“I consider myself an advocate for providers and families. I am here to be the voice from the field.” Family child care provider Lottie Brown speaks to policymakers at a national conference.

114“I live for the lightbulb moments”

Lottie Brown, a nationally accredited family child care provider and owner of Krayola Park in New Haven, has worked in the field of education for more than twenty years. She was inspired to start Krayola Park while working for the New Haven Board of Education as a preschool teacher. During that time, she realized that many children in the community were experiencing trauma before the age of three. Determined to intervene, Lottie decided to become a family child care provider, working with infants, toddlers, and their families in a more intimate way in order to combat early childhood trauma and facilitate healthy development.

Ask Lottie about Krayola Park, and her passion is evident: “I live for the light bulb moments—the moments when I see a child connect something they have heard before with something new. It’s a beautiful process and it is one of the many joys of this work.” Like many family child care providers, Lottie knows that the work of early childhood education is a holistic process. Her mission extends beyond the learning that happens within the walls of Krayola Park. It is about the wellbeing of the child, the family, and the community. It is this approach to her work that makes Lottie a gifted educator and a natural leader; she goes above and beyond for those around her, lifting up children, families, and fellow providers as a result. With extensive early childhood experience, a knack for public speaking, and a passion for advocacy and storytelling, Lottie is well-positioned to elevate the field.

“I am here to be the voice from the field”

41394980_376016009601784_1023187438996029440_n (1)That’s how on Thursday, August 9, Lottie became a panelist at the federal Office of Child Care’s annual State and Territory Administrators Meeting (STAM) in Arlington, Virginia. STAM brings together child care subsidy administrators from across the country to network, participate in peer discussions, share best practices, and attend presentations, all with the goal of improving child care systems and supporting the success of young children, their caregivers, and their families. And this year, administrators were eager to hear directly from child care providers themselves.

The plenary session, “A Peek Inside the Private Business of Child Care,” was designed to help child care subsidy administrators understand the impact of subsidy decisions on child care businesses. Lottie was invited to share the family child care perspective. “I consider myself an advocate for children, providers, and families. My home is their home away from home. I am here to be the voice from field,” Lottie opened. Along with fellow panelists she made the case that instability in child care subsidy programs destabilizes child care businesses; and in family child care, the provider often absorbs the resulting financial loss herself. “I took another job when Connecticut’s subsidy program shut down for 15 months. Even though it meant long hours and late nights, I wanted to make sure that families who relied on subsidy assistance could still access my program,” Lottie shared.

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The plenary session touched on many important topics, from the impact of the new federal requirements to reimbursement rates to parent education. One question centered on ways that states can invest subsidy money for maximum impact. Lottie’s answer resonated strongly with the audience. “Invest in organizations, like All Our Kin, that are in a supporting role and can bridge the gap between providers and state regulators. These support systems are critical for making family child care providers feel comfortable in allowing someone into their home, knowing that person is there to partner with them in their success, rather than monitor them.” Attendees saw this as a concrete strategy to take back to their home states.

In all, the plenary session was a huge success. One attendee remarked that it was the best plenary session throughout his years attending STAM. Reflecting on the event, Lottie said, “After the National Association for Family Child Care conference earlier this year, I set a goal for myself to talk to more people in power about how to support family child care. At STAM, I had the opportunity to do that, and to make sure that the voice of family child care was heard. I’m honored to have been included in the conversation.”

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All Our Kin celebrates community building, social justice, and self-care at our largest conference yet!

By Liam Arnade-Colwill, All Our Kin intern

“One hour, once a month, for one year, ask yourself: what can I do to help myself and my community?” -Alika Hope, founder of the Ray of Hope Project

AOK Photo 2Our 13th Annual Conference marked the largest gathering in All Our Kin’s history, bringing together over 250 family child care providers and forty staff members for a day of networking, learning, reflection, and celebration. The conference was held on Saturday, June 2nd at the University of Bridgeport, where family child care professionals from across Connecticut were joined, for the first time, by providers from our newest network in New York City!

dixonThe theme of this year’s conference, The Power of Community, encouraged providers, who are leaders in their programs and their communities, to create change through collective action. In line with this theme, the morning began with a keynote speech from T. Morgan Dixon, a social justice activist and co-founder of GirlTrek: a national health movement that “activates thousands of black women to be change makers in their lives and communities” through daily exercise. Reflecting on the importance of mental and physical wellbeing to sustained investment in the wellbeing of others, Dixon asked providers to support each other in their efforts to lead healthier lives. “I’m here to talk about radical self-care,” she said, “because I want you all to be here for a very long time. Because the kids need you.”

t. morgan dixonIn addition to underscoring how Girltrek brings communities together to spotlight Black women’s health, Dixon built on the energy, approach, and legacy of the civil rights movement to demonstrate how community is a driving force in advancing social justice. Drawing on the example of nineteenth-century abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who led thousands of African-Americans to freedom on the Underground Railroad, Dixon reminded the audience that “when Black women walk, things change.” Furthermore, Dixon highlighted how Tubman not only had to “save herself first,” but also “rally her allies” in the fight for freedom from slavery. The message was clear: we must rely not just on our own strength, but also the collective strength of many if we hope to better our health, our country, and our global community.

AOK Photo 4Following the keynote, Constance Segovia, the owner and creative director of VEO VEO –  a bilingual design and visual note-taking practice – and Alike Hope, the founder and primary vocalist of the Ray of Hope Project – a performance group that incorporates African-American spirituals and songs with live music into their participatory programs in schools, museums, and libraries across the US – facilitated roundtable discussions. The discussions opened space for providers to reflect on the meaning of community and to connect with each other in new and exciting ways. Providers were asked to communicate without words, creating visual demonstrations of the diversity and power of our family child care network while sharing moments of laughter, friendship, and understanding.

AOK workshopAfter lunch, family child care providers participated in a variety of interactive workshops, from Why Culture Matters: Strengthening Early Development Through Culturally Responsive Practice to A Community within a Community: Strategies for Successful and Supportive Parent-Provider Relationships. The workshops were led by instructors with expertise in both early childhood education and adult learning. Several of these instructors were All Our Kin staff members, while others were family child care providers in the All Our Kin network, bringing their firsthand experience creating high-quality learning opportunities for children in home-based settings.

end AOKAt the end of the day, conference participants left with much more than professional development; they departed with a vision of caregiving centered in balance, wellness, community, and love. As All Our Kin continues to grow, the power of our family child care community will grow in turn. We look forward to seeing the continued impact of our family child care providers as they work, year after year, to create equitable opportunities for all children and families. As All Our Kin CEO, Jessica Sager, said in her morning address, “Thank you for changing the world of today and the world of tomorrow.”  

Our sincerest gratitude to All Our Kin’s Dana Holahan and Kim Braun, without whom the conference would not have been possible. Thank you as well to the University of Bridgeport for hosting the conference, family child care providers Pauline Robinson-Brown (Laila’s Lighthouse Daycare), Maria Carrillo (Pili’s Day Care), Gamila Elbashir (WeEduCare Academy), and Hansi Ortiz (Shalom Family Day Care) for their workshop leadership, and to the volunteers, stakeholders, and friends who helped along the way.

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Outdoor play isn’t just fun–it’s important to children’s growth and development!

By Monica Edgerton and Angela Engborg, All Our Kin Garden Consultants

Spring is finally here, and it’s a great time to get children outside! At All Our Kin, we know that nature plays an important role in a child’s physical, social/emotional, and cognitive development. We also know that nature-based education can be a powerful tool to connect children and families to fresh, nutritious foods. That’s why we established the Garden Project, a two-year enrichment opportunity designed to enhance family child care programs’ outdoor curriculum, promote healthy eating, and encourage outdoor exercise.

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Through the Garden Project, family child care providers work with All Our Kin staff to build raised vegetable garden beds in their own backyards. Providers also receive regular visits from an educational consultant, who helps them learn how to garden and coaches around using the outdoors as an educational tool. As a result, children, from a very young age, gain valuable nature-based learning experiences and are introduced to fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. And the impact on family child care programs, and the children and families they serve, is long-lasting.

Years after participation in the Garden Project, Gamila, a family child care educator in West Haven, continues to incorporate a strong garden curriculum in her program. Every year, she engages the families in her program, assigning them a garden plot and allowing them to choose the types of seeds they would like to plant. Parents and their children 133.JPGgarden together, doing the watering and harvesting during drop-off and pick-up times. For Gamila’s program, the importance of the garden extends beyond the experience for the children: the garden builds community, it facilitates a two-generation learning experience, and it provides an additional food source for families.

Garden Project participants like Gamila know what journalist and author Richard Louv writes about at length–that allowing children to learn about, grow in, and explore nature is imperative to their wellbeing. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv compiles research on children who are allowed to play freely in nature, noting that “Children used more fantasy play, and their social standing became based less on physical abilities and more on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness.” In other publications, he explores the often missing “vitamin N” as he calls it, referring to exposure to nature. The overarching theme of his work resonates with the mission of our Garden Project: that time spent in nature has broad implications for the wellbeing of children, communities, and humanity.

With all that said, spring is a great time to get children outside to enjoy the warmer8-29-2014 014 weather and explore nature. Here are a few of our go-to tips for successful outdoor play:

  • Bring plenty of water and delicious, healthy snacks!
  • Use sunblock and natural bug spray.
  • Always do a tick check after coming back from wooded areas or a thick meadow.

For ideas on how to engage children outside, check out the Living Schoolyard Activity Guide. The Guide includes 30 activities to do outside with children of any age, and features two activities for infants, toddlers, and young children led by All Our Kin family child care providers Felicitas Castellanos and Maria (Pili) Carrillo.

Enjoy exploring the great outdoors and discovering the endless possibilities for nature-based play and learning with the children in your life!

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Celebrating early childhood educators during Women’s History Month: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

By Michelle Peng, All Our Kin intern

March is Women’s History Month, dedicated to the phenomenal women who have broken barriers and created opportunities for those who have followed. At All Our Kin, we have been reflecting on women’s narratives of excellence, solidarity, and strength–narratives that often remain untold. One such narrative is the long history of child care advocacy in the United States–a history that has always been driven by and centered around women. We honor the legacies of child care advocates, and look to their leadership in shaping our work to elevate family child care today.

undervalued-227x295The work of nurturing and educating our youngest children has historically been considered “women’s work,” taken on by mothers who cared for their own children without compensation, and enslaved or employed women caring for other people’s children. Unsurprisingly, child care work often fell to women of color. Even today, the demographics of the child care workforce continue to reflect patterns of power and privilege. Ninety-four percent of child care workers are female, and nearly half are women of color. As a result of the traditional devaluing of women’s work, particularly the work of women of color, the profession of early childhood education is often overlooked in both policy and practice. The average wage for child care workers is $9.62 per hour, despite what we know about the critical importance of early care and education to the vitality of children, families, and communities.

And yet, as long as these trends have existed, there have been women–child care providers, parents, advocates–who have resisted. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, women demanded support for the hard work of raising children. Progressive Era reformers like Jane Addams and Julia Anthrop fought for Mother’s Pensions that supported widowed mothers raising children. Decades later, poor, black women like Ruby Duncan pushed for programs that supported women and children nationwide in what became the Welfare Mothers’ Movement. Beyond these examples, there have been countless leaders who have fought for families and children, whether during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Women’s Rights Movement and the Welfare Mothers Movement of the 1960s, or the advocacy in the wake of welfare reform in the 90s, which led to the founding of All Our Kin. The actions of these activists brought national attention to the work of child care and often resulted in policies that better supported mothers and children.

29513120_1686583771364049_7481515075637272868_n (1)In 2018, women continue to make history in the field of early childhood. Just last week, Congress passed the largest increase to child care funding in history, a bipartisan deal that included an additional $2.37 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and $610 million for Head Start (including a $115 million increase for Early Head Start). The credit for these unprecedented investments in child care goes to the early childhood professionals, mothers, and advocates across the country who have been relentless in pursuit of the supports that our educators, children, and families need and deserve.

Even as we celebrate these victories, we know that there is still work to be done. At All Our Kin, we will continue to partner with the family child care providers in our network, and the families they serve, to keep the momentum going and secure big wins for our youngest children and the educators who care for and love them. And while we look towards the future, we will continue to honor the advocates, the women, who have brought us to this point. During Women’s History Month, and every day, we know that our work would not be possible without the narratives they shared, the changes they catalyzed, and the women they empowered.

For more information about the history of child care work in the United States, check out the National Women’s Law Center report: Undervalued: A Brief History of Women’s Care Work and Child Care Policy in the United States

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What’s a Revolution without Dancing? Coming Together to Build a Better World for Our Children.

Social justice is at the heart of All Our Kin’s work; we believe that we change the future by changing what we teach the next generation. And at a time when racism, violence, and intimidation have a national platform, our work to foster empathy, compassion, and justice in our youngest children, and to inoculate against hate and fear, is more critical than ever. In recognition of this, we have embarked on a new equity initiative with the support of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund: Building a Better World for Our Children. This project brings family child care providers and All Our Kin staff together to dream the reality we want for our children, our communities, and ourselves, and then co-create strategies to carry out this vision. Because we know that if we want change for our children, then the change must start with us.

001That is why the first phase of the Building a Better World project focused on All Our Kin staff. During a two-day, deep-dive retreat, staff learned about the history of racism and its impact today, analyzed who we are as an organization and who we want to be, and reflected on our own individual biases and stories, all with the goal of better supporting each other and the providers, children, and families we serve. As a next step, we engaged forty family child care providers in anti-bias workshops with an emphasis on changing practice—embedding equity into every aspect of child care programs from interactions to curriculum. And finally, we created five short films to highlight the important work happening in family child care and elevate the diverse voices of our provider community.

In these short films, providers share, in their own words, what their work means to them. We knew that we needed a special way to share these powerful videos with our community, and honor the broader Building a Better World work. On Friday, January 26, we brought providers, staff, and stakeholders together for a celebration at the Bijou Theatre to culminate year one of Building a Better World for Our Children. We shared food and laughter with friends new and old, we danced the night away on the Bijou stage, and above all, we basked in an incredible sense of strength, hope, and community.

 

 

The evening included a short program, during which we premiered the five provider videos, and each featured provider spoke about the experience of being filmed and reflected on the critical importance of their work with children and families. Now, we are excited to share these videos with you:

Maria Carrillo • Pili’s Day Care, New Haven • Maria grew up in Peru

“My personal goal for each child is that they are happy. Preparing material so that they explore, so that they smile all day, so that they discover new things—this is my motivation.”

 


Doris Lopez • Doris Lopez Day Care, Stamford • Doris grew up in Colombia

“Home daycare is so much more than a babysitter. The children are learning just like they were going to school. I give all the best of me, all my love.”

 


Gilda Mecca • Teddy Bear Child Care, Fairfield • Gilda grew up in Stamford

“The person could make things whole, could make the person who was offended whole again by letting that person decide what they need to feel better. That’s what I use for my conflict resolution.”  

 


Emily Mingia-Lewis • Mingalew Family Daycare, Bridgeport • Emily grew up in the Bronx

“It’s a chance to forget what’s going on in the world and focus on the natural life. Discovering new things, even though they’re things I already know, just looking at things through different eyes.”

 


Bernadette Ngoh • Trusted Care, West Haven • Bernadette grew up in Cameroon

“I try to understand what needs to be covered within this age period, and I follow the kids’ lead on what they are prepared to learn.”

 


As is evident in the films, there is so much to celebrate when it comes to the work happening in family child care and the superhero early childhood educators who make it all possible. Still, we know that this is only part of a long journey towards justice for all children, families, and providers. With continued support from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, we are planning for year two of Building a Better World. During this next phase, we will dig even deeper into issues of bias, racism and injustice, reflecting on our practices as an organization, developing new programming for staff and providers, and continuing to elevate the voices of our community through another round of video vignettes. We look forward to sharing this ongoing work with you, and thank our many partners who join us in creating a more just and equitable world for this and the next generation.

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Thank you to our many partners and friends who made year one of Building a Better World possible:

  • Cornelius Lee and Portia Newman from Education Pioneers, for facilitating All Our Kin’s staff retreat
  • Wendy Simmons and Ingrid Canady from CT SERC for facilitating the provider workshops
  • Travis Carbonella, the videographer behind the video vignettes
  • The Bijou Theatre for hosting our celebration
  • Trattoria ‘A Vucchella for catering the event
  • Tom Ficklin for photographing the event
  • William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund for funding the project

 

 

 

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Black History Month: Join Us in Celebrating Black Women Educators!

By Elise Lieberman, All Our Kin intern

During Black History Month, we celebrate the work of our amazing family child care providers, many of them women of color doing one of the most important jobs there is: educating our youngest children. At All Our Kin, we know that these caregivers often don’t get the respect they deserve; we seek to honor the work of these unsung heroes who touch thousands of children and families every day, laying the foundations for a more just and equitable society.

Black women have been and continue to be instrumental in building and shaping our country. Among the diverse contributions made by black women to history, this Black History Month we particularly want to highlight black women educators whose work has transformed the lives of women and children. Join us in celebrating these phenomenal women.  

Ida B. WellsIda_B._Wells

Ida B. Wells was an African-American journalist, suffragist, and civil-rights campaigner. Born into slavery in 1862, Wells was not only an influential activist – a leader in the early Civil Rights Movement and an instrumental anti-lynching pioneer whose writings spread across the globe – but a teacher in a black elementary school. Wells – educating audiences worldwide through journalism and activism as well as black children at a local level – was a true model of All Our Kin’s mission: that children, regardless of where they live, their racial or ethnic background, or how much money their parents earn, will begin their lives with all the advantages, tools, and experiences that we, as a society, are capable of giving them.

Shirley-Ann-JacksonShirley Ann Jackson

Born in 1946, Shirley Ann Jackson enrolled in MIT after excelling in science and mathematics in high school. One of only 20 black undergrads at MIT, and the only black student studying theoretical physics, she soon became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from MIT and the second African-American woman to have earned a doctorate in physics in the United States. Jackson’s commitment to education lead to a distinguished and multifaceted career of “firsts” in academia, government, industry, and research. She was named one of the 50 most important women in science in 2002, and would become the first woman and the first African-American to chair the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the first African-American woman to lead a national research university. Along the way, Jackson, like Wells, has pushed for educational equity, leading efforts to increase the numbers of minorities and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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Born in in 1910, Pauli Murray was a scholar, lawyer, and activist. Upon moving to New York to attend Hunter College in 1926, Murray became involved in the civil rights movement. In addition to leading campaigns to end segregation on public transportation, Murray, like Wells and Jackson, fought for educational equity – beginning with herself. Her 1938 campaign to enroll in the all white University of North Carolina rose to national prominence and led to a lifelong friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Murray then enrolled in law school, where she was both the only woman and first in her class. Upon graduation, Murray’s extensive activism and prominent essays and poems lead to appointments to serve on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Civil and Political Rights. Murray also became the first African American to earn a doctorate of jurisprudence at Yale, where a residential college now holds her name. Murray never stopped learning; after a lifetime of activism, she entered General Theological seminary and became the first African American woman Episcopal priest at the age of 67. While most famous for her work in the public sphere, Murray also worked as a literacy teacher for adults who had never learned to read. Murray’s life of activism and education are an example for All Our Kin’s work at the local, state, and national levels.

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RAshleyJaffeAwards15AOK-HiRes20-2605So often, the stories and contributions of black women remain untold and unsung. The life and work of Wells, Jackson, and Murray are three examples among many. At All Our Kin, we want to both recognize the achievements of these incredible women and inspire a new generation of black girls to follow in their footsteps or, like so many before them, to blaze their own path.

That is why this Black History Month, our focus is on not just the past, but the future: how do we ensure that today’s children of color, beginning in their earliest years, have the tools they need to thrive? One way is to ensure that black and brown children see themselves represented in literature, in positive and inspiring ways. We want to share this book list from “A Mighty Girl,” which recommends 50 books about extraordinary black girls and women. The stories of these girls and women – activists, poets, singers, doctors, teachers, painters, chefs, astronauts, mothers – span hundreds of years. All, however, share one thing: black girls and women who followed their own dreams in the face of everything society told them they could not be and do.

And, of course, among these trailblazing women belong our own providers, who are working to change the life chances of our youngest children, creating a more equitable future for the next generation. We celebrate these women during Black History month and every day.

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All Our Kin New York City Is Officially Open For Business!

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Argentina Burbano, left, with her sister

“All Our Kin didn’t change my program. It radically transformed my life.” That was the powerful message that Argentina Burbano, a family child care provider in Stamford, imparted to a group of more than thirty caregivers last Tuesday as they gathered together at Lehman College to welcome All Our Kin to New York City.  Some had served children and families in their communities for over 20 years. Others were just starting their careers, eager to understand what resources might be available to support them as educators and business owners. All were excited to learn more about All Our Kin, and to join a community dedicated to the success of home-based child care providers.

Tuesday’s launch event marked a new phase of All Our Kin’s growth: the expansion of services to New York City, All Our Kin’s first site outside of Connecticut. All Our Kin’s New York team will work with family child care providers in the Fordham/University Heights area, and will serve as a hub for providers throughout the Bronx. The goal is to support a network of 150 caregivers, increasing the supply of quality child care so that all children and families have access to the high-quality early learning opportunities that help them thrive.

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More than thirty caregivers joined All Our Kin for our NYC launch event

All Our Kin’s expansion comes at a critical time given New York City’s early childhood landscape. According to the 2016 report Bringing It All Home: Problems and Possibilities Facing New York City’s Family Child Care, New York City has one of the largest populations of children living below the poverty line, and home-based child care is the most common care arrangement for infants and toddlers receiving subsidized child care. In fact, 69% of New York City children under the age of 3 who receive subsidized child care are in home-based care. The prevalence of family child care in New York City was recently echoed in the New York Times article Don’t Mind the Day Care Downstairs, which paints a vivid picture of home-based child care programs as community assets, nurturing and strengthening children and families.

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Building a strong community of quality family child care programs

For the providers at the launch event, All Our Kin’s presence in the Bronx is an affirmation that family child care is pivotal to the early childhood infrastructure of New York City. The room buzzed with excitement and possibility. One provider expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of professional development opportunities that were not only tailored specifically to home-based care, but that sounded fun! Another commented that her 20+ years as a family child care provider have been difficult, tiring, and isolating; but, through All Our Kin, she was hopeful that she would finally get the support she needs to focus on the joy in her job.

These sentiments align with the vision that All Our Kin brings to New York City: family child care providers are valued for their work, equipped with the tools to succeed, and ready to share that success with the children and families in their care. “Our goal in New York City is to replicate the deep, transformative impact that Argentina experienced through her work with All Our Kin in Stamford,” said Natalie Kianoff, All Our Kin’s New York City Director. “The thirty providers at the launch event are just the beginning. We are excited to continuing building relationships in the community and working hard to support family child care providers in the Bronx and the children and families they serve!”

If you are a home-based child care provider in the Fordham/University Heights area of the Bronx, we would love to hear from you! Contact us to learn more about our supports and services in New York City by calling 914-348-1734 or emailing NewYork@allourkin.org.

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National Adoption Month: Family Child Care Providers Support All Families

November is National Adoption Month, when child welfare agencies across the country work to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. foster care system.

Like foster families, family child care providers offer a surrogate family for children when their parents are not able to care for them. These providers support families in a multitude of ways and ensure that children are in safe and nurturing environments throughout the day. They are community resources, both caring for children and referring families to programs and opportunities that meet their needs.

When it comes to finding child care, family child care providers are often the first choice for socially and economically marginalized families. These providers’ programs are typically located nearby, reflect the diversity of their communities, cost less and are more likely to offer flexible hours. They give families opportunities to pursue gainful employment, higher education and more, knowing their children are in familiar homes. This relationship can keep children safe and families strong.

Economic and social factors impact the risk of child maltreatment and neglect. Family child care providers can mitigate this risk by connecting families to resources, from economic resources to services for children with delays or disabilities. The work of family child care providers, and the work of All Our Kin in supporting these valuable community resources, helps children and families thrive by promoting economic opportunity and social engagement.

What if all parents had access to quality, affordable child care programs?

What if every community were empowered and supported to ensure that every child begins their life with all the advantages, tools, and experiences that we, as a society, are capable of giving them?

As I reflect on the needs of all types of families, policies and programs that support their success, like those of All Our Kin, help me imagine these possibilities.

Ana Elisa is the Research, Evaluation, and Data Specialist at All Our Kin. She is an adoptee who spent several years studying adoption and child welfare policy. Earlier this year, she led a workshop at the American Adoption Congress Annual Conference on the role of institutional policy in minimizing secrecy and promoting respect for all family members.

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Child Care in Crisis: Connecticut’s Cautionary Tale

The following is the text of a blog written by All Our Kin CEO Jessica Sager as part of the National Women’s Law Center’s Child Care NOW guest blog series. The original blog post can be viewed here

CCN_1-295x295At the National Women’s Law Center gala last week, Elizabeth Warren spoke from the heart about the critical importance of child care and its impact on her own life.  As a child care advocate, I was both moved and saddened by her speech, as I reflected on the challenges children and families face in my own state of Connecticut.

I am the founder and CEO of All Our Kin, an organization that works to create and sustain high-quality home-based child care programs for families that desperately need access to care. These families rely on vouchers to help them pay for the care that we create. However, recent changes to the federal Child Care Development Block Grant, combined with our state’s budget deficit, have led to a crisis in funding that severely limits families’ access to vouchers. The consequences are devastating: child care programs are closing, working parents are making impossible choices between their job and their children’s healthy growth and development, and thousands of children are missing out on important early learning opportunities.

Connecticut’s is a cautionary tale; as an early adopter of new federal regulations, we are already seeing the impact of inadequate funding on our early childhood ecosystem. By 2018, most states in the country will face the same harsh realities. We must act quickly to ensure that families nationwide are not stripped of the critical support they need to access early care and education.

In Connecticut, two full-time working parents earning state minimum wage will make a gross salary of $42,016 per year; the average cost of child care for an infant and a preschooler is more than $20,000 per year. Child care vouchers make it possible for thousands of children in these low-income families to attend licensed child care programs that meet safety and quality standards, thereby allowing thousands of parents to participate in the workforce.

However, since August of last year, Care4Kids, Connecticut’s voucher program, has been closed to new working families. Without Care4Kids, many parents find themselves choosing between leaving the workforce or placing their children in unlicensed, unregulated care. Child care providers are struggling to stay open in the face of dwindling enrollment. And, of course, those most affected are our youngest children, who, at a critical time in their development, are losing access to safe, high-quality early care and learning experiences.

Care4Kids has been closed to the majority of new families for more than a year. Over that time, Connecticut lost 11,914 Care4Kids slots—that means that 11,914 less children are currently being served by the voucher program than were being served before the program closure. This is more than a 50 percent decrease in the number of children being served. For our youngest children, the impact is most severe: 52 percent of the slots lost since August 2016 are infant and toddler slots.

Soon after Care4Kids closed to new working families, we surveyed our network of home-based child care providers to assess the impact. Just months after the program closed, 69 percent of our family child care providers reported having to cut back on household expenses as their income declined. Fifty-five percent of child care providers knew parents who had to turn down a job offer because they could not afford care, while 56 percent knew families who chose to enroll their children in unlicensed care.

“Parents and providers can’t survive like this,” Jacqueline Almanzar, a family child care provider with nineteen years of experience in early childhood education, told us. While Jacqueline’s program typically operates at full capacity, she is now down to two full-time children. “This is the worst I’ve seen things since starting my child care business. Every week, I get calls from parents who need care, but they can’t afford it without Care4Kids.”

Many child care providers are doing everything they can to help parents access care, even significantly lowering their rates or caring for children for free. But it’s not sustainable. Child care providers need to be able to support themselves and their families, and providing high-quality early care and education is expensive. Connecticut’s child cares—both centers and home-based programs—are closing; child care center closures increased by 55 percent in 2016-2017, compared to the previous year.

The damage that we are doing to our state’s economy, its infrastructure, and its residents will not quickly be undone. Child care programs that took years to build will disappear. Parents will lose jobs. And children’s health, safety, and development will suffer.

We know the solution to this crisis: a fully funded Child Care and Development Block Grant. This is not a Connecticut problem—lack of investment in an early childhood system that meets the needs of all working families is a national problem that requires national leadership. In Connecticut, we’ve seen the results of doing nothing. The good news is that we have the opportunity to turn things around. It’s time for Congress to take immediate action to fully fund the Child Care and Development Block Grant so that parents can work, children can learn, and child care providers can support families with high-quality care.

Jessica Sager, Esq., is the co-founder and chief executive officer of All Our Kin, and a lecturer in education studies at Yale University. She is a Pahara Aspen Fellow, a Public Voices Fellow, and an Ashoka Fellow.

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For Years, She’s Inspired All Our Kin’s Providers and Staff. Now, Nilda Aponte is Inspiring Women Across the Country.

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When Catherines, a women’s clothing brand, released its fall collection earlier this month, All Our Kin’s very own Nilda Aponte was among the models featured. Through their national campaign, “Living an Inspired Life,” Catherines seeks to highlight real women making a difference in their communities and inspiring others to do the same.

And as a fervent advocate for women and children in New Haven, who approaches her work transforming the lives of All Our Kin’s family child care providers and the children and families they serve with an incredible passion for justice and a genuine love for others, it is no surprise that Nilda was one of the five women chosen.

“I was so honored to be selected; it’s something I never imagined in my wildest dreams,” says Nilda, reflecting on the experience. In May, Catherines sent Nilda and her daughter Sarah down to Cape May, New Jersey for three days of pampering and photo shoots at Willow Creek Winery and Farm. “It was a whirlwind few days,” Nilda recalls. “The best part was the opportunity to connect with the other women who were chosen: laughing, sharing stories, and celebrating the incredible work that is being done in the community. It was really powerful.”

As part of the campaign, Catherines interviewed each of the women about what drives them in their work. “I’m most proud of my service to others when I see parents speak up and advocate for their children and their rights,” says Nilda. That statement exemplifies the type of leader Nilda is—she uses her voice to encourage, empower, and motivate others to reach their full potential and see themselves as leaders.

This is the approach Nilda uses in her work with family child care providers at All Our Kin. And the story of how she got here is truly special. “I came to Connecticut on vacation, and I stayed because of All Our Kin,” Nilda remembers, smiling. “Somehow everything fell into place to allow me to stay and grow with this organization and in this community, and I’m so grateful.”

In 2003, Nilda was living in Puerto Rico, raising her five children and working towards her Master’s degree. She boarded a plane to Connecticut to visit her brother, who lived in Stratford. She made it a point to spend some time in New Haven to see Yale University. As she was walking around the city, she spotted the Spanish newspaper La Voz. In the corner was a tiny advertisement that indicated that All Our Kin was looking for part-time help. Something about the advertisement stuck with Nilda; she called the number and made a decision: if she got the job, she was going to stay in Connecticut.

“My mother thought I was crazy!” Nilda laughs. “She tried so hard to convince me to come back to Puerto Rico. I was leaving my whole life behind. But it felt right. I was at a point in my life when I knew I was ready for a change.” And as if in response, the stars aligned: Nilda got the job with All Our Kin, she got a house nearby, and she got subsidized slots for her two youngest children at Creating Kids Childcare Center, a high-quality local preschool program that is also a longtime partner of All Our Kin. It was meant to be.

When Nilda joined All Our Kin in August of 2003, she was the fourth staff member and the first Tool Kit Licensing Coordinator. Since then, she has taken on a variety of roles and has been pivotal to All Our Kin’s growth, launching the Tool Kit Licensing Program in Hartford and Norwalk and heading expansion to Bridgeport. In 2015, Nilda returned full-time to All Our Kin’s New Haven office as the Provider Showcase Program Director. In this role, she heads an innovative new initiative aimed at raising the quality of child care and giving parents and employers easy-to-understand information, all in one place, about high-quality local family child care options.

“Coming to New Haven has really shown me that I have a voice, that I can speak up for my children, and that I am part of a community. When I lived in Puerto Rico, everything centered on the family; I never felt a broader sense of community. But since moving to New Haven, my community has become an extension of my family, and I have raised my kids to be engaged as well,” Nilda says.

Throughout her time in Connecticut, Nilda has received numerous awards and recognition for her service, dedication, and leadership. She attributes her success to her ability to approach all things from a place of love: “I think with love, you can accomplish so many things and really get to people’s hearts.” We could not agree more—Nilda touches the hearts of so many in the All Our Kin community every day, and we are so excited to see her honored through the Catherines campaign!

 

Nilda.PNGTo learn more about Catherines’ “Living an Inspired Life” campaign, see photos of Nilda in the fall collection, and read Nilda’s interview, click HERE.

 

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