“My one wish is that people would ask us what our true costs were, rather than telling us what the grant amount is.”
– Program Director
“What kind of child care do we need? We have new arrivals, people born and raised in Georgia, people who moved from other states. There is not a one-size-fits-all. For me, I want quality child care for the hours I work. For a new immigrant mom, she might want to stay at home and have a few hours to get something done.”
These were just a couple of the quotes I jotted down on the recent Alliance for Early Success site visit to Clarkston, Georgia. The “Beneficiary Visit,” organized by Sherri Stewart at the BUILD Initiative and local partners in Clarkston, was designed to help early childhood advocates learn new strategies for listening and learning from beneficiary communities to inform policymaking.
Clarkston, Georgia, has been called the most diverse square mile in America. The community has a significant commitment to refugee resettlement that brings thousands of residents from across the globe to their small town each year. Community leaders and members acknowledged that this diversity presented some challenges in their goal to ensure that all children and families had what they needed to get settled and thrive, but they also showed us it can be a strength. As an example, when one person who worked at an early childhood program was asked how they enroll families who speak so many different languages, she replied, “Our families are very kind to each other, so someone who refers a family might also help them understand the process for enrolling.”
On the visit, early childhood advocates from across the United States had the opportunity to visit incredible early learning programs in Clarkston. Programs visited were Scottdale Early Learning, Inc., Clarkston Library, Giselle Academy, Ethne Community Health Clinic, and Early Learning Scholars. (We also were treated to delicious meals at Kathmandu Kitchen & Grill and Amani Women’s Center!) These programs were each rich and unique, but they held some common elements. Parents and staff agreed that the community’s diversity was a strength and helped their children build empathy and cross-cultural understanding. Program staff and leadership were continuously working to adjust their practice to be responsive to the community’s needs.
More important than the details of how these programs worked and how they were funded in Georgia was how we, as early childhood advocates, approached the visit with a true listening ear. Under the wise guidance of Sherri Stewart, advocates were encouraged to practice:
- Asking straightforward questions.
- Capturing quotes from residents.
I found these seemingly simple practices forced me to slow down and be a better listener. They made me realize I too often ask the questions I want to ask, leading to the policy solutions I think are best. My notes from conversations in my home state are too often my internal brainstorm for how to fix the things I identify as challenges. Instead, more open-ended questions and more patience in identifying possible policy responses to what we hear will likely lead to better system responses more grounded in the day to day realities of parents and providers.
As a follow-up to this visit, Stewart is talking with each of the participants on the visit to determine if we can take the lessons from this experience into beneficiary visits in our home states. BUILD has developed a Beneficiary Visit Protocol for us to use as a guide.
While I hammer away in my office trying to crack the nut on how to lift up an early childhood workforce that reflects the diversity of young children, a recently immigrated mom in Clarkston has been patiently waiting to share with someone, “I had a certificate in child development in Syria.” The solutions are among us. We just have to remember the importance of deep listening before jumping to policy solutions.
Dana Hepper, Director of Policy & Advocacy
Children’s Institute (Oregon)