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Empowering Advocacy: Reflections on the 36th Annual Child Care and Early Learning Advocates Meeting


Last week, I traveled to Washington DC for the 36th Annual Child Care and Early Learning Advocates Meeting. Each year, the National Women’s Law Center invites leading national, state, and grassroots advocates from across the country to come together, regroup, and recharge, as we confront both long-standing challenges and newer opportunities. It’s a chance to learn and to strategize collectively about how to build on successful local, state, and national campaigns and policy changes to shape a comprehensive system that offers equitable access to high-quality, affordable child care and early learning experiences. 

This meeting was inspiring and demonstrated how many people are dedicated to and engaged in this work. During my time in DC, I met advocates from Alaska down to Florida. Parents organizing in South Carolina. Providers speaking their truth in Minnesota. Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) advocates shaping campaigns in New York. Some seasoned advocates were around when the building blocks of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) were first being put into place, and then there were new voices like mine, fed up that we still haven’t given child care the national priority it needs to truly impact families, businesses, and communities. For two days, I worked alongside advocates from across the country, exploring different ways we can champion child care. I was reminded that the movement to expand access to quality, affordable child care isn’t new, and it isn’t taking a break or stepping aside any time soon.  

Effective Advocacy Is Equity-Focused 

From recognizing that access to child care is a catalyst for ensuring equity, upsetting generational poverty, and creating inclusive opportunities for the workforce of the future – to understanding the need to uplift and center diverse, authentic voices with lived experience on child care issues, advocates for child care are deeply concerned about equity. 

This concept of responsive, equity-focused advocacy resonated with me and seamlessly aligns with our values of respect and compassion. As an agency, we strongly believe in meeting others where they are, valuing their expertise, and centering their voices in understanding how to move forward together. I’m encouraged by the fact that equity isn’t just a concept for us – it’s a driving force behind initiatives like The Village at Action for Children, which is committed to bringing together leaders in family child care and equitably centering the voices of Family Child Care professionals, many of whom are women of color and disproportionately affected by child care issues. In navigating the landscape of child care advocacy, we understand that true progress relies on a foundation of equity, ensuring that child care becomes a catalyst for positive change and equitable opportunities for all. 

Learn more about The Village at Action for Children in a recent writeup by the national nonprofit, All Our Kin.

Advocacy is a Team Sport

What set these sessions apart was the genuine collaboration among a diverse group of individuals who work at the ground level of child care every day. From child care providers to researchers to nonprofit employees, this conference brought together a wide range of authentic individuals to educate participants on how we can continue to move the world of child care forward. Whether speaking about child care affordability or how to advance the fight for child care, these were real people with real experiences who are all working towards the same goal: quality, affordable, and accessible child care. For one, this gathering of authentic voices was an example of the importance of teamwork in any advocacy setting. 

As a new child care advocate myself, being surrounded by such passionate people was nothing short of inspiring. It reminded me that there are no special rules to being a child care advocate — all you have to do is start somewhere. Informing loved ones about the struggles of child care can be just as impactful as setting up a meeting with a legislator. Child care advocacy is a long battle, and we must remember that we won’t change the field alone or overnight. At the end of the day, every advocacy endeavor by each team member contributes to the overarching goal, and it is the collective, sustained effort that will reshape the landscape of child care for the better. 

Advocacy is Fluid 

Navigating the diverse challenges that arise at any level demonstrates how the child care landscape requires flexibility and an understanding that advocacy is everchanging. From addressing affordability issues one day to confronting urgent matters related to quality the next, we must remain adaptable. Pinpointing a singular “big issue” becomes somewhat impossible, and this conference reminded me that we have to be ready for anything when it comes to advocacy.  
To meet this reality head-on, Action for Children has embraced the value of adaptability. We recognize that being ready for anything is not just a mindset but a crucial aspect of successful advocacy. Dovetailing with this value, Action for Children has recently unveiled three foundational advocacy principles. These principles — Advancing Children’s Well-Being, Championing Caregivers, and Defending Families—serve as the compass guiding our advocacy. Each principle outlines a crucial aspect of our mission, ensuring that we remain aligned with our overarching goals even when the day-to-day details change.

Join the Fight To Help Children Thrive

As you consider your place in the advocacy world, we encourage you to join Action for Children in the fight for children’s ability to thrive. By sharing this blog, passing along resources, educating friends and family, donating to Action for Children, and even supporting state and national advocacy efforts, you help take this fight one step further toward a world where all children can thrive. 

Author: Shea McHugh, Advocacy Associate at Action for Children

Action for Children is the local child care resource and referral agency for central Ohio, and is committed to assuring quality early learning experiences for all children. Our services focus on transforming the lives of children by supporting the everyday heroes who most influence our children’s early growth; care givers, educators, parents, and guardians. Learn More.

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