and what it would look like if we truly made progress on equity in the education environment. 

Additional Resources:

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Ed and within the classroom

Preparing Staff for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Diversity and Inclusion in K-12 Education


[00:00:00] Rafael Otto: Welcome to the Early Link Podcast. I’m Rafael Otto. Thanks for listening. You can always catch us on 99.1 FM in the Portland Metro on Sundays at 4:30pm or tune in at your convenience, wherever you find your podcasts, including iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

Today, I’m speaking with Dr. Johnny Lake, an international consultant and trainer on community building, equity, diversity, and leadership, with a focus on what youth need and what our education systems need to better serve students and young people. His scholarship has focused on diversity, race and culture and personal and organizational growth. And he is a writer and a storyteller who uses story to build relationships. Johnny, welcome to the podcast today.

[00:00:42] Johnny Lake: Thank you Rafael. I’ve been looking forward to this.

[00:00:45] Rafael Otto: It’s great to have you, I’m looking forward to the conversation. I thought you could start with… because I know your work is grounded in story, and if you could start with the story about how and where you grew up and what education was like at that time.

[00:01:01] Johnny Lake: Yes. I grew up in Tennessee, a small town, about 60 miles from Memphis. I grew up where racial segregation was the norm. I’m actually old enough that I was in racially segregated schools for my first four years where everybody was Black. Teachers were Black. Principal was Black. Janitor was Black. PE teacher was Black. Everybody was Black. So, questions about race, especially compared to white people, didn’t even come up because the white school, about a mile away, had all white kids, all white teachers, everything else. My whole family had attended those same schools, where the books we had were the throw away books from the white school.

We never got new books. We got the books that had been discarded. I talked to my auntie who was 90 some years old, and I asked her about schools and she says, ” They didn’t give us money for schools.” I said, “They didn’t give you money. How did you have schools?” She said, “We donated money and hired a teacher for our children.”

I said, “What about books, auntie?” And she gave me another incredulous look, “Books?” she said, “They didn’t ever give us books either baby.” I said, “Where did you get books, auntie?” She said when they throw away the books at the white school, the shoe man downtown would collect the discarded books. And she says the Black people would go downtown to the shoe man to buy books for their children.

Earl Boyles’ Neighborhood Center Nurtures Community and Connection

Earl Boyles’ Neighborhood Center Nurtures Community and Connection

In 2010, Earl Boyles became the first site for Children’s Institute’s community-centered Early Works initiative, an approach to early learning and healthy development built on partnerships, innovation, and engaged families. From the beginning, the goal was to provide high-quality early learning opportunities for young children before they started kindergarten, alongside meaningful support for parents and families before and during elementary school.  

Early Works also sought to enrich the school community by bringing together existing community resources through the Neighborhood Center, a full-service resource hub for children and their families, which is housed inside of the school. 

Prior to Early Works, Earl Boyles was a designated SUN school. SUN, an acronym for Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, is an Multnomah County initiative focused mainly on providing wrap-around support for school-aged children. While SUN partners were a key part of developing the vision for the Neighborhood Center, the Early Works initiative specifically focuses on the needs of young children, birth to three. Working together, the partnership was able to reach a broader base of families with existing resources. 

Today, building on the partnerships and services supported by Early Works and the SUN program, the Neighborhood Center works to connect families with services, ensuring that child health, development, and learning are connected to the school beginning at birth. SUN community school manager, Erika Hernandez, explained the Neighborhood Center’s approach to connect families with services, and how Early Works helps in facilitating partnerships.



“We have a very proactive relationship with our preschool and early learning partners. We want to start developing relationships with families before their kids start school, and to make the Neighborhood Center accessible,” explained Hernandez. 

“Some of the babies in our play groups have older siblings at the school, too. So, it’s really about knowing the whole family, and without the playgroups or being an Early Works school, we might not see so much of that. This really gives us the chance to know the entire family,” she said.

During the initial implementation of Early Works going back a decade, a community needs assessment was a crucial first step in building a program that would provide families with what they needed, in their own words.

To do this, Children’s Institute partnered with researchers from Portland State University (PSU) to collect data and facilitate listening sessions. The results ultimately paved the way for the birth of the Neighborhood Center in 2015. 

Beth Green, director of early childhood and family support research at PSU, was the lead researcher for the first community needs assessment. Green explained, “The Neighborhood Center came out of a recognition that high-quality early preschool helps children develop skills and it’s really necessary, but not sufficient, for ensuring long-term outcomes for kids.” She added, “If you really want to continue to support them academically, and socially-emotionally, you need to make sure their families’ basic needs are getting met.”

Now, the Neighborhood Center is a collective of parents, service providers, community organizations, early learning partners, and policy and advocacy groups, working together to support child development and nurture healthy, stable families. It offers resource connection for families seeking rent and utilities assistance, basic necessities, systems navigation, parent education opportunities, and access to community health workers.


Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy at Children’s Institute, reflected on how the school continues to support early childhood development by supporting families. “At Earl Boyles, we start at birth, knowing that families look to their neighborhood school for a range of support,” she said. “Creating a school as a hub with services beginning at birth helps create strong pathways to support children’s health and well-being. We know that engaging families and supporting their needs is also critical to ensure their children thrive.”

Because of Earl Boyles’ unique partnership with Children’s Institute, and being an Early Works site, the school has built a culture derived from the perspectives of families, and has the ability to respond directly to the community’s needs. And as the community continues to pivot in response to an evolving pandemic landscape, so too, does the Neighborhood Center.

The staff has continued to support children and families through direct services through what they call Care and Connect Team referrals, which include a food pantry, emergency food boxes, and housing and utility assistance. 

Earl Boyles principal, Ericka Guynes, spoke to the ongoing impact that the Neighborhood Center has had on the school community, children and their families during the pandemic: “Even though we were not able to be in person, the case management and support continued. We were able to coordinate with our partners to continue to serve our community to support their needs.” 

“The Earl Boyles Neighborhood Center has continued to support our community throughout this challenging time,” she said, “and it shows what a community school can look like when everyone pulls together to make sure kids and families thrive.”

2021 Legislative Report

2021 Legislative Report


During the 2021 legislative session, many Oregon legislators worked collaboratively with the Early Childhood Coalition and early childhood advocates to center racial equity and pass early childhood policies that seek to eliminate inequities for young children and families. This year, we celebrated several policy wins, with the 2021 session laying the foundation to advance racial equity in early childhood, expand early childhood investments, strengthen the child care system, and invest in families and communities. Big takeaways from this session included the Oregon legislature passing an Oregon Department of Education Grant in Aid budget that provided funding increases for many of the priorities listed on the ECC’s 2021 legislative agenda, such as creating a tribal early learning hub, reforming Oregon’s child care subsidy system, and passing bills to prevent and eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education programs.



Bills that Passed
Bills that didn't pass

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Bills that were partially funded

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Legislative Champions

We want to publicly thank Governor Kate Brown and several Oregon legislators who championed early childhood policies, acting as chief sponsors for many of the ECC legislative priorities, carrying these bills on the House and Senate floor, and speaking publicly in support to ensure that the bills made progress over the course of the legislative session.

We also want to thank lawmakers who spoke in support of early childhood policies that they felt passionately about during floor votes. These legislators also spoke at hearings and worked behind the scenes to ensure bills moved forward, even if they were not carrying or sponsoring a bill. 

“Kids with disabilities don’t need to be someplace else, kids with disabilities need to be exactly where all the other students are.” Explained Senator Sara Gelser, during her testimony in support of SB 236. “Students of color are disproportionately, inappropriately funneled into special education programs which means that students of color who are disabled are doubly impacted by these discriminatory practices. Finally, the description of these issues to say, ‘it’s not racism, it’s their disability,’ is fundamentally just as wrong,” she said.

[Insert smaller pictures of: Reps. Alonso Leon, Bynum, Fahey, Lively, Levy and Sen. Gelser] 

Finally, we would like to appreciate the members of the Early Childhood Committee, who worked tirelessly to make young children and their families a priority this session; and the members of the BIPOC Caucus, who elevated early childhood as one key element to advancing racial justice for all Oregonians. 

[Insert list of names only (no photos) for House Early Childhood Committee and BIPOC Caucus]


Governor Kate Brown’s words this session reflected an urgency to pass early childhood policies that will help to create a more equitable early childhood system.

“Access to education plays a vital role in ensuring that our children and students from our communities that have been historically underserved receive services they need to reach their full potential,” she said. “Now, more than ever, it is critical that we take action to meet the social and emotional needs of children.”

Funding Relief Nurseries is an Investment in Families and Communities

Funding Relief Nurseries is an Investment in Families and Communities

Oregon Relief Nurseries provide critical support to families with young children ages 0-5. They currently serve about 3,500 young children throughout the state and are an integral part of Oregon’s early childhood system. The Relief Nursery model is nationally-recognized and unique to Oregon, focusing on the specific issues of children from families experiencing multiple stressors, trauma and abuse, or families that are at-risk of having these experiences. These complex challenges put families at an increased risk of becoming involved in the child welfare system. To prevent this, Relief Nurseries provide tools and resources so families can strengthen parent-child bonds, establish healthy patterns, and build protective factors.

“Our vision is that all children in Oregon thrive in safe, nurturing and stable families,” explained Cara Copeland, executive director of the Oregon Association of Relief Nurseries (OARN). “The Relief Nursery model has over forty years of success in strengthening families and keeping children safe from maltreatment and unnecessary foster care.” 

Unfortunately, low wages for direct service staff have put these programs in a precarious situation, putting Oregon children and families at-risk of losing needed services. One of the biggest hurdles facing Relief Nurseries today is a glaring pay gap, when compared to other salaries in the early childhood sector. While Oregon has made some progress by raising wages for early childhood direct service staff in other early childhood programs, such as Early Head Start and Oregon Pre-Kindergarten, wages for Relief Nursery staff fall short. This results in recruiting challenges, high staff turnover, a reduction in services, and disrupts relationships with families and children. 

According to OARN, the average Relief Nursery teacher/home visitor would need a 19 percent wage increase to meet the Early Learning Council minimum salaries for early childhood educators.

During the 2021 legislative session, one of the Early Childhood Coalition’s (ECC) legislative priorities was to expand early childhood investments. This included providing wage parity for Relief Nurseries, with OARN as lead advocate. OARN and the ECC requested $4.8 million from the Oregon Legislature to increase Relief Nursery wages and maintain levels of service. Ultimately, Oregon’s Relief Nurseries received partial funding.

“We received $2 million of our request and will continue to fight for those dollars,” said Copeland. “The consequence of not having these funds is fewer families served and staff being recruited out of our programs to partner services. The turnover and transition of staff have negative consequences on children and families currently receiving services as well because they often drop out of services when a beloved home visitor or teacher leaves.”

Relief Nursery staff are critical in shaping the future for children, families, and communities. With the early years being such an important time for brain development, Relief Nurseries are essential for thousands of young children in Oregon.

Central Oregon Spotlight: MountainStar Relief Nursery

MountainStar Relief Nursery is just one of 38 Relief Nurseries in Oregon, serving young children and families in Bend, Madras, Prineville, Redmond, and La Pine. Families in MountainStar’s programs join voluntarily, often connecting to the program by word of mouth, but they may also be referred by doctors, social workers, and partner agencies. 

Kara Tachikawa, executive director of MountainStar, attended the ECC’s advocacy kick-off event in May. She subsequently met with lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session, providing testimony in support of raising wages for Relief Nursery teachers, home visitors and support staff. 

This summer, CI staff visited MountainStar at the East Bend Campus and toured the building, which actually houses multiple organizations that also serve children, youth, and families. We learned that this co-location provides convenience, allowing families to access more services in one place, and promotes collaboration and partnership between like-minded nonprofit agencies. Healthy Families of the High Desert, the Central Oregon branch of Healthy Families Oregon, is one such program that shares space in the building and partners with MountainStar to reach more families.


While there, we learned that in September 2020, MountainStar opened three Preschool Promise classrooms in Bend, Madras, and Prineville to provide more high-quality, publicly funded preschool for low to moderate-income families. Their goal is to provide early intervention so children are safe and healthy, build parental resilience, and strengthen families through integrated early childhood education and therapeutic support services. 

Healthy Families of the High Desert

Healthy Families of the High Desert is a program through Healthy Families Oregon. It is a voluntary home visiting program that provides support and education to families expecting or parenting newborns. The program offers weekly home visits for families that need and want some extra help, and partners with MountainStar to reach more families with young children.
An image of the building that houses MountainStar Relief Nursery
A photo of a classroom at MountainStar Relief Nursery

Looking Ahead

Since the Oregon Legislature concluded in June, Relief Nursery programs are now moving towards implementation. At MountainStar, Kara Tachikawa remarked that she is hopeful about successfully navigating the season of change, as the program is expecting staffing changes, solidifying programs, and looking to expand services over the next three years. 

As for the near future, she said, “We’re excited to move back into our regular services for therapeutic classrooms and to return to in-home visiting with families. We know that these connections provide the basis for positive social-emotional development for the children, and the support that families need to make it through the challenging, precious, irreplaceable time of raising young children.”

Additional Resources


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