Transcript: Grandparent’s Council Introduction and Advocacy 101

Presenters: Emily Neff and Lindsey Ramsey

>> Hello, everyone. Welcome to Trying Together’s Grandparents Council Education series. My name is Lindsay Ramsay. I am a public policy regional coordinator for Trying Together. And I’m here with my colleague.

>> Hi, everyone. My name is Emily Neff, and I’m the assistant director of public policy and practice and excited you’re joining us for this advocacy session.

>> Again, welcome to the Grandparents Council Virtual ECE series. As grandparents and caregivers are a crucial voice of young children, it is important to become informed about the many ways that you can advocate. The Grandparents Council Intro and Advocacy 101 workshop gives an overview of the origin and the need for grandparent advocacy in our region. Participants will receive an overview of the early learning Pennsylvania campaigns, how ECE programs are impacted by the budget process, and ways professionals and families can use their experience and knowledge to advocate. In addition, there will be extra resources and guidance on how to complete the mandated reporter training. At Trying Together, our mission supports high quality care and education for young children by providing advocacy, community resources and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families and the individuals who interact with them, like you. Trying Together envisions a future in which all caregivers feel valued. Today, we will go over the outline, and our focuses will be defining advocacy, the early learning of Pennsylvania campaigns. We’re going to do an overview of the budget timeline and how you can advocate. We’re going to talk about COVID-19 and early childhood education advocacy. And we’re also going to talk about ways we can take action and some of our reflections and takeaways from this presentation.

>> So before we go any further, we want to make sure that we’re all on the same page in how we define advocacy. And for us at Trying Together and what our advocacy looks like, it falls into the five — these five buckets that you see on the screen. And really, the center of advocacy work is government relations. And what that means is how we’re building relationships with our elected officials. That might mean state elected officials that are in Harrisburg. This could be local elected officials and even our ones in — nationally representing us in DC. And just as relationships are important with children and with community members and with families, the relationships that we have with elected officials are very important so that they are, you know, willing to speak with us to hear stories and to elevate early learning priorities.

>> Around mobilization, it’s really about the way we strategically bring visibility and awareness to our messaging regarding early childhood education and the needs of the field, the children, the parents and our educators. Also, through communications, it goes hand in hand because we bring visibility through our communications efforts, via social media, the content we put out and the ways that we communicate with the public and the people who are in need of services or support.

>> Yeah. And then to really round that out, it’s important that we have research, research that elevates the importance of early childhood education, that elevates it for the importance of children and the impact on their growth, as well as the importance of early childhood education and the research behind the importance of it for the workforce for caregivers. And with that, it helps also to inform policy. So really, all of these government relations, mobilizations, communications, research and policy are all deeply intertwined and really are the center of our advocacy work.

>> We’re going to talk a little bit about our Early Learning Pennsylvania Keep campaigns, our ELPA campaign. And we will go over each one.

>> First campaign that was founded is called Pre-K for PA. And it’s as simple as it sounds. It is focused on advocating for access to high quality, affordable Pre-K for three and four-year-olds. And this is through state investments and our statewide program called Pre-K Counts and in state investments in Head Start, which is the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program. So again, this is really focusing on those years right before kindergarten in getting more children into high quality settings that are geared towards three and four-year-olds. Another crucial piece of Early Learning PA campaigns and of the Early Learning PA infrastructure in PA is Childhood Begins at Home. And the focus of this campaign is to elevate the importance of evidence-based home visiting programs. So these programs acknowledge parents, you know, as a child’s first teacher through a generational approach. And really, what’s wonderful is that, you know, home visitors come right into the home. And even though in the time of COVID, we saw that home visiting continued virtually. So this is a really important piece of the early learning infrastructure.

>> Next, we have our newest campaign, our Start Strong PA campaign, which was launched in November 2019. Start Strong supports healthy child development and working families by advocating for increased access and affordability of high-quality childcare with a focus on our infants and toddlers. So it’s creating access for our families, increasing accountability for the field and also making sure that we’re providing the field with those crucial supports that they need to be able to deliver that access, high quality early learning environment. So we’re going to take a brief break here. And we want you to grab a notebook and a piece of paper and jot these things down, just so you have it for your own reflection. How do you see the Early Learning Pennsylvania campaigns fitting into your advocacy journey or supporting the needs of you and your family? I will say personally, Emily, that home visiting, whenever I — my daughter was in an early learning program really helped her a lot. We had a home visitor through Early Head Start. And she was able to identify a physical delay with my daughter. And she helped out and gave support with that, just as well as providing us with constant resources and support. As I was a new single mom, it was so helpful.

>> Thanks, Lindsay, for sharing that. I think it’s so important that people hear personal stories and how, you know, you and your family were impacted in a positive — really positive way. And I’m sure some of those watching have similar stories. And I think Lindsey, your example, points to how these programs all work together. So some families are utilizing both. So some families, as Lindsay said, , you know, was able to have a home visit or come into the home. But her child was also able to go to, you know, pre-k as well. And I want to also, you know, talk about how important that is when these professionals are able to help point out, you know, when there’s a possible delay. And early intervention is another important piece of the early learning infrastructure. And it’s something that we talk about throughout all three of the campaigns. So the high quality, you know, experience is really getting a professional working with you and your family who can connect you with resources and supports that families might not otherwise have access to.

>> Absolutely. All right. Well, we want you to hold on those reflections and continue to think about and research these Early Learning Pennsylvania campaigns.

>> Okay. So now we’re going to get a little bit into the state budget process. And I know when I first became an advocate and got into policy, you know, the budget, it’s not — you know, thinking about numbers and money and spending isn’t — it can be overwhelming and it can be confusing. And we just want to start off this process by saying you do not need to become an expert in this process. The reason that we share this with you in Advocacy 101 is so you know what the budget cycle looks like, so you know when is the best — when’s the best time to advocate, who to go to. It’s to give you some information so you can make more informed decisions about sharing, about — you’re sharing your story and taking — starting an advocacy journey. You are the expert in your own story, in your own experiences with, you know, caring for your — for children. But this is a really incredibly important piece to know as you begin that journey. So in Pennsylvania, the budget cycle is a year-long process. And it’s just that. It’s a cycle. Once one is over, the new one is beginning. And so this year-long process begins in July. And it is, hopefully, you know, wraps up June 30th. And at the beginning of the budget cycle, the campaigns that we talked about, the Early Learning PA campaigns, meet with the Secretary of DHS, which is the Department of Human Services, the Secretary of PDE, which is the Pennsylvania Department of Education, as well as the Deputy Secretary of OCDEL, which is the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, and with policy and budget individuals within the governor’s office. The reason for these meetings is to really share our vision, share priorities of what we’re hearing from the field that we would like these offices to address in the next budget cycle. And then, you know, in the late summer, early fall, so the governor is having these conversations with advocates, with internal offices. And they’re putting together — he’s putting together — Governor Wolf is putting together his budget proposal, which he will address the General Assembly in Harrisburg in early February. Now in February, this is only a proposal. But it’s important because it sets the stage for negotiations with the legislature. So it’s always important. We want to see that Governor Wolf, you know, in the past couple of years or two we’ve been working with, comes in and recommends increases for these programs. We want to see because that is where we’re really going to be working with throughout the rest of the budget cycle. And here’s just an example of the 2019 budget address. And it’s, you know, given in Harrisburg in the Capitol building to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Of course, this past year, it was done virtually. But we just wanted you to kind of see what this looks like and how big of a — how important of a process this is as we — each year. And so the next part of the budget process, which is really where, you know, really more important advocacy actions come in is in February and March, there are appropriations hearings. And what that means is the Appropriations Committee is the committee in the House and in the Senate, who makes decisions around how money is going to be spent. So around the budget. And each department, so the Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, goes before these appropriations committees. And they’re presented questions, and they have to answer questions around why and how this money is — how money is going to be spent in the next year. And so this is, you know, this is really important because this helps legislators to understand all those issues that are coming up in the budget. So, you know, pre-k is funded through the Department of Education. Childcare is funded through the Department of Human Services. So this is an opportunity where, through advocacy actions, we try to encourage legislators to ask a direct question of the departments that’s going to give them a better idea of the importance of the spending, of why pre-k and why childcare and why home visiting spending should be increased in the next year. And we always — you know, it’s important to — as we said in the beginning, those relationships are really important. So it’s also important that we have relationships with the secretaries in those departments and that they know that those questions are coming to them. This is not a time that we want to trip anyone up. This is a time where we’re all working together. And those questions really serve as making sure that the Appropriations Committee has the knowledge to make budget decisions. And then as those Appropriation Committees, as they wrap up in March, you know, towards the end of March and then beginning really in April and taking place, you know — it could take place through the end of June is really the negotiation period. So the House and the Senate both discuss their budget priorities. And they work to pass a budget bill. This could take place, you know, separately. But at the end of the day, the General Assembly, both the House and Senate, has to come together to pass a full budget bill. And during this time, this is a really important time for meetings with your elected officials to be taking place, either in Harrisburg or in their district offices, and, of course, right now, virtually, which is just as effective and just as important that they’re hearing from their constituents around what they want to see prioritized in the budget priority. So as a caregiver, as a grandparent to young children, as someone who wants to advocate, this would be — you know, April to June would be a very critical time to be, you know, calling, sending emails and really getting in touch with your elected officials. Now if you’re new to the advocacy journey and that’s not something that you are, you know, ready to do yet, there are other — you know, there are other ways you can get involved. If you’re more of a writer, you can write an op-ed and send it into your local newspaper around, you know, why you think the House and Senate should pass, you know, a budget that prioritizes early learning. You can join us for events where you’re more part of a group rather than, like, one on one. So we used to have Capitol visibility events where we would go to Harrisburg. And we will resume those in the future when it’s safe to do so. And on those days, you can come with a group of people. And you can go with one of us to your legislator’s office and, you know, share your story. And we can take care of some of the other logistics and be with right there with you. We’ve also done focus weeks. And that was new last year, I believe, Lindsay. And I know that we had to shift those. Those were something that we were able to do online. So we worked with programs and we worked with families to post, you know, share posts with, you know, their child, if they were comfortable to do so and something that they were working on in their early learning program. And actually, they were tagging their legislators, their elected officials in these posts. And we did get a response from a couple of legislators.

>> So we’re going to discuss a little bit further about all the things that Emily was just talking about. And we’re going to look at exploring childcare environments with elected officials. So as Emily mentioned before, building relationships and maintaining relationships are very important in the work that we do. We want to make sure that we have relationships with our constituents. And they’re available to share their stories with our elected officials, as well as building those relationships with our elected officials. So they have an opportunity to really connect with the constituents, connect with early learning programs and be able to understand the needs for the programs and the children and the families. In this picture, in these few pictures right here, we have some of our elected officials in Pennsylvania. And they are visiting early learning programs. And they are interacting with the children and interacting with providers, answering questions from children and our adult providers and really getting to understand what goes on in these programs on a daily basis. Next, we’re going to talk a little bit about our visibility efforts by our smallest constituents. So here, you see a little guy. And this was done during one of our focus weeks. We had a focus week last year that was conveniently the same week as Read Across America. So the theme was Dr. Seuss. And this little guy in this picture chose to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up. And I believe they were referencing the book, All the Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss. And he wanted to be a veterinarian. And this was at a pre-k towns program. So we were able to, you know, bring visibility to these messages from these children and post them via social media. And actually, an elected official retweeted the tweet of this child on social media and agreed in support of supporting early learning efforts. And then, of course, we will say this over and over again that your voice matters. And you guys are the experts. So we always do visibility events when we can. But due to COVID, we haven’t been able to be at the Capitol recently. But here are nice photos that you see, one of — one of our caregivers engaging a local elected official in the office. So she scheduled an appointment and was able to go visit him in his office and discuss Pre-K for PA and the need for investments. And here in the other picture, you see some of our Early Learning Pennsylvania campaign staff and Trying Together. And we were at the Capitol right there in the rotunda passing out a report to elected officials and also a recipe card for what it takes to create high quality infant and toddler care. And along with that recipe card came a little piece of pie. So it was very — a memorable moment for our elected officials as this happened around Thanksgiving time. So they had a piece of pie, they had their recipe card, and they have their report to sit and read at their office. And as we pass these out to all the offices, we had a chance to engage with our legislators and talk to them about some of our — the needs within our field and really build those relationships. So they understood what was needed and our messaging towards high quality infant and toddler care.

>> As we kind of shared, a lot of our examples were before pre COVID times. And we’d like to share those because I think it’s just — it’s important so that you see, although the scope of all the advocacy actions that you could take. We also want to acknowledge that, you know, we’re still currently, you know, adjusting a lot of our strategies for advocacy. So we wanted to share some effective advocacy strategies during the time of COVID that are safe for you to start begin engaging in now. Okay. So we just shared with you a lot of examples that occurred pre-COVID-19. And we wanted to share that with you because we wanted you to see the scope of our work and what advocacy looks like. And, you know, we highlighted, you know, elements of both, you know, sharing a research report while also participating in government relations work. We shared with you mobilizations and communications activities. There are a lot of effective ways to still advocate in a time — in the time of COVID-19 that are safe and, you know, still following all the guidelines. And so it’s a great time to start, you know, your advocacy journey still because we have a lot of strategies that Lindsay is going to share with you.

>> Absolutely, Emily. As you mentioned, a lot of things changed due to COVID-19. But, you know, you still can write letters to the editor or do op-eds to express how you feel about certain topics and issues within the ECE field or affecting the field. You can go on social media, tag a legislator, let them know what you need for support for your children and your family. Use this time to educate and mobilize your network, even just going on your social media account or sending out an email to your network about certain topics that are going on within the field. Participate in a phone call, an email campaign. So you can — Trying Together sends out tons of emails and calls to action. So you can participate in those and send emails to your legislator. Or you can participate in a phone call with your legislator. And we have no problem helping you set those up. And you could set up video meetings and virtual tours of early learning programs. So if your child is currently at an early learning program and you would like to have a discussion with — between an elected official and a provider about things that are going on to support the field, we can help you schedule that as well. And then there are also virtual forums like No Small Matter, which we would love for you all to see. So please reach out to us after the presentation. And we can set up a No Small Matter viewing for you and your network.

>> Before we get into some of these ECE advocacy wins, I want to highlight that what we just shared with you was a Pennsylvania state budget process. And as we mentioned at the beginning, you know, the campaigns really do focus on state investments. However, especially with the Start Strong PA campaign, it does take, you know, federal investments as well. So there’s opportunities for advocacy at the federal level. And when we think about early childhood education wins, this is really talking about what we’ve just seen in the past year due to COVID. So we just shared with you what a typical, you know, budget process might look like in Pennsylvania. We also want to, like, let you know what we’ve seen in the past 12 months. And so at the time — and then, like, at the time of this recording, you know, where we are in terms of getting federal advocacy money to flow to Pennsylvania. So a couple of highlights. So the Federal CARES Act, I think this is probably the stimulus package that, you know, that people remember the most with the name CARES Act. And when this was passed, there was childcare money that was set aside that was — flowed to all the states. The states were required to spend money, that certain pot of money, on childcare. And through this Federal CARES Act, Pennsylvania received $106 million to be spent on childcare. What was an extra win was that the camp — you know, I’m sure in part due to advocacy efforts and early childhood professionals and families and caregivers elevating their voices, is that the General Assembly chose to spend some of the general CARES Act funding on ECE as well. And that was a really important win for us that we wanted to celebrate. And so I wanted to add there that when we have wins like that, another important action in part of the budget cycle or just any advocacy site, anytime you’re advocating, is to say thank you. So you are, you know — we’re constantly talking about reaching out to elected officials and saying to them, you need to make — you need to make investments. We need to see this. Or we’re concerned about this policy. Here’s how we think it could be better. It’s equally important to reach out to them and say thank you for what you did for early learning. Here’s why I care about this issue. And thank you for taking action on it. So that was an important win. And so with — like I said, with wins, it’s important to show gratitude and say thank you and keep those relationships up. And so, luckily, the CARES Act funding was not the only time that childcare received priority and received funding in federal stimulus and recovery money at the federal level. We’ve seen, in other iterations of relief bills, more money that has got — that has been set aside for childcare. So in the COVID relief bill that passed in December 2020, 10 billion was set aside for childcare. And Pennsylvania received $303 million specifically for childcare. And Governor Wolf recently shared how that would be spent. Additionally, there was 250 million for Head Start and 614 million for nutrition assistance, which we know is also important. So when we’re thinking about being other programs and funding streams that impact children and families, we know that nutrition assistance is an important one. And while Trying Together doesn’t lead on that advocacy, we still like to highlight it and like to acknowledge that is part of the whole child. That is part of advocating for families. And as a caregiver, I think that’s important that you know that that is another piece of this infrastructure. And then most recently, in the American Recovery Plan, this included $39 billion for childcare. This is huge. And so it’s estimated that Pennsylvania will receive $1.18 billion for childcare. So that money is still coming. So I think this is — these are great wins. And as we — like I said, as we celebrate these wins, though, we also want to acknowledge the challenges. The childcare infrastructure is — has been underfunded for years. It was already, you know, fragile before COVID. So while there’s a lot of money coming to support and to stabilize the field right now, this is — this will continue to need to be — it’s still not enough. We still need to continue to advocate in the future. So the work is not done. And the important thing now is falling on Pennsylvania. So what’s Pennsylvania going to do with this 1.18 billion? So in addition to the budget process, it’s also going to be important to be advocating around this money that’s coming to the state. Lindsay, anything else you wanted to add around the early childhood wins?

>> No, I think you’re absolutely right, Emily. You know, we have had these great wins, especially I feel like that COVID-19 has brought more visibility to the importance of the field. But we have to continue to elevate the power of the profession and the importance of early childhood education because we are catching up and we were far behind before. You’re right. Before the pandemic, the field was absolutely under sourced. And it didn’t get the support that it needed. And we need our early childhood field to be able to support our workforce as we try to, you know, navigate our way back to some sort of normalcy after COVID-19. So I agree. Just continue elevating your voice and continue to advocating. And we’re going to talk about other ways you can advocate. And advocacy can be done in numerous ways. And ensuring children are safe and healthy is absolutely one of them. As a caregiver and an advocate for children, it’s very important to take the mandated reporter training, because we’re all mandated reporters. And we want to make sure that our children are safe. So mandated reporters are required to report any sign of abuse or neglect they see within a child. And here listed below are the links to access the free mandated reporter training and then also some resources that gives you information about being a mandated reporter. And you will also receive some additional resources that you’ll be able to tack the link to aside from this presentation. Take action. You are the expert. We’re going to say it again. You are the expert. So we want you to grab your notebook and your piece of paper again and do some self-reflection. What is the key issue you want to advocate for? What advocacy actions do you want to take? What messaging will you use? And how will you share your story? And also, who can you mobilize? Who in your network can you mobilize or your community can you mobilize and make sure your voice was heard? Take a look at these questions and take some time to write all this down. Emily, what is your key issue that you like to advocate for?

>> Oh, that’s a tough one, having to pick that out. But I’ll take this time, though, to talk about our public policy agenda that was recently released. And I think there’s a lot of issues. But I’m passionate on that agenda. So around thinking about — we talked a lot about the budget and investing so that more children can receive access. And so — and also investing so that professionals can have their needs met and provide quality care. But I think other key issues that I’m passionate for — passionate about are around developmentally appropriate practice and care and ensuring that children have equitable opportunities to thrive in high-quality early learning centers, especially around thinking about issues of suspension and expulsion and making sure that adults in the center and the adults in children’s lives have developmentally appropriate expectations for children and that they’re really supporting and developing children to be — have social emotional skills and they’re making sure that they’re not being punished for skills that maybe they haven’t learned yet. And then, of course, other key issues — and Lindsay, I know this is one of your key issues, and I know on our policy team, this is important to us — is around elevating the profession, elevating that caregivers and educators who teach young children who care for young children are respected and are compensated. And so those are a couple of key issues that I’m passionate about that you’ll also find in our public policy agenda.

>> Yes, Emily. Absolutely. And I absolutely am passionate about the early childhood workforce and making sure that we’re elevating the profession because if we see a future where we want all children to have access to high quality early learning opportunities, that means there needs to be high quality early childhood educators to be available to deliver those. So that is very important that we are making sure our field has resources, making sure that they have adequate pay and making sure the profession is respected, and people want to join the profession and want to stay in the field, so our early childhood — our families getting early childhood services have access to consistent care to help their education and their early learning journey. All right, guys. Just keep those reflections as a reminder of what is going to motivate you to advocate and what’s going to keep you going and, you know, push for your voice to be heard. We want you to take action. So here is a picture at the Capitol. And we just were advocating for Start Strong Pennsylvania this day. And you see a lot of different faces, a lot of diverse faces in children there, you know, at the Capitol to be able to represent the need for high quality access to infant and toddler care.

>> So a couple simple next steps in being becoming an active advocate is you can go on to our campaign website, which you see here. So if you go on to the, you know, Start Strong PA, Pre-K for PA, childhood begins at home, you can actually sign up to be an individual supporter. You could also just explore the websites. And you can look at the different reports that we’ve put out, look at some of the maps and statistics for your area where you live. And we would also love for you to support our public policy agenda that we talked about earlier. And, you know, you can sign up to have advocacy alerts delivered to your inbox. So Lindsay talked about an advocacy action that you can take is an email campaign. And what’s great about those campaigns is if you subscribe to this — if you subscribe to these policy alerts, you’ll get an alert when there’s an active email campaign happening. And all you have to do is type in your address. And a prewritten message is already there for you and will get directly sent to your elected officials, elevating that you support early learning. And just a couple of other reminders of how you can advocate. Like Lindsay mentioned, you do not have to go about visiting or contacting a legislator alone. We will not only help facilitate that connection, but if you would want us to be, we could — one of us could be there. So that is something that we are absolutely interested in helping more — shape more advocates in early childhood champions. And we definitely want to help you do that. Lindsay, any other thoughts around being an active advocate?

>> No. I just want to send this home again, just remember that your voice is important. And our elected officials actually want to hear from our constituents, like, those are the most important stories to them because it really gives them a perspective of what is happening in their communities. So just know that your voice is important and it needs to be heard.

>> Absolutely. And Lindsay said it a couple times. And I’m going to say it again. You are the expert. You are the expert in your own story. You’re the expert in your own caregiving journey with, you know, whether it’s your grandchild or other — if you’re caring for other children. And those stories must be heard because oftentimes, legislators or anyone else making, you know, budget decisions, they might not have — they might not have that interaction with young children. And it’s really important, again, to hear from you. So we just want to continue to elevate that this is — you’re the expert in your own story.

>> All right. So we’re just going to take a moment to reflect again. So get your notebook and your piece of paper and or pen. So we want to know what is an advocacy action you’re interested in taking in the next couple months. So please take a moment to write this down just so you can set up a plan in your head and be able to get up and mobilize yourself and make your advocacy action happen. And keep that reflection with you. And remember to contact us at Trying Together if you need any support with making that action happen and advocating. And we’re going to leave you with a quote from Fred Rogers. We need to remember that children are trying to — trying to understand their feelings in the world, trying to please the people they love, trying to grow. When grownups and children are trying together, just about anything is possible. So just remember that you play a huge part in your child, your grandchild, your family’s early learning journey. And your voice is important. And all those interactions and environments that you create for the children in your life are so important every single day. And we thank you for joining us. Again, our contact information is on the slides. And please, if you need it support with your advocacy, feel free to contact me or Emily anytime. Thank you.

>> Thank you.