Early child care supports critical brain development in our youngest children and permits parents to work outside the home, a key driver of a strong US economy. Despite its importance to the economy, the early child care sector is facing a workforce crisis stemming from historic underinvestment in wages, benefits and professional development for those working directly with the youngest citizens in our community.
80×3: Resilient from the Start is an initiative of Greater Twin Cities United Way that is working to address these challenges and create change at a systems level, with broad implications for the early child care sector overall. We envision a future where every adult in a child’s life understands the potential impacts of exposure to stress and trauma – and has access to the resources that promote healing.
Building a new ecosystem
In our first four months, 80×3 is already connecting families, providers and communities to establish and nurture relationships. In October 2022, 80×3 hosted an event with our partners and stakeholders to explore the biological effects of trauma during the earliest stages of child development – and its implications for our work with children. New spaces like this for learning and reflection address a critical need for child care professionals.
We are also advancing this work through my participation in the Bank Street Early Childhood Policy Fellowship, working with likeminded leaders from across the country to advance high-quality, equitable early childhood systems in our regions. As this fellowship continues into 2023, I look forward to collaborating and learning with this exciting group of changemakers to collectively shift the narrative of what early childhood care can do.
Collaborating for systemic change
The relationships and connections established by 80×3 will be vital, but change is also needed at the policy level. Working in partnership with our advocacy team, we will continue to advance policies that support key priorities within the early childhood care and education sector, as well as its workforce.
To achieve our vision of a trauma-sensitive region, Minnesota will need policies that support the recruitment and retention of early care and education professionals through improvements in training, compensation, health care, benefits and professional development resources.
Carrie Zelin Johnson is Greater Twin Cities United Way’s program officer for early childhood education. As part of that role, she coordinates our partnership with the Start Early Funders Coalition, an important collaborative effort among funders in our state to advocate for the needs of the early child care sector. She reminds us that despite the challenges, our partners in the field know what is needed.
“During the pandemic, additional resources for the child care sector were made available like mental health support, stabilization grants, essential worker pay and tax credits – all of which were effective short-term solutions,” she says. “We have seen these supports have a deep impact on child care professionals and the overall ecosystem. Now what we need are long-term solutions like these to support recruitment, retention and compensation practices.”
Change happens most effectively when it is driven by the communities most impacted. 80×3 brings together direct service child care partners to develop solutions that address the challenges no one can solve alone. To that end, we are regularly engaging 80×3 partners and stakeholders in the co-creation process – ensuring their voices are centered at every step.
Rinal Ray is chief executive officer of People Serving People, one of our year one 80×3 partners. As she tells me, “Parents and caregivers are closest to the needs and experiences of our youngest community members. Without responsive system changes, we will continue to replicate systems that work only for some.”
Change on the horizon
In early 2023, 80×3 will host a new convening of early child care organizations to further explore these topics and reflect on our initial findings. This convening will influence the next phase of 80×3 as we work to expand the initiative’s reach.