Learning to value and support caregiving requires listening to and amplifying the voices of families.
Caregiving is a deeply meaningful and joyful experience that all families should be able to easily embrace. At RWJF we recognize that care is a public good because everyone has a collective stake in the wellbeing of our friends, neighbors, and every person in this country. However, various barriers can make it difficult—or even impossible—for those facing the effects of embedded racism and other forms of exclusion to provide that care.
Removing these barriers and solving the country’s caregiving crisis is an urgent imperative. The already struggling child care system is experiencing a funding cliff that is likely to result in some 70,000 programs closing and certain to make it even more difficult for families to access quality, affordable care. Additionally, care needs for the aging population and people with disabilities are also growing, with 10,000 people turning 65 each day and one in four people living with some type of disability.
At RWJF, we’re working to advance policies and better social conditions to support caregivers. My dedicated colleagues have been sharing ideas for how to amplify family voices and wisdom as we work together to find solutions.
Enhance the Influence of Families
How can anything designed without you support you?
That question, posed by Marjorie Sims, managing director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, helps explain her organization’s approach to increasing the influence families have over the systems that shape their lives. In an interview with my colleague, RWJF program officer Trene M. Hawkins, Sims says that Ascend uses a two-generation (2Gen) approach that views families as a unit.
Using the 2Gen approach, this RWJF grantee has built partnerships with parents and caregivers who have generously shared their expertise and knowledge. Together, they have developed eight principles for engaging and centering parent voices, which include engaging parents as experts, ensuring equity, prioritizing social capital, and cultivating learning and evaluation. These principles can help other organizations, practitioners, researchers or policymakers become more intentional in centering parent voices.
By focusing on a whole family approach and actively listening to parents, Ascend is building a movement poised to create effective programs and solutions that reflect the needs and aspirations of families. (In addition to Ascend, RWJF grantee IDEO been pursuing this whole family approach by honoring lived experience and expertise as it works to design a more just and inclusive world.)
Lift Voices, Build Power, Expand Equity
Finding a pathway to an equitable child care system must start by centering the voices of families and early educators who are closest to the crisis and therefore closest to solutions, write Shannon Rudisill, executive director of the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative, and Rachel Schumacher, who directs its Raising Child Care Fund (RCCF). They elaborate:
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… Building powerful coalitions with leadership that includes parents, caregivers, and providers is the only way to make the transformational changes our care economy needs.
Julie Morita discusses the need for vital child care resources.
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 … In one example, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ) codified a right to child care in New Mexico’s state constitution. The measure, which increases the state’s annual budget for child care and early education, is a model for economic mobility ...
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.
Integrate Caregivers’ Perspectives Into Your Work
My colleague, RWJF program officer Dwayne A. Curry—a family caregiver himself—leads RWJF’s work with its new Family Advisory Council. He explains:
To create transformational change that lifts all children and families, we must center their voices in the policies, decisions, and systems that affect their lives. As a parent, I understand very well the value of doing so. That’s why I’m working with my colleagues at RWJF to integrate the perspectives of parents and caregivers into many aspects of our organization’s work …
To lean into one of the Foundation’s health equity principles rooted in integrating the perspectives of families, we established the Family Advisory Committee (FAC)—a collective of 12 parents and caregiver leaders from across the country with unique and diverse backgrounds, races and ethnicities, and family dynamics… Through the FAC, we are gathering the wisdom of families to create and share narratives that advance economic inclusion and the wellbeing of all families, especially those who are most affected by America’s legacy of structurally racist policies and practices. The FAC … supported the Foundation with feedback on grantmaking and programming focused on providing all children and families with the resources and support they need to thrive…
Every family is unique, from the way they look to the way they love. And every family is an important piece that needs to be included in our system of care.
Explore our efforts to ensure all caregivers have the support and resources they need to raise healthy, thriving children. >>
About the Author
Jennifer Ng’andu is managing director–Program at RWJF. She helps lead grantmaking activities to help ensure that all children and their families have the full range of opportunities to lead healthy lives, while providing a strong and stable start for every child in the nation.