by Amanda Kelkenberg, CEO
Imagine a community where every child is participating in a high-quality early learning program. Imagine a community where every family can afford to access that high-quality early learning program. Imagine a community where every early childhood professional earns a family-sustaining wage. This vision is a big one - but one that can be recognized through the power of advocacy.
Many early care and learning professionals get nervous when the word “advocacy” is mentioned. It seems intimidating. Some of us think that there are others more qualified to do that work. That we don’t – individually - have the power to influence local, state, or federal policies that increase supports to children, families, and the early childhood workforce. In reality, very little in our teacher training or credentialing really focuses or prepares us to fill that role.
So, what does it mean to be an early care and learning advocate? There are many right ways to engage in this work. Let’s look at a few things that you can do right now.
Inspire and Tell Your Story
If you care for and educate young children, you know exactly why early learning is so important. You see every day that quality early education matters, helping children grow to their full potential. Helping families work and achieve economic success. However, not everyone knows what you know. So create your story. Write down a few of the successes that you have observed as an early childhood professional. The child who now receives early intervention services and no longer has a speech delay. Or a parent who just received child care assistance and is working a full-time stable job. Now share that story with anyone who will listen – including your friends and families. You have the power to create more advocates and inspire others to share what they know.
There are many organizations that have resources to help you stay connected. The more you know about changing policies and new trends in the early childhood field, the more prepared you will feel and the better you will understand the impact these changes will have on you and the children and families you care for. Child Care Resource Network offers trainings on a regular basis that address changing regulations and policies that affect young children. AEYC of WNY is another local organization that has opportunities to learn about policies and trends in the field that will affect you. In addition to local resources, there are many other state and federal organizations designed to help you navigate through all of the information you need to know. Most are just a click away with great social media availability. Child Care Resource Network is active participants in many active groups and often share ways on both Facebook and Twitter that you can get involved. If you would like to stay up to date with information, like us on Facebook (@WNYchildren), follow us on Twitter (@WNYChildren) or simply join our mailing list. We are always sharing pertinent information on simple ways that you can get involved, and updates from the field.
There are also groups that need your voice to carry these critical messages to policy-makers and influencers at a local, state and federal level. Winning Beginning NYis a statewide coalition working to inform policymakers and the public about the many benefits of early care and learning for children from the prenatal period through age eight. Their priorities include high-quality afterschool, child care, early intervention, home visiting, and Pre-K. The coalition aims to build a broad-based constituency to make an investment in quality early care and learning a top public priority in New York State. New this year is the Empire State Child Care Campaign, a grassroots coalition of committed early childhood professionals and influencers, with the long-term goal to develop and implement a clear plan to provide equitable access to quality child care for all New York children and working families, and a family-sustaining income for child care providers.
You are the keeper of stories - your own story and the stories of the children and families that you care for. You have the ability to inspire and influence others with the knowledge that you hold in your head and your heart. You have the ability to impact the future of early childhood education today.