By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications
The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) works to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children, youth, and families thrive. Through community partners like Ready for School, Ready for Life, CSSP tests and shares lessons learned about innovative, comprehensive local early childhood systems across the country and advances policies that help parents succeed and young children flourish.
These partners are part of the CSSP’s Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network (EC-LINC), which brings together communities across the country with the common goal of improving equitable outcomes for young children and developing a system that helps all young children and their families thrive.
“Ready for School, Ready for Life is one of 14 organizations that participate as learning partners. It’s a learning laboratory where system leaders at the community level learn from each other, share innovations, solve problems, and figure out how to make a stronger early childhood system, “said Ngozi Lawal, CSSP’s project director, prenatal-three initiative. Ready Ready joined the EC-LINC in 2018.
In Guilford County, CSSP is helping support Ready Ready to accomplish its prenatal to three agenda. “Guilford County has laid its PN-3 goals really clearly. For instance, the County is working to increase in HealthySteps usage, the pediatric intervention that helps more low-income families get access to parenting education, credible information about child development, and connections to needed resources,” Lawal said. “The foundation of all of this work is advancing racial equity and supporting parent and family engagement.”
“Ready Ready’s approach to universality, the premise that anyone, regardless of who you are, what you look like, what zip code you live in, can receive Navigation support is something that other jurisdictions can learn from because all families can receive support,” Lawal said. “When we take out the notion that only certain families need this support and just look at the humanity of having a baby and how hard that is, making the service available to everyone makes a difference and better supports families.”
Lawal says the prenatal-to-three work CSSP focuses on can be summed up in three areas: early care and education, family support, and health and mental health. On the early care and education front, she is encouraged by the Biden administration’s efforts to invest in better wages for early childhood educators, universal pre-k, and parental support. “Parents need high-quality child care. They need a place that is stimulating for their young children’s brains and teachers who are qualified and well-paid.”
Citing research that finds many early childhood educators in the workforce qualify for public assistance because of the historically low wages in the industry, Lawal added, “It’s a travesty. It’s an embarrassment for our country. The pandemic relief funds are a real opportunity to help raise the early childhood educators’ wages to help keep them in the workforce. It’s not just a good investment; it’s an investment that’s absolutely critical for the economic engine of the country.”
CSSP also helped Ready Ready develop the Guilford Parent Leader Network (GPLN), which was established as a decision-making body for Ready Ready. The group’s goal is to ensure that family voice is brought into every key decision as we work together to build an innovative, connected early childhood system in Guilford County.
“We shouldn’t have services without having had parents come to the table to have input on what the services look like,” Lawal explained. The Parent Leader Network brings together parents from across the country to collaborate, build leadership skills, advance racial equity, and advocate for change in their communities. Guilford County parent representatives were able to join the original group of Parent Leader Network representatives who developed the Manifesto for Race Equity & Parent Leadership in Early Childhood Systems, a document for early childhood agencies written by parents about parent and family leadership in early childhood systems.
Racial equity is a vital thread of CSSP’s work. With the anniversary of the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, Lawal said she feels a sense of encouragement that the whole country is having a reckoning and that generally speaking, more people are willing to recognize that a problem exists, engage in conversation about it, and most importantly, beginning to develop the confidence to address it.
“You can’t address a problem until you agree there’s a problem,” Lawal said. “People are beginning to ask ‘what can I do at my level to make a difference?’ We are asking ourselves, “How can I educate myself, what can I learn so I can make better decisions, and what biases do I need to challenge?”