After a two-year hiatus, CONNECT returned in 2022. Allies from all 50 states united in Chicago for a long-awaited opportunity to share updates, strategies, and resources.
Keynote: Unlocking Power and Unleashing Promise with Dr. Somava Saha
CONNECT22 opened with a call to bridge the divides in our communities and to continue creating change even when change is hard. Dr. Somava Saha is the Founder and Executive Lead of We in the World, which advances intergenerational well-being and equity on a foundation of racial justice by changing minds, hearts, relationships, and systems. She shared how she works to unlock the hidden assets in every community by focusing on deeply held values and the promise of human potential.
Keynote: A Time for Boldness: How Nonprofit and Philanthropy Can Own Our Awesomeness and Unleash Our Full Potential to Create a Just and Equitable World with Vu Le
During these tumultuous years, nonprofit and philanthropy have served as a beacon of light and hope. At the same time, there are many problems we need to address. From society’s unrealistic expectations, to fraught relationships among different organizations, to the Great Resignation, to really crappy chairs. As we struggle to get back to some semblance of normality, what must we unlearn? How do we evolve our philosophies and practices and unlock our full potential to help advance an equitable world? Nonprofit AF’s irreverent and beloved commentator Vu Le challenged us to reimagine.
Expelling the Barriers: Building Adequate and Equitable Systems to Promote Social Emotional Well-Being in Early Childhood
Young children continue to face suspension and expulsion from early learning settings despite research showing this practice is developmentally inappropriate, adversely affects a child’s education and mental health, and perpetuates racial and gender inequities. Now more than ever, educators must have the right resources and tools to mitigate the social isolation and other negative impacts of the pandemic. This session focused on state policy opportunities to move away from exclusionary disciplinary practices, like suspension and expulsion, to approaches that create early learning environments that promote social emotional well-being in children. Attendees heard how Arkansas, Illinois, and Oregon are working to ensure equitable and adequate state systems to meet the needs of all children.
Inclusivity as the Norm: Removing Barriers and Sharing Power with Grassroots Partners at Policymaking and Advocacy Tables
Rochelle Wilcox, Wilcox Academy of Early Learning
Devonya Govan-Hunt, National Black Child Development Institute -Charlotte Affiliate
Shanda Sumpter, NC Child
Libbie Sonnier, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children
Early childhood advocacy organizations are frequently in positions of power. Their brands and credibility, built on years of policy, data, and research expertise, provide access to and influence with people who have political power. AND they are funded to advocate and sit at decision making tables. Those with lived experiences—parents, practitioners, and other community members—face real barriers to influence policy decisions and advocacy strategies because they have not been recognized as experts on the problems and solutions designed to support them. How can traditional advocates shift their practices to ensure parents and providers not only have seats at the table, but also the power and resources to be effective leaders? In this interactive discussion, state allies from Louisiana and North Carolina shared how they are making inclusivity the norm in advocacy.
Are the Kids Alright? Putting the ‘Historic Decline’ in Child Poverty in Context and Examining State Policy Levers to Support Families’ Economic Security
Ashley Burnside, CLASP
Elizabeth Jordan, Child Trends
Deborah Zysman, HCAN
Michelle Fay, Voices for VT Children
New research shows child poverty fell nearly 60 percent between 1993 and 2019. Then came a pandemic that threatened families’ economic security anew – and some families more than others. What has been the impact of federal relief policies designed to support families’ basic needs? And what state policies should we prioritize to support families’ economic security? Participants learned about the nuances and causes of the drop in child poverty, which families are disproportionately impacted by poverty, the pandemic, and public policy, and what their states are (and are not) doing to support families’ economic security. Two states shared their successful campaigns on tax credits, minimum wage, and cash assistance to spark a conversation on what policies could gain traction in the next state legislative session.
No Turning Back: Accelerating Political Momentum and Power for Child Care After Build Back Better
Brian Schmidt, Kids Win Missouri
Marina Marcou-O’Malley, AQE
Pete Nabozny, The Children’s Agenda
This session was designed for advocates still feeling down about the failure of the federal Build Back Better legislation and looking for some inspiration and concrete ideas to keep the momentum for transforming child care in their states. This session explored how two very different states, New York and Missouri, are planning to build on the policy successes and political momentum that resulted from the pandemic—with or without additional federal support. Through a series of interactive activities, participants had the chance to share their successes, hopes, and dreams for the future, including their policy and funding goals and their efforts to build more political power for child care.
Putting Equity at the Center of Compensation Strategies
Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, DC Action
Sherry Carlson, Let’s Grow Kids
Caitlin McLean, Center for the Study of Child Care Employment
What do compensation policies and advocacy strategies that prioritize equity look like? Recent state efforts, such as paying bonuses and developing salary scales, can perpetuate inequities or create new ones in the workforce—especially for those who are already marginalized by existing policies, such as BIPOC educators, home-based providers, and infant-toddler teachers. How state leaders develop these strategies can also be inequitable if they don’t meaningfully engage early childhood educators. This session reflected on the extent to which policies implemented or proposed in two states increase equity within the ECE workforce, what they could have done better, and what advocates in all states can do to advance more equitable strategies in the future.
Addressing Inequities in the Child Care System Through the Lens of Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care Providers
Mary Ignatius, Parent Voices California
Lorena Garcia, Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition
Shaun Ejah, Illinois Action for Children
Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) caregivers are largely overlooked in the child care system, rarely receiving equitable, if any, support. Panelists discussed how the legacy of racism affects FFN policies and advocacy, strategies that are rooted in anti-racist practices to support these caregivers, as well as wins and challenges from advocacy and policy efforts. Participants learned about the role of advocates in Colorado and Illinois in changing the narratives surrounding FFN child care providers.
Navigating Polarized Political Climates and Shifts in Party Control
Adrienne Olejnik, Kansas Action for Children
Christine Tiddens, Idaho Voices for Children
Karin Bowles, Virginia Early Childhood Foundation
Advocates increasingly report the need for a red strategy and a blue strategy, rather than a bipartisan strategy. As one state ally recently said, among policymakers “pragmatism is in retreat.” What is an advocate to do? How do you pivot in the moment, use limited resources to set up strategically for the long haul, lean deeper into partnerships, and hold tight to your values and transformative vision? Exactly one week after election day, participants discussed how to shift your advocacy strategies to maintain and grow your effectiveness given the new political realities in their states. Three states shared how they are adjusting strategies in the immediate-, medium-, and long-term to respond to the choppy political tides.
Maternal Health Advocacy: Building a Foundation for Child Health
Ealasha Vaughner, Clayton Early Learning
Ky Lindberg, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia
Kari King, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
Maggie Clark, Georgetown University Center for Children and Families
Data show that maternal mortality rates are higher among Black and Native American women regardless of income and educational levels, and Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic White women. Additionally, three out of five pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. We have reached a crisis level in this country, but we’ve also seen an unprecedented commitment to address the maternal health crisis at the federal level. This session focused on why maternal health is a critical issue for early childhood advocates, how state policy can improve maternal health, and the Alliance’s commitment to supporting state allies’ maternal advocacy work through a newly launched community of practice.
Film Screening: Clarissa’s Battle
CLARISSA’S BATTLE follows a tenacious single-mother and activist as she fights for accessible and affordable childcare and early education funding for all.
This 90-minute documentary shows what happens when a woman rises to grasp her strength to make a powerful change. Clarissa Doutherd suddenly found herself on the brink of homelessness after the birth of her son. Determined to put an end to this all-too-common cycle, she set out to lead a powerful coalition to advocate for universal childcare.
Her journey takes us from her hometown of Oakland, CA to Washington D.C., and the outcome of her campaign helps fuel a national movement.
The Alliance’s national allies shared their expertise and facilitated peer-to-peer discussions at roundtables on a variety of topics and issues.
Financing Strategies — Children’s Funding Project
Advocates in several states are using strategic financing tools to prepare for the post-American Rescue Plan Act funding cliff for early childhood (or just navigate exacerbated funding challenges). Topics covered included fiscal mapping, cost modeling, and strategies for securing additional funding for states’ early childhood goals.
State Legislator Engagement – Frontera Strategy
The November elections bring new legislators into state capitols, and new opportunities to cultivate champions. Participants learned and shared strategies on how to speak to new lawmakers about the importance of the early years, especially in conservative and rural districts.
PreK-3rd Strategies – Education Commission of the States and New America
Participants discussed the latest policy trends and state examples for aligning ECE and K-3 standards and practices, such as kindergarten transition, early literacy and numeracy, addressing disrupted learning, etc.
Federal Health Policy Strategies – Georgetown Center for Children and Families
The Build Back Better Act stalled but advocates are optimistic about passing federal policy to strengthen maternal and child health access to care by the end of 2022. This was a discussion about opportunities for movement on federal health policy issues like permanent CHIP funding and mandatory 12-month continuous eligibility for children, and strategies for state advocates to influence federal policymakers.
North Lawndale Chicago History Tour
Chicago public historian and internet sensation Sherman “Dilla” Thomas shared the storied history of the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago and showed us around. Though the neighborhood bears the marks of redlining and other destructive policy, the West Side’s North Lawndale is home to historic Douglas Park, the original Sears Tower, and a legacy that includes a rich Jewish history and the impact left by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.