Since last September, Rachel Wilf has been an integral member of the All Our Kin team. She has raised up the voices of our providers and advocated for state and local policies that support families and children. Beginning this fall, Rachel will be pursuing a degree at Yale Law School. While we will miss Rachel enormously, I’m excited to announce that our terrific new Policy Fellow, Christina Nelson, joined us this week. I hope you enjoy this final post from Rachel, reflecting on her year at All Our Kin.
Over the last ten months I’ve witnessed many extraordinary events, including a toddler spontaneously deciding to measure his teddy bear against a height chart, a collective dance by over a hundred enthusiastic family child care providers at our annual conference, and the signing of landmark early childhood legislation in my home state. As I prepare to leave All Our Kin, I know that these memories are part of what I will take with me. But more importantly, I hope I’ll always remember what made each of these moments possible: people who invest in relationships and believe in the possibility of change.
Relationships are the core of our lives and at the heart of All Our Kin’s model. Babies learning? That’s grounded in trusting bonds between children and their caregivers. Working parents succeeding in their careers? This starts with parents finding a caregiver they can trust and rely on. A child care provider making a positive change in her practice? It begins when providers have mutually respectful relationships with mentors and colleagues. All Our Kin helps caregivers deepen all of these bonds so that they can better support children, parents, and their community.
I have seen how our providers invest in all of their relationships, beginning with those they form with the children in their programs. Take Debra Kelly, for example, who told me that she sees every day as an opportunity to form a bond with Kylie, a child with severe developmental delays in her program. “You can see in her eyes when she looks at you that she understands,” Debra told me. “She has that receptive skill for our language, but she can’t express it. My words to her are always: ‘Kylie, I’m going to get to know who you are. You’re going to teach me.’ I say that to her every day.” When family child care providers form such extraordinarily close bonds with the children in their care, they help children grow up feeling loved, nurtured, and secure.
Providers also form relationships extending far beyond the doors of their child care programs. As one Bridgeport provider I recently met said, “We deal with the whole family. That’s why it’s family child care.” Providers open early, close late, console parents who have lost their jobs, provide emergency food and clothing to families in need, and serve as a bridge between families and state intervention services. Providers form deep, trusting relationships with their own families, members of their faith communities, neighbors, and All Our Kin staff members. Their investment in these relationships allows them to serve as vital sources of support in their own communities.
I’ve been inspired not only by providers’ positive impact through their relationships, but also by All Our Kin providers’ shared belief that change is possible, for themselves and in their communities.
Providers show this internally through their commitment to continuous learning. I will never forget seeing our providers in their element at All Our Kin’s trainings, hands shooting in the air to share tips and strategies. They’re here after hours, in their free time after a long (often ten-hour) day of work, improving and striving and seeking out tough advice that will help them improve their practice. Many of them are taking strides to continue their own education, by completing their Child Development Associate Credential or finishing college. One new graduate of our Bridgeport CDA class, Bernanie Jean-Louis, exemplifies the tough choices that providers have to make to achieve their personal goals. All last year, she traveled from Stamford to Bridgeport two times a week during rush hour to attend each three-hour long class. “It was never easy,” she said at her graduation. “But to do well, you have to sacrifice.”
Providers also show their commitment to change by giving of their time to inform and reshape state and local policies. This year, for example, providers submitted testimony to the state regarding the Care 4 Kids subsidy program, shared feedback on child care licensing regulations, and came together to discuss ways that the state can better support children’s mental health. I cannot say how much admiration I feel for providers who give of their precious time to advocate and reshape the systems that affect our state’s children and families.
Too often, family child care providers have been overlooked, their hard work unacknowledged, and the potential for high-quality in home-based settings ignored. But I’ve had the great fortune to see many of these outstanding professionals in their element, in their homes, caring for our community’s littlest people. I’ve been there as providers engaged toddlers in conversations, gently lowered a baby’s toes into a bucket of water, warmly cooed to an infant, and gracefully averted squabbles. These moments have brought me back to my own childhood and reminded me of the wonder, exploration, and discovery that are a child’s first years. As a result of their extraordinary hard work, and the resources and support available through All Our Kin, these providers are helping children grow up healthy and strong and prepared for the lives that await them.
Our providers are some of the brightest, most creative, hardest-working individuals that I’ve ever met. In my whole life, I’ve never been surrounded by a group of people who are more effectively creating change through investment in relationships and sheer force of will.
This is one of the reasons that I have been so excited to witness landmark changes in our state’s early childhood system this year. The creation of the Office of Early Childhood and the passage of a new family child care contract are both crucial steps to fully including family child care providers—these bedrock members of communities across the state—in the systems that prepare and protect our young children.
To our providers, partners, and to the All Our Kin staff: thank you for helping me to see the power of positive change that grows from our relationships and our communities. It has been a joy to work and learn alongside you this year.
To close, I want to offer a few of my favorite photos and quotes from this year. I hope they give you a sense of the deep, positive impacts our providers are having in our community and inspire you as I have been inspired by this work!