Local Leader Spotlight

movementforchildcare.org | March 14, 2019

Tell us more about the organization that you work with. What is its mission and how do you go about accomplishing it?
Every Child Matters works to make children’s issues a nation-wide priority, specifically through nonpartisan electoral engagement. It’s why we say, “Vote For Kids!” I am the Iowa Program Manager, and my specialty is getting candidates for elected office on the record about how they’ll invest in kids (and educate them, if necessary!) by following them on the campaign trail and inviting them to meet with us. I also co-chair Iowa’s Children’s Policy Coalition, a group of almost 30 state-based organizations that represent the needs of kids and working families across the state. As Iowa is first-in-the-nation during presidential elections, I have great opportunities – and a great responsibility – to capitalize on the attention we get from the campaigns and the media to spotlight our issues.

How did you become involved in child care and early education work?
As I transitioned to ECM at the start of the 2015 Caucus season, I had just completed an AmeriCorps term with our city’s Community Action Agency. I saw families on a daily basis coming in to apply for our crisis assistance programs with their young children in tow. It struck me that parents weren’t choosing this; their kids had no other place to go. Child care was out of their reach, unattainable for a variety of reasons. For me, this illustrated the very basic principle that every child deserves to have a safe, quality space to play, learn, interact with peers, and just be a kid. It didn’t surprise me when child care and early learning became a major focus for us, and thus I most often spoke with candidates about the need for affordable, accessible child care for all.

What is the current state of child care and early education in your state and/or community?
Iowa tops the list of states for the number of kids under 6 that have all available parents in the workforce. Unfortunately, this hasn’t translated into considering child care a vital workforce support. We are at the bottom of the list for the eligibility threshold for child care assistance, and with a low state-wide minimum wage, any increase in income means the child care cliff is steep. This is especially problematic as we also make the list of states where child care costs more than college tuition. And even if families can afford care, finding it is another challenge. Almost a quarter of all Iowans live in a child care desert, not counting our (majority) rural areas where slots are even sparser (37%).

What is at the top of your agenda and what actions are you undertaking to accomplish these goals?
Going into the 2019 Iowa Caucuses and 2020 Presidential election, we want to see all candidates recognize the many needs of kids and working families by making children’s issues a priority on their platforms. Our main task: invite all candidates to meet with us and other advocates to educate them on the issues and hear their plans. We’ll engage the media, develop digital resources, and utilize social media to organize and share candidate responses. Ultimately, we want our followers/caucus-goers/voters to feel they can make an informed decision on the best candidate – in their view – to support kids and families, and then caucus in February and vote in November!

Tell us about a recent success you’ve had.
In the 2018 midterm election, we were able to meet and have roundtable discussions with the Children’s Policy Coalition and five of our gubernatorial candidates. We also received responses to our child-policy questionnaire from our two major party gubernatorial candidates and one of our 3rd District congressional candidates. Later, during the first gubernatorial debate, the child care cliff was brought up by the candidates and both agreed it needs to be addressed!

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned that you would share with other community leaders?
Many candidates and elected officials won’t have an answer about any given issue for you on the spot. It can be really disheartening to ask a candidate where they stand or what they plan to do about child care, etc., and get a vague answer or even “I don’t know.” I’ve been there, more times than I would like. But that just means there’s opportunity for education. As advocates, we have the expertise – so we need to communicate what we know!

What do you want your elected officials to know about child care and early education in your community?
Our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle have been making workforce and rural revitalization a major focus, aiming to invest in job skills/training and education. There’s been very little consideration to other workforce barriers; it’s pretty logical that regardless of the level of training or education one has, parents need a place for their children to go while they are on the job. Any workforce initiative or plan to make our rural communities stronger isn’t complete or effective until child care is addressed and truly seen as a necessary workforce support. Additionally, the continued funding cuts to our universities means less resources for early education programs, increasing the shortage of early learning professionals, further decreasing the number of child care slots, making it difficult for parents to stay in the workforce, and ultimately perpetuating this vicious cycle.

What do you like to do for fun?
I’m definitely a binge-watcher and get really invested in whatever show I’m watching! I also love reading – my most recent great read, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Seriously, check it out!

What is your favorite children’s book?
Chica Chica Boom Boom! I was obsessed with it as a kid! Something about the personification of numbers was really cool.

What do you think needs to change in this country to make affordable, high-quality child care and early education a reality?
I spend a lot of time figuring out what tactic or angle or message works best to make a candidate or elected official understand, pay attention, and take action on an issue. I almost exclusively frame child care and early learning as a workforce issue right now, because it’s what has been effective (the return-on-investment fact, not so much). But that’s not how it should be! We should all care about early learning because we should care about kids, period! We need a fundamental shift in thinking about what the role the government has to play in the well-being of our children. When we can all agree that investments in our children are in the best interest of our citizens and our nation, I think we can get there.

This interview was originally published at movementforchildcare.org.

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