Kiana Hernandez, Liman Fellow: “I realized there is no better feeling than being a helping hand to those who truly need it.”

This past summer, All Our Kin had the pleasure of hosting Kiana Hernandez, a Liman Fellow from Yale College. The prestigious Liman Summer Fellowship is awarded by the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program to undergraduate students passionate about addressing inequality and improving access to justice by working with organizations that support public interest.

This is not All Our Kin’s first experience with a Liman Fellow—it was the Liman Fellowship for Yale Law School graduates, which funds work on public interest legal projects, that funded All Our Kin’s Executive Director Jessica Sager during her first year building the organization. As such, the support of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program through the Liman Fellowship has been instrumental in All Our Kin’s success.

During her time with All Our Kin, Kiana worked most closely with the Early Head Start program, through which she was able to form valued connections with children, families, and providers. Read below to learn more about Kiana’s experiences working with All Our Kin, and how these experiences transformed her personal and professional goals as she furthered her commitment to serving children and families.

kh-blog-2Read Kiana’s Story:

For my summer fellowship, I was placed with a New Haven-based nonprofit called All Our Kin.  The primary focus of All Our Kin is to improve the quality of early childhood education and care in underserved populations through direct work with the community and advocacy.

Over the course of my time with All Our Kin, I had many projects relating to different aspects of the mission.  My primary project was the creation of a policy memo, with the help of some of the data available in the office, for a state program that provides childcare subsidies to low-income families.  Other projects were based largely in the Early Head Start office, and included translation, – from interviews with childcare providers to a handbook for parents enrolling in All Our Kin’s New Haven-based Early Head Start program – workshop planning, creating a video to promote the program, and helping set up a study on the efficacy of the All Our Kin Early Head Start program to be conducted in the near future.  At times, I even met with families interested in the Early Head Start program to help them apply and enroll.

It is important to note, however, that I did not spend all of my time in the office.  On certain occasions – say, when a newly enrolled family was starting their first day at a provider’s home – we would go out and visit the Early Head Start sites.  During these visits, I got to see the smiling faces of the kids’ whose names I had already seen a number of times in the office.  My first visit to a particular site meant that the children would always start off shy around me, but would ultimately warm up and even try to pull me along into their games.

I cannot say there is one specific memorable moment in the entirety of my summer, but there are definitely a couple dozen small ones.  Watching the children sing a morning song or sitting with them as they finger-painted and blurted out the names of the colors.  Hearing the joy in a mother’s voice as she was notified by phone that we were able to offer her child a spot in the program.  Working with parents on their resumes and interview skills during a job skills workshop.  All of these small moments have left me with an image of my summer imprinted in my mind that still gives me a sense of warmth whenever I look back on it.

My summer was filled with many families and many, many children.  It did not take long for me to realize that it is impossible to focus solely on one or the other, because in practice, they are so connected.  To make sure our support system has a strong effect on children, we must also ensure that the adults in their lives outside of their childcare program are also being supported.  We held many workshops for parents and providers alike, as a result.  It was in those workshops that my resolve to go on to law school was solidified.   When I first applied to the Liman fellowship, I was a (struggling) Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry major, trying to decide whether I would ultimately go into research or law.  Through my experiences this summer, I realized that there is no better feeling than being a helping hand to those who truly need it.

As I enter my junior year, I enter “undeclared”.  I have no major and feel like a freshman again shopping so many classes.  Sometimes, I even get lost trying to find all of these Humanities buildings that I have never before had reason to find.  But I am so much surer of what I will do in the long run, and I have this summer to thank for that.

 

To learn more about the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program and the other fellowship awards it supports, click here.

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Meet Natalie: All Our Kin’s New Policy Fellow

Hello! My name is Natalie, and I just started working at All Our Kin as the new Policy Fellow. I am so excited to engage with the All Our Kin community, especially the incredible family child care professionals who dedicate themselves to providing quality, affordable child care for Connecticut families. As a Connecticut native and a graduate of the University of Connecticut, I look forward to supporting the people who are transforming early childhood experiences in my home state.

The Policy Fellowship is a dream position for 13669380_10207086066614006_466063884063282846_o
me, because it allows me to combine my passion for empowering communities with my belief in policy as a critical tool for effecting widespread change. My journey to All Our Kin began in January 2013, when I moved to Washington D.C. for a semester-long internship with Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). There, I was spurred to action by the reality of poverty in our nation’s capital. I was also in regular communication with Connecticut constituents, who often voiced concerns related to employment, education, and the welfare of children and families.

With this in mind, I organized and led twelve university students on an immersive learning and volunteer experience to D.C. in the spring of 2015.  During this trip, we had the opportunity to work with and learn from a variety of organizations addressing issues related to urban poverty and political action. Across all the organizations, it was evident to me that a person’s path in life is often largely determined by their early childhood experiences.

Most recently, I spent a year in the beautiful town of Pravets, Bulgaria, where I was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for students in grades eight through twelve. Seeing the outcomes of educational inequality in the classroom every day, I grew passionate about becoming an advocate for the time when it all begins: early childhood. That is why I am at All Our Kin, and that is why I am so inspired by the work of our providers.

I have already jumped right in, attending meetings, coordinating site visits, reviewing upcoming policy issues, managing social media, and working on presentations. I am most looking forward to meeting the family child care professionals in All Our Kin’s network, and seeing their work in action. And of course, I am excited to work with our providers, partners, and policy-makers to ensure that Connecticut makes family child care a policy priority!

I will maintain regular outreach via this blog during my time here, so check back often! If you are a family child care provider, I’d love to hear from you if you would like to share your story, write a blog post, get involved in advocacy work, or touch base about your experience as an early childhood professional and how I can best support your mission. Please feel free to contact me at natalie@allourkin.org at any time. Thanks for reading!

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Family Child Care Takes the Stage: Jessica Sager Represents All Our Kin at United State of Women Summit

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Thousands gathered in Washington D.C. earlier this month for The United State of Women Summit, the first large-scale event of its kind, to celebrate gender equality achievements and to discuss solutions for the societal challenges that still exist. Presenters included First Lady Michelle Obama, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Oprah Winfrey, Amy Poehler, and our very own Executive Director, Jessica Sager. The Summit rallied professionals from across sectors to focus on six overarching topics, many of which All Our Kin supports through its mission. The topics of focus were: economic empowerment, health and wellness, educational opportunity, violence against women, entrepreneurship and innovation, and leadership and civic engagement.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, and Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council of Women and Girls and Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, gave a welcome address, calling for a celebration of the triumphs women have made around the world. Higher graduation rates and lower unplanned, teen pregnancy rates, they noted, are amazing strides, but the fight for equality and justice continues. Jarrett and Tchen embraced the Summit motto, “Today, we’ll change tomorrow,” evoking a spirit of ingenuity, ambition, and possibility.

One of the highlights of the day was when Mikaila Ulmer, Founder and CEO of Me & The Bees Lemonade, introduced President Barack Obama. Ulmer is a social entrepreneur, bee ambassador, advocate and student; she is also eleven years old. “What makes great entrepreneurs,” she started out,  “is what comes naturally for kids…. Entrepreneurs hold the American Dream. And the biggest dreamers are kids. We dream big. We dream about things that don’t even exist yet. We believe in our dreams.” Ulmer’s message reminds us that people of all ages have the power to transform their lives, communities, and the world, if they allow themselves to embrace creativity.

In addition to the inspirational keynote addresses, the Summit also included numerous panels of experts discussing pressing issues in gender equality. Jessica Sager’s session, “The Promise of Our Youngest Girls: Investing in Early Childhood Education,” was moderated by Rafael López, Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, and included Alison Gopnik, Marcy Whitebrook, Nicole Mason, Tonia McMillian, and Sherrie Westin. Dr. Gopnik began the discussion with a shortened version of her TED talk on how babies think.  The panel went on to address such issues as: How do we increase wages and professional development for the women who care for and educate our youngest citizens? How do we ensure that working mothers have access to quality child care? And how do we provide equitable access to quality early learning environments for our youngest girls–and, indeed, all children?

The conversation about child care did not end with the panel, however. The final hour of the Summit featured a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. During this interview, Ms. Obama told a story of how she brought her daughter, Sasha, to an interview because she lacked another option. “I had been mothering-part time and working full time…because the thing I found out about working half-time is you only get paid for half-time,” she said with a laugh. But with this new position, Ms. Obama would only settle for a position and a schedule that would allow her to give her daughters the care they needed. The crowd celebrated as she told Ms. Winfrey, “I got that job because I did not compromise.” Ms. Obama reminds us that working parents in all job sectors struggle with finding appropriate, affordable care for their children. We are glad that the universality of the child care climate received the attention it did at the Summit. If we are going to transform child care in this country, we need to continue having honest conversations about the state of child care, no matter how personal or difficult they may be.

The Summit was hosted by The White House Council of Women and Girls in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Aspen Institute, and Civic Nation. More information on the Summit, including video footage, can be found at the website: http://www.theunitedstateofwomen.org/

 

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Guest Post: Family Child Care Providers at the Yale University Art Gallery

Authors: Jessica Sack and Elizabeth Williams, Yale University Art Gallery

For almost three years, the Yale University Art Gallery and All Our Kin have collaborated to offer professional development sessions to family child care providers. We at the Gallery are so grateful for this partnership, which has led not only to new friendships and relationships in New Haven but has catalyzed new projects related to bilingual education and early childhood education.

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Experimentation has marked much of our work with All Our Kin. We have tried a number of different models for these workshops over the years, including multiple times, days of the week, meal options, and languages. We have also experimented a great deal with the focus of the sessions: topics have ranged from storytelling to special exhibitions to child development. Sessions take place at the Gallery and are led by both Gallery educators as well as by Wurtele Gallery Teachers, Yale graduate students whom the Gallery employs as museum educators. The Wurtele Gallery teachers who have been involved—Ana Maria Gomez Lopez, Tess Korobkin, Mary Kim, Tony Coleman, and Emmanuel Lachaud—continually reflect on the enormous impact their experience with All Our Kin  has had on their teaching practice and lives in New Haven. For instance, Tess noted that something wonderful happens when people share a meal and are able to talk about the experience of looking at art together. We have kept this in mind as we have planned our sessions.

As Ana Maria began to coordinate sessions, she also invited providers to return with their families, friends, and students. This resulted in a summer filled with tours in Spanish for families and friends.  Ana Maria helped us think about how we could work with Spanish-speaking groups more easily and helped us translate our self-guided family materials into Spanish. These include our Architecture Guide, Looking Closely with Felt and Yarn, and Exploring Art Together. At the same time, the museum created a task force to look at the needs of our Spanish-speaking audience. This task force, comprised of members of our business office, visitor services, and education, met with participants in the All Our Kin workshops to better understand their perspective. As a result of the meetings and the work the task force did, the museum now has all family materials, maps, and general museum information in English and Spanish.

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This past year we have been working to structure the workshops to focus on developmental skills of young children. We did a session on fine motor skills that modeled activities for providers to do in their own work. We looked at objects in the special exhibition and worked on a project that focused on the fine motor skills of cutting and sculpting. As the year went on, we incorporated more storytelling into our activities. For our workshop on emotional development, we read Our Many Colored Days in English and Spanish in front of a painting by Pierre Bonnard. Participants thought about the connection between the story and the painting and then focused on ideas of mood and emotion.  At another workshop on imagination, Emmanuel and Mary read Where the River Begins in English and Spanish in the American Landscape Room. Participants were asked to look around as they listened to the story and imagine which paintings would fit as illustrations. At the end of the story we had a lively discussion about which paintings fit best and why. The group agreed that this kind of activity could work with many different stories. Finally, in one project, providers made their own books in the studio to foster the imagination. The hope is that these books can be used with the children and also spark new ideas for projects with kids.

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As you can see, this collaboration has had quite an impact on the Gallery’s teaching. We now work with many more groups of young children as result of All Our Kin participants bringing children. We also do a lot more teaching in Spanish, which has helped us realize the importance of having multilingual staff members; we are keeping this in mind as we hire new Wurtele Gallery Teachers. The planning for the sessions has been truly collaborative and we have learned an enormous amount from our colleagues at All Our Kin.

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Growing Brains, Growing Communities: University of Bridgeport Opens its Doors for All Our Kin’s 11th Annual Family Child Care Conference

“High quality early childhood programs – whether they are in a center or in somebody’s living room – have huge, important, powerful impacts on the lives of children. And those impacts can last a lifetime.”

These words, spoken by Dr. Walter Gilliam, were a perfect way to begin All Our Kin’s 11th Annual Family Child Care Conference, “Growing Brains, Growing Communities.” The conference, held on May 14 at the University of Bridgeport, brought together over 200 family child care providers from across the state for a day of growth and learning about child development.

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Dr. Gilliam, the Director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at Yale University’s Child Study Center, kicked the morning off with a keynote address about children’s brain development and the science of early learning, giving providers concrete examples of how they can incorporate neurological research findings into their programs. He ended his address by encouraging providers to invite legislators and local elected officials to their programs so that they can see what goes on in a family child care, emphasizing that small advocacy efforts like this can truly change minds and make a difference in politics.

After Dr. Gilliam’s address, providers split up to attend workshops on a variety of themes, from sign language to emotional literacy to business marketing.

One workshop, “Developing and Supporting an Emergent Curriculum for Young Children,” led by Winnie Naclerio, introduced providers to the idea of an “emergent curriculum,” a way of planning curricula based on children’s interests and passion at a point in time. “Every little thing can be a learning experience for children,” reflected one provider afterwards. “You can start a conversation about anything and everything.” Providers were particularly enthusiastic about the workshop’s emphasis on using recycled objects and objects from nature to create program materials: “I learned how to be creative without spending a lot of money,” said one provider. “We don’t need to buy expensive materials to teach basic science concepts.” Naclerio’s suggestions were innovative and practical for family child care providers, who may not have extensive materials budgets for their programs.

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Another workshop, “Girls in Books,” was taught by Sandy Malmquist from the CT Children’s Museum, a longtime partner of All Our Kin. Sandy explored the role of girls in books for young children. Providers were enthralled: “What look like harmless pictures actually carry important messages that reinforce stereotypes that are harmful for all children.” Another provider said, “I learned to teach kids about gender roles in storytelling, and to change stories so that women can play a greater role. We can use stories to support gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

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Presenters were inspired by providers’ engagement and impressed by their unflagging enthusiasm and energy. The workshops allowed providers to learn from the instructors and also to share their own wisdom in peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

The day ended with a celebration including music and raffle prizes. Alika Hope, a local musician and performance artist, helped participants write their own songs about children and their experiences as family child care providers. “The music really brought providers together,” said Kim Braun, All Our Kin’s conference coordinator. “It was a nice way to build a sense of community. By the end of the day, there was this real sense of unity around the common goal of enriching children’s lives.”

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We are so grateful to the University of Bridgeport for opening its doors to All Our Kin and our provider network. Dr. Tarek Sobh, the Dean of University of Bridgeport’s School of Engineering, was generous enough to donate the space and meals for all conference participants. He organized an entire team of professors, graduate students, and university staff to help out as volunteers. “The conference couldn’t have happened without them. They were outstanding,” said Kim Braun. “And the space couldn’t have been more beautiful. The campus was in bloom, the rooms were elegant, and the weather was perfect.” Many thanks to Dr. Sobh and the whole team from the University of Bridgeport for their support!

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Making Quality Possible: Jessica Sager Featured in a Q&A at New America Ed Central

Last week, All Our Kin Executive Director Jessica Sager spoke with New America’s Aaron Loewenberg about All Our Kin’s history, our new study (which Aaron had written about previously in a different article), and the importance of investing in family child care providers. Read the interview with Jessica at New America’s website, or keep reading to see the whole thing here. 

Aaron Loewenberg: What led you to create All Our Kin and what need does it fill?

nJessica Sager: All Our Kin grew out of a very particular historical moment–the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which “ended welfare as we know it.” The law imposed new job training requirements on welfare recipients with young children, and created a lifetime limit on their eligibility for benefits. I entered law school just weeks after President Clinton signed the Act. I had come to law school wanting to be an advocate for children; working with a local policy organization, I began researching the law’s consequences on children and families. It was clear that the Act’s new job training requirements would create a tremendous burden on our already inadequate child care system. We didn’t have then, and don’t have now, enough safe, healthy child care options, let alone the high-quality, nurturing, developmentally appropriate settings that we know are crucial for children’s development. Under these conditions, parents would be forced to choose between their families’ economic survival and their children’s well-being.

In response, Janna Wagner and I founded All Our Kin. In its initial form, All Our Kin was a lab school where parents on public assistance could come together with their young children. Participants trained to become early childhood educators, while working with their own and each other’s children. Our program was designed to enable parents to continue to receive benefits while they trained with us. Upon graduation, they could go to work at child care centers, or open family child cares in their neighborhoods, thus expanding child care options for other parents.

How did you get started working with family child care providers?

We began by working with the graduates of our lab school who had chosen to open family child care programs. Unlike those who had gone to work at child care centers, the family child care providers had nothing in place to support their continued professional development, and no resources to help them manage the multiple roles they had to play, as teacher, director, and business owner. We researched best practices around the country, and created a family child care network for our graduates based on what we learned had been most effective. Once we created the network, however, we found that the demand extended far beyond our original group of graduates. Family child care providers began reaching out to us, asking if they could take part in our trainings and programs. The network grew, first throughout New Haven (where All Our Kin began), then to adjoining towns, and eventually expanded to four cities in Connecticut: New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk. In 2008, we closed the lab school, focusing all our efforts on family child care.

Family child care is such a critical piece of the child care landscape. We know that almost half of all children under five spend a portion of their day in home-based care, and that our youngest children and our poorest children are especially likely to be in these settings. Family child care fills a pressing need for care that is affordable, accessible, flexible, and culturally diverse. If we care about children’s foundational learning experiences, it’s essential that we raise quality in home-based care.

Could you provide some more details about the organization’s Toolkit Licensing Program? And, what other services does All Our Kin offer to family child care providers?

The Toolkit Licensing Program, a collaboration between All Our Kin and the Connecticut Children’s Museum, has two components. The first component is a series of boxes–literally kits–that contain everything that a would-be family child care provider needs to become licensed in the state of Connecticut. The second component is the Toolkit Coordinator, an All Our Kin staff member who serves as a counselor, advocate, and critical friend. She helps applicants navigate the multistep process: her role includes everything from explaining the paperwork, to following up on the status of an application, to helping the applicant prepare her space for children. Throughout, she is reinforcing the message that child care providers are professionals, and that this is just the first step on a lifelong professional journey.

Once a provider becomes licensed, she graduates to All Our Kin’s Family Child Care Network. Our network, which is voluntary and free, offers providers a range of services to improve the quality of their care and the sustainability of their businesses. All our programs and services are offered in both English and Spanish. In each community, we also build relationships with multiple stakeholders–health providers, mental health providers, school systems, libraries, museums, food banks, legal clinics–so that we can connect family child care providers, and the parents and children that they serve, to a broader range of opportunities.

All Our Kin also runs a small Early Head Start-Family Child Care partnership program, in conjunction with the United Way of Greater New Haven, which serves as a learning lab for our work overall. Through Early Head Start, we’re able to access additional training and resources for providers, children and families, and learn new strategies that we can try out in other parts of the network.

A recent independent study found that providers affiliated with All Our Kin scored higher on measures of child care quality compared to other providers. What does this study tell us about what works in improving the quality of family child care settings?

The study is very exciting, because it makes a strong case for the value of investing in family child care quality. It supports what the research of scholars like Juliet Bromer tells us; staffed family child care networks are the most effective strategy for raising the quality of family child care programs.

We are still learning about what makes a network effective, but a few things are clear. First, relationships are fundamental. In order to be effective, work with family child care providers has to be strength-based, grounded in mutual respect and reciprocity between network staff and providers. Second, staff need specialized training and knowledge in order to do their work well. They need to understand the principles of both child development and adult development, as well as the particular strengths and challenges of family child care. Third, in order to combat the isolation and loneliness that go along with the work, providers must have opportunities to build relationships with each other, and engage with a broader professional community.

I’m hoping that the study will encourage states and communities to expand the professional development opportunities that they offer family child care providers. I’m also hoping that it will lead to additional funding for research into family child care initiatives like ours.

Are there any plans to replicate the All Our Kin model in other states or communities? Have other states or communities reached out to try to adopt this model?

We are working on a plan to expand the All Our Kin model to additional communities, both within Connecticut and beyond. Our strategy has two parts. First, over the next five years we plan to replicate directly in three to five additional sites. Second, we’d like to partner with agencies in other parts of the country who are already engaged in working with family child care providers, sharing what we’ve learned through trial and error over many years in the field. We get several calls a month from communities all over the country who would like to learn from what we do; we want to be responsive to their interest and enthusiasm. It’s exciting to see the growing interest in family child care, and the growing recognition that family child care is an essential piece of the child care puzzle.

What is the biggest challenge you see going forward when it comes to improving the quality of family child care providers?

Honestly, I think the biggest challenge is convincing stakeholders, such as policymakers, educators, and community leaders, that family child care programs can be a quality option for young children. Once you succeed in making the case, it follows logically that we need to provide the resources–funding, training, incentives–that will make quality possible.

What are your thoughts on the recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine’s Transforming the Workforce report and the implications for family child care providers?

I’ve read the Practitioner’s Guide, and I’m looking forward to reading the full report. I love the vision of a cohesive, unified set of standards for the early childhood workforce, and the acknowledgement of family child care providers as professional educators and lead teachers. The focus on high-quality professional learning systems is very much in line with the way we think about our work at All Our Kin, and the elements outlined in the report (active learning, coaching, peer study groups, sustained and intensive learning) are the same elements that we work to incorporate into all our professional learning activities with family child care providers. I hope the report will inspire states to think about ways to structure their professional development systems to align with these principles.

I am an advocate of bachelor’s degrees for all educators, including family child care providers, but only so long as the requirement is implemented thoughtfully, and providers receive the supports and resources necessary to make it feasible. In our experience, family child care providers are enthusiastic and eager to take college classes that directly apply to their work, but they are more challenged by, and less likely to see the value of, general education requirements. So, many of our providers have, with our support, obtained nine to twelve college credits in early childhood, but they rarely continue to a two- or four-year degree. Language barriers are also a challenge; few courses are available to our Spanish-speaking providers. So, to make this idea a reality, I think you’d need: (1) funding for scholarships; (2) specialized support for family child care providers (language supports, among others, and perhaps a cohort-based model); and (3) most of all, tangible incentives to make it worth family child care providers’ while.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I am a huge advocate for investment in family child care, for so many reasons. First, as I discussed earlier, when you raise the quality of family child care, you reach many of our youngest, poorest children, those in the greatest need. Second, because family child care is such a good option for working families, when you expand the supply of care, you make it possible for low-income parents to enter and succeed in the workforce. And finally, through building family child care businesses, you raise the incomes of providers, many of whom are parents themselves, and help them build better lives for their own families.

New America is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.

 

 

 

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“Having a Safe Place for Your Children to Be Is a Tremendous Relief”: A New Collaboration Highlights the Link between Child Care and the Workforce

Child care advocates often emphasize the impact that early care and education can have on young children, for good reason – high quality child care has been shown to affect children’s outcomes long after they leave a program.

However, the link between accessible child care and a successful workforce is becoming increasingly apparent. When parents are piecing together child care at the last minute as they prepare for on-call shifts and irregular schedules, it is almost impossible for them to advance in their careers. Furthermore, child care providers themselves are key members of the workforce with a skill set that is crucial to our society. And early childhood education is critical to preparing children to succeed, paving the way for the workforce of tomorrow.

Some businesses have started to take note and recognize the link between child care and the workforce. This January, when Jim Craven – a lawyer with Wiggin and Dana – approached Mike Cammarota – a Managing Director at  Accenture, a strategy, digital, consulting and operations  company with offices in  Hartford – about the possibility of donating some recently discovered unclaimed funds to a local nonprofit, “It was the perfect storm of things coming together,” recalls Mike.

Wiggin and Dana has supported All Our Kin from the beginning: Kim Rinehart, one of Wiggin and Dana’s partners, was a founding Board member of All Our Kin and is still on our Board of Directors today. Over the years, the law firm has provided pro bono legal services, sponsored All Our Kin events, and even housed our New Haven site during a transition time.

“Wiggin and Dana came to Accenture and told us that money had been left unclaimed in old accounts being held for Accenture,” Mike explains. “They offered to help us claim that money free of charge, as long as we donated a portion of those proceeds to charity. Kim Rinehart had introduced me to All Our Kin, and told us about what you guys do, and I thought, ‘This is perfect.’ The lightbulb went off immediately.”

Accenture chose to donate $20,000 of the recovered funds to All Our Kin. “When I was listening to Kim explain what All Our Kin does, it dawned on me that it helps people on multiple levels. First, in order to really be engaged with equality and helping people get a leg up, you have to start very early on in the process, making services available in grade school and even before. All Our Kin facilitates the opportunity for children to be in a place where they are learning and safely cared for. Second, it facilitates parents’ abilities to go out and work. As a parent, you need good child care. Without it, you’ll be worried about your kids, and that impacts your ability to perform at your job. The notion of having a safe place for your children to be is a tremendous relief. And one of the things that Accenture has always cared about is helping people succeed by doing things to increase their life skills. If you take people, train them with a skill that’s really needed, and make sure they can go out and get jobs, then that’s something that we’re delighted to support.”

Because of this collaboration with Wiggin and Dana and Accenture, All Our Kin will receive $20,000 to continue our work with family child care providers. We are incredibly grateful for this partnership, and we are thrilled that businesses like Accenture are engaged in the conversation about child care as a key workforce support. “I’ve learned in this role to think in a “circle of life” kind of way,” says Mike. “You need to think of things from beginning to end.”

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March is National Nutrition Month! Three Ways to Support Healthy Eating in Early Childhood

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Photo Credit: Ian Applegate

March is National Nutrition Month, a month-long nutrition education and information campaign created to encourage families to develop healthy eating habits. Healthy eating is vital to supporting young children’s physical and mental development, and when healthy eating habits are established at an early age, they often continue onward into adulthood and beyond. Still, when families are busy juggling hectic work schedules, child care needs, and the daily stresses of parenting, it can be difficult to plan healthy meals. The problem is compounded when families are struggling to make ends meet financially. Poor families are much more likely to live in “food deserts” where access to fresh produce and healthy staples is extremely limited; they also may not have the time or resources to make healthy home-cooked meals.

A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times by sociologist Caitlin Daniel highlights another barrier for poor families trying to encourage their children to eat healthy foods. Prior research findings show that it can take 8-15 attempts at introducing a new food for a child to accept it; for many poor parents, Daniel explains, “children’s food rejections cost too much.” Daniel spent two years studying how 73 families from different socioeconomic backgrounds chose what foods to give to their children, interviewing them and observing the patterns in their daily lives. “When I asked her about offering cauliflower 10 times to shape her son’s tastes, a poor mother from a town outside Boston said: ‘No. No. That’s a lot of wasted food.’ This mother faces an uncomfortable choice: She can experiment and risk an empty cupboard, or she can make her food last by serving what her son likes, even if it’s not the healthiest and even if she feels guilty about it.”

So how can parents and child care providers introduce new vegetables to young children without taking on an onerous financial burden? Stephanie Lorek, an educational consultant at All Our Kin, has discovered a few key strategies through her experience with the Garden Project, an All Our Kin initiative to enhance family child care programs’ outdoor curriculum, promote healthy eating, and encourage outdoor exercise for very young children in urban communities. Through the Garden Project, Stephanie helps providers build raised vegetable garden beds in their own back yards and teaches
them how to garden and use the outdoors as an educational tool.

“It’s pretty established that it can take 8 or more exposures for a child to accept a new food,” Stephanie says. “If you go to the farmer’s market and buy healthy foods, but then the kids spit it out, of course you’re going to think, ‘That was a waste.’ That stuff’s expensive. But if you have a vegetable garden, there’s so many plants that there’s no need to ration. The kids can try it and spit it out, and that’s fine, and I don’t consider it wasted. It’s okay if they don’t like it at first. One of my favorite things to say is ‘You don’t like it yet.’”

Stephanie points to a combination of factors that make the Garden Project effective at promoting the acceptance of new foods. “With the Garden Project, you see the whole process – the seeds being planted, the plants growing and ripening, and the harvesting. The kids are involved the whole time, and they’re invested in it, so they’re more likely to try the vegetables.”

10-27-2014 023 (1)Stephanie also points to the social aspect of the Garden Project. “If I can get one kid to try a new vegetable, all the others will try it too – it’s a secret I’ve learned.” Peer modeling is important, but modeling by adults is also fundamental. “Many adults don’t like veggies themselves, so they’re inadvertently modeling their own negative associations to children. When I’m on a Garden Project visit, I always try the foods myself first, and then I have the provider try it. The kids become curious, and they see that it’s not so scary. If I hand a kid a cherry tomato, they’ll pop it in their mouth without even thinking about it.”

Tips for Parents

If you don’t have access to an organic garden of your own, there are still many ways you can promote healthy eating with young children.

  1. Adopt family-style eating at mealtimes.

In her work with family child care providers, Stephanie tries to encourage family-style eating, where the children and the provider sit around a table and everyone serves themselves; when all of the available foods are healthy options, there’s no need to worry that the children will make a poor choice. Family-style meals are also opportunities to have dynamic, vocabulary-building conversations with young children.

  1. Practice modeling enjoyment of new foods.

“It’s great if adults are eating the same thing as everybody else,” Stephanie says. If a father serves vegetables and whole grains to his children but eats unhealthy foods himself, his children will receive mixed messages about food choice. On the other hand, if everyone eats the same thing, that father can model enjoyment of healthy foods and an open attitude to trying new things. “Modeling is the single biggest thing an adult can do to build healthy eating habits in children,” Stephanie says. “It can also make parents change their own eating habits. When adults practice modeling a positive attitude around food for kids, they can convince themselves to try new things. Maybe they even find that they like something now that they didn’t like when they were younger.”

  1. Involve children in decisions around food.

When children are engaged with the food preparation process, they feel invested in the outcome. “In the garden, they see the whole cycle, starting with planting the seeds,” notes Stephanie. “Even the two year olds grasp the basics of gardening.” But gardening is valentina miriam 010just one way to help children feel excited about the food process. Parents and providers can also involve them in meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking, letting them make some decisions and reminding them how their food got to their plate. “Kids have so little control over their lives and their schedules, and sometimes they reject foods just to get back some of that feeling of control,” explains Stephanie. “But that can create bad habits in the long run.”

 

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New All Our Kin Report Makes the Case for Investing in Family Child Care

Exciting news: All Our Kin just released a new report, Examining Quality in Family Child Care: An Evaluation of All Our Kin.

ExaminingQualityThumbnailFor the past year and a half, we have been working closely with external evaluator Toni Porter to conduct a rigorous quantitative evaluation of All Our Kin’s impact on child care quality. The study (which was made possible by funding from the Grossman Family Foundation) compared the quality of care in the programs of family child care providers who were in All Our Kin’s network with that of similar providers who had no contact with All Our Kin. Trained outside observers visited all providers’ programs for approximately three hours each, evaluating them using two tools: the Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale – Revised (FCCERS-R) and the Parenting Interactions with Children: Checklist of Observations Linked to Outcomes (PICCOLO). Both the FCCERS-R and the PICCOLO are nationally-recognized tools for measuring child care quality, and both are correlated with positive outcomes for children.

The results are in. The data show that All Our Kin providers significantly outperformed non-All Our Kin providers on measures of quality.

  • All Our Kin providers scored, on average, 53 percent higher on the FCCERS­-R, and 30 percent higher on the PICCOLO, than providers who were not associated with All Our Kin. 
  • All Our Kin providers performed particularly well on FCCERS-R subscales measuring Interactions and Listening & Talking.
  • Sixty-four percent of All Our Kin providers scored 4 or higher on the FCCERS-R, compared to five percent of non-All Our Kin providers. 
  • All Our Kin providers’ average scores on the PICCOLO’s Teaching subscale were 76% higher than those of the comparison providers.
  • Twenty-nine percent of All Our Kin providers were rated “good” to “excellent” on global quality compared to five percent of non-All Our Kin providers. Other studies using the same research tools have found that just seven to nine percent of family child care providers rate as “good” to “excellent.”
  • Fifty percent of All Our Kin providers intended to stay in the field of family child care “as long as possible,” compared to seven percent of the comparison providers. Intention to remain in the field has been shown to be an important correlate of quality.

resultsgraphbThese results back up what we have been saying all along: that investing in family child care providers creates a measurable difference in child care quality for our communities’ youngest and most vulnerable children.

“All Our Kin has always been deeply invested in evaluation, and this study is exciting because it takes our work to the next level,” says Kayla Reiman, All Our Kin Research & Evaluation Fellow and co-author of the report. “We hired an external evaluator who is highly respected in the field, trained multiple observers with no previous affiliation with All Our Kin, and compared All Our Kin providers to other providers with similar demographic characteristics and from similar cities in Connecticut. Because research on family child care is limited, this rigorous study makes a valuable contribution to the field.”

Please take a moment to read the report today.

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A Visit to Yanerys’s Program

Early in November, I went to the home of Yanerys Aziz to help her prepare her speech for our New Haven benefit. The speech she gave on November 18 was lovely (you can read it here), but it provides just a quick snapshot of Yanerys’s warmth and dedication to her work. Below is the full post about my visit to Yanerys’s program.

It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon in late fall, and the doorbell rings: a young girl’s parents have come to pick her up from child care.

Yanerys Aziz, the girl’s family child care provider, knows from experience that this interaction can be far more than a thirty-second encounter. Instead, it is an opportunity to build a relationship. “I try to offer a family feeling,” Yanerys explains. “When parents come pick up the child, I want them to feel like they’re at home.” And indeed, the mom and dad who have just arrived take off their coats, hug their daughter, and gather around Yanerys’s kitchen table to chat. They share details about their days, laugh about movies they’d seen and books they’d read, and work out a plan for helping their daughter overcome her fear of the vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile, another mom is on the couch reading a book with her son, and two toddlers are experimenting with playdough at a child-sized table.

“Some of these parents have been with me for years, with all of their children,” Yanerys tells me. “My program is always at full capacity because they refer each other. They like the close relationships, the respect we have for each other. And the kids love it. They see that their parents are comfortable, so they become comfortable.”

Starting from scratch

Read Count Grow 113Yanerys has been a family child care provider in West Haven since 2007; before that, she worked as a teacher at a child care center in Orange. One day in 2006, her husband casually asked her why she didn’t open her own home-based child care program. Yanerys was intrigued by the idea, but was intimidated by the process of starting a business from scratch. “Opening a business is a big thing. There are so many things to worry about and so many questions to answer,” she says. Because her first language is Spanish, she wasn’t sure if she could navigate the bureaucracy of the state licensing process by herself. Then she found out about All Our Kin and learned that there were Spanish-speaking staff members who could help her through the licensing process through the Tool Kit Licensing Program. “I was so happy to find out about All Our Kin. All the details, I was able to learn in Spanish. Then, after I got my license, I was open with my day care and everything, but I didn’t know how to get children. I had left my job as a center-based teacher. I was so afraid that it would be months and months and I wouldn’t have any children.”

Yanerys contacted Tanya, an All Our Kin educational consultant, and asked her to stop by her program to do a mock walk-through. “She pretended she was a mom looking for child care, and I gave her a tour of the inside and the outside space and showed her the contract. At the end, she gave me advice. She said, ‘You have to welcome the parents in to your house. You have to make them feel more comfortable. Open the curtains. Bring the educational materials out so that they can see them. Change your contract so that it’s clearer, more professional.’ She answered every question. And she connected me with Erica Wilcox [All Our Kin’s administrative assistant], because I had no knowledge of computers at the time. Erica helped me with the marketing. She helped me create a logo for my day care. We made business cards and flyers for me to post around the community.” Yanerys also obtained a zero-interest loan from All Our Kin early on that allowed her to renovate the ground floor of her home; now, she has a beautiful child care space with child-sized furniture and developmentally-appropriate materials. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, with a successful business and strong relationships with my families, without that support at the beginning.”

A thirst for knowledge

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Yanerys (left) with another provider at an All Our Kin event

Since joining All Our Kin’s network, Yanerys has come to dozens of workshops and participated in multiple professional development series. She was the first All Our Kin provider to achieve accreditation by the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC), and she has even presented about NAFCC accreditation to newer providers who are interested in learning more about the accreditation process. “For me, everything is about preparing the children,” Yanerys says when asked about her motivation for engaging in so many professional development activities. “That’s golden. Being sure that the children can succeed when they go to school. I want to be a person that can give the best to the children, and if there’s something I can do to become better, to learn more, to be more inspired, I will do it. And I get more out of each training because I love the work.” Yanerys also attends conferences and workshops about child development that are offered by other organizations in Connecticut, even when their primary audience is providers in center-based child care programs. “Every time I hear something about child care, I go for it, even if I am the only family child care provider there. I feel a little bit different, but it’s always valuable.”

Parents trust Yanerys with the care and education of their children in part because of her commitment to continuous learning. “Parents ask me, ‘Oh Yanerys, my child is biting,’ or ‘My child is afraid of the vacuum, what do I do?’ They say, ‘She knows what she’s talking about.’ They respect me because of the trainings I go to.” When she participated in All Our Kin’s Circle of Security program for family child care providers, she found the material so engaging that she copied some of the materials for the parents and told them about techniques to promote secure attachment. And she doesn’t just absorb knowledge from All Our Kin staff: “I learn from everybody, from all the providers’ experiences. I teach them what I know, too.”

“We are all human beings”

After so many years of attending All Our Kin programs, Yanerys has been able to track our organization’s growth. “In the beginning, when I was coming to a training, All Our Kin was in this super small space on Grand Avenue. There weren’t so many providers, and it was like a family. I come to the trainings in the new space, and the meetings now are way larger. Every time, it’s more and more providers. It’s amazing how big All Our Kin has gotten! But it’s still a family feeling. When I go to the meetings, I joke with the staff and every other provider. Whatever issues I have, I know that All Our Kin is there for me. They give me advice about what to do. Even with personal stuff, they come just to be with me. They keep calling me, checking up on me.”

At the doorway, the little girl struggles to put her winter coat and looks to her parents for help. Her father stoops down and turns the sleeve inside out so that she can put her arm through. As Yanerys watches the interaction, she reflects, “We are all human beings. Stuff happens to everybody. We smile, we cry, we have pain. When you reach out, and ask for support or knowledge, your life is happier, because you’re able to work out all your needs.”

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