All children deserve the opportunity to grow up healthy and thrive. That’s why to transform child care, families and caregivers must lead the way.
This is the second post in a three-part series that describes how RWJF and partners are amplifying the influence that families have over the systems that impact their lives. The first piece discussed how Ascend at the Aspen Institute is working with families to create policy and systems change in their communities. And the third and final post in the series describes how a collective of caregivers are shaping stronger family-supportive policies.
All children deserve the opportunity to grow up healthy and thrive. But barriers have been built in front of some families that make it harder to access child care that meets their needs, and early educators and care providers aren’t paid enough to keep their doors open and support their own families. It doesn’t have to be this way.
At the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, we believe that the pathway to an equitable child care system must start by centering the voices of families and early educators who are closest to the child care crisis and therefore closest to the solutions. Many funders have historically supported direct services to children and families rather than moving upstream to build power among marginalized communities to transform systems. And while many direct service organizations are led by professional advocates who may also be parents and caregivers, they may not experience these structural barriers themselves.
We launched our project, the Raising Child Care Fund (RCCF), because we realized that while our organization and others in the philanthropic community could play an important role in making child care more equitable through our grantmaking, we also have a responsibility to be good partners and lift up the voices of families, providers, and allies who are closest to the child care crisis. We believe amplifying these voices and building powerful coalitions with leadership that includes parents, caregivers, and providers is the only way to make the transformational changes our care economy needs.
RWJF Executive Vice President Julie Morita discusses why child care must be accessible in every community, reflect the diversity and needs of all families, and be informed by policies that caregivers have shaped. Read Julie's Op-Ed >>
Through the RCCF, we gather and regrant funds directly to community-based organizers who work alongside parents and caregivers—especially those who have been historically marginalized—to lift voices, build power, and expand equity in child care.
By the end of 2022, RCCF was partnered with skilled community organizers in 16 states and the District of Columbia, and more than three-fourths of our grantee partners are led by people of color. These groups recruit parents, caregivers, and providers to share their stories and expertise. In the process, it becomes clear that their challenges are not individual problems but systemic failures. This realization fuels collective action.
Our grantee partners are demanding and filling seats at policymaking tables in city councils and statehouses around the country, ensuring access to affordable child care for all through monumental policy achievements, for example:
Mothering Justice in Michigan is developing a fellowship for Black and Brown women to become leaders in advocacy and organizing. They are also working with Governor Gretchen Whitmer to advance the “Mamas’ Agenda.” Developed with women of color at the table, the agenda includes proposed policy solutions for the issues that affect mothers of color and their communities most—reproductive justice, basic needs security through a child tax credit, affordable child care, and paid leave.
SPACEs in Action in Washington, D.C., co-leads the Under 3 DC Coalition that engages early educators and parents to tell their stories before the D.C. Council. The coalition helped pass a new city tax which has supported increases in early educator salaries. To ensure providers could access the new funding and have input into decisions affecting their wages, SPACEs organized eligible child care centers and family child care homes. SPACEs then mounted a video campaign featuring providers explaining what the raise meant to their families, leading the D.C. Council to extend access to health insurance for the workforce––including undocumented workers.
The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice in Louisiana is holding listening sessions across the state to unite parents, caregivers, and providers to discuss what they think is most needed to help children and families thrive. The Coalition previously organized with advocacy partners in New Orleans to pass a small tax that supports 1,000 new child care slots for families who struggle to afford child care. The measure is expected to generate $21 million in its first year and last for 20 years.
Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ) in New Mexico worked tirelessly over 12 years to codify a right to child care in the state constitution. OLÉ built a statewide network of parent and caregiver advocates and allies, knocked on doors, and spoke to voters. In November 2022, New Mexicans passed the amendment with over 70% approval to enshrine a right to child care and early education in the state constitution. The measure, which increases the state’s annual budget for child care and early education, is a model for economic mobility.
Across the country, organizers like our grantee partners are uniting to create a better child care system through strategic action at local, state, and national levels. In 2022, a coalition of organizations launched the national Child Care for Every Family Network to build a state-to-national campaign for equitable child care.
A momentum for unprecedented progress
Child care is a racial, gender, and economic justice issue. Our current systems fail to provide the care that families want or need, or value those who provide the care. The COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed focus to the child care crisis, but only a temporary solution in the form of the federal American Rescue Plan Act. While parents and providers wait for federal action that lasts, there are important signs that leaders in Washington are listening.
Last month, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a sweeping range of administrative actions to try to address the crisis by issuing guidance to lower parent copayments for child care subsidies and encouraging higher compensation for caregivers. Some members of Congress have sponsored efforts to improve access to and funding for child care.
Creating transformational change requires an engaged base of families calling for reform—bases formed over years of labor-intensive work by organizers working to build trusting relationships in their communities. We must keep lifting up and funding those closest to the crisis—and listening to their voices—to create solutions that truly work for families.
Read more about how many of our grantees are incorporating and responding to parent and caregiver voice.