By Ambata Kazi-Nance, Communications Fellow
All Our Kin Early Head Start Family Child Care Specialist Debra Kelly and All Our Kin Early Head Start Ambassador Parent Lakeia Moore Discuss the Importance of Parents and Caregivers Working Together
A few months ago, All Our Kin had an opportunity to feature an amazing parent-educator partnership at The Bipartisan Policy Center’s national forum, “Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships: Spotlighting Early Successes Across America” in Washington D.C. The vignette featured Debra Kelly, formerly an Early Head Start (EHS) family child care educator and most recently an All Our Kin EHS Family Child Care Support Specialist, with EHS ambassador parent, Lakeia Moore. The event provided an excellent opportunity to amplify the importance of family child care in improving educational outcomes for children and its larger impact on families and communities.
We recently sat down with Debra and Lakeia to learn more about their relationship and to hear their reflections on having their stories captured in the video vignette and shown to a national audience. Read on to learn about their partnership and how the filming experience has inspired and deepened their work in service to families and children.
How long have you known and worked with each other?
Debra: [Lakeia’s] daughter [Nevaeh] started with me when she was about one. I met her because her sister had a child in my program a couple of years earlier and she recommended me to [Lakeia]. And that’s how we became partners in working with her child.
Lakeia: I enrolled my daughter in Debra’s program through [the] All Our Kin [Early Head Start program]. [Nevaeh] was at another program before that, but the transportation was hard for me, and I wanted something that was in my community. When I visited Debra’s program, I really wanted my daughter to go there. She’s been there since she was 16 months old.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Debra: That she really cared about her child and her child’s development.
Lakeia: She was very warm and nice, and she explained things if I didn’t understand them. I liked how she treated the children and how everything was decorated with the pictures on the walls and the science area. The different parts of the room were like different adventures for the children.
Why did you choose family child care? How do you think family child care differs from child care centers?
Debra: I chose family child care in the beginning because I had a new baby at an older age. I call my daughter my “surprise package.” [When she started school,] I wanted to be more available to her. I was working in the school system and I could see where she was going to become a latchkey kid, and I didn’t want that. So I spoke with my husband about changing my career and doing family child care, and he said, “Alright, if you can do it, do it.” So I was able to be there for my daughter, who was about 7 years old at the time, and I loved it. It was a transition from preschool, because that’s what I taught for 16 years, and it gave me an opportunity to have more control of how I help children in their development outside of a formal setting. I enjoyed it and kept doing it. And my surprise package is now 20.
With family child care, you get to be able to spend more personal, quality time with the children. It’s such a smaller group of children. I think that’s one of the most important parts. When I was in the center I had 20 to 21 children, with an assistant. With family child care, you can alter your schedule to meet the needs of the child.
Lakeia: This was the first time I ever did a child care program. I usually send my children straight to preschool, but my niece was going [to Debra’s family child care program] and she really liked it so I thought, ‘why not?’ and gave it a try. I love it, it’s a big difference. The classrooms are smaller, and [the providers] can tend to each child.
How has your life and work been impacted by working with each other?
Debra: Her impact on me was knowing that she trusted me enough to be there for her child to nurture her, enhance her development, and be a trustworthy person, where she could go to work or wherever she had to go and trust that her child was safe. That trusting relationship is everything, feeling trusted makes a provider feel they are really of value to this family.
Lakeia: A very big deal, she’s more like family. I just love her, she’s wonderful.
What quality do you value most in each other?
Debra: Her strength as a parent. It takes strength to say, ‘I’m going to go forward and make things better for my family,’ and trust that [your children] can be somewhere away from you and get what they need while you provide for your family, and that’s a quality I see in her, that love, that caring, and that strength to separate and do what you need to do.
Lakeia: She really cares, it’s not just a job for her. She takes the time, with the child and with the parents also. She’s just a caring person, and you can see it and feel it. She’s all about family.
Why is it important for you to work together?
Debra: Because mom is the first teacher, and I want to have that continuity between the two of us that helps make Nevaeh feel secure and growing and developing and knowing that there’s a partnership. Being able to partner with a parent, I get to understand more of what it’s like in their family and their values for their child, and I can keep that flow going so that when the child comes in, I’m not so different. I’m what mom values. I’m what dad values. I’m a continuation.
Lakeia: Because even though Debra is the teacher, Nevaeh should be taught at home as well. It shouldn’t be you just send your child off to daycare or school and say, ‘your teacher will do it’ and that’s it. The parents have to do it also. If you work together, it will create a good outcome for the child. That’s what I believe.
What message did you hope to get across through the video?
Debra: What I hope to come out of the interviews is that it gives a deeper perspective of what family child care providers do: the care, the love, and the expertise they put into the work they do for young children, especially infants and toddlers. It’s more than just caring for the children, we care for the parents and families also. And the uniqueness is that we’re right in the same neighborhoods as the families we service, and so we have a perspective on where they’re coming from and what their needs are and what they experience on a daily basis. That’s what I would like people to understand. It’s a lot more that we experience that people don’t see.
Lakeia: That it’s okay to send your child to daycare. A lot of people are skeptical about sending their child to daycare but I tell them, no it’s a great program, you should try it. It’s not just daycare, it’s an educational environment. With my daughter, I was having trouble potty training her, and she’s fully toilet trained now. She knows her ABCs, she knows her days of the week, her months, and her birthday. She’s more alert than my other kids at that age. She has adult conversations.
How did you feel about the video being broadcast to a live national audience at the Bipartisan Policy Center event?
Debra: It pretty much highlighted what it was like for me and [Lakeia]. Her daughter was always excited to come, and she was always excited to bring her and drop her off, and yes, [Nevaeh] does call me auntie.
Lakeia: It was wonderful, I was very happy. All Our Kin called me, and everybody told me I did great.
How has being in the video inspired your work and advocacy?
Debra: It gave me an opportunity to be on the outside and look in, because you don’t really think about the impact you’re having, you just do the best you can for the families. Seeing the vignette made me say ‘wow, I’m doing something,’ I’m doing something that I take for granted and I never had the opportunity to be on the outside and see it from that perspective. Since then, I’ve met a lot of awesome providers through All Our Kin and learned that I’m not unique in that way of caring, I’m just the one that was selected.
Lakeia: Last year, my daughter and her father, we went to Washington and talked to Congress about putting children first, putting babies first. It was so scary. We went to each floor and each office and talked to members of Congress, and I was telling them to “think babies” and one of [them] thanked me and said “I believe everything you say.” It was an amazing experience. I met people from all over, from Hawaii to Louisiana. I’m now an ambassador for All Our Kin’s Early Head Start program. I call parents to invite them to meetings or do a survey, I help clean up and decorate, or if [Early Head Start] has an event I’ll be there, sometimes babysitting or participating in the program. I’m just there to help out.
All Our Kin is honored to partner with Zero to Three in a shared mission to ensure all babies reach their full educational and developmental potential in their early years. An exciting part of our relationship with Zero to Three has been engaging with families enrolled in Early Head Start’s family child care program to participate in Strolling Thunder, an event that brings families across the nation to Washington D.C. to encourage congress members to advocate for policies that prioritize the needs of children and families. We were delighted to support Lakeia and her family’s involvement in Strolling Thunder last year.
We would like to thank Debra and Lakeia for taking time to speak with us. We thank the Bipartisan Policy Center for sharing Debra and Lakeia’s story with their audiences and for amplifying the voices of families and educators in overburdened, under-resourced communities. We also acknowledge Early Head Start and United Way of Greater New Haven for their dedication to transforming opportunities for children and families through expanding families’ access to high-quality, affordable, and sustainable child care and early education.