Hope Starts Here (HSH) has 26 policy priorities in its framework. Using these priorities, the Hopes Starts Here office and stewardship board have developed a policy-advocacy plan that is adaptable to the ever changing political and social climate while providing a road map for our advocacy efforts through 2027.
For the state of Michigan’s fiscal year 2020-21, we are focusing on three policy priorities:
- A comprehensive workforce strategy
- Childcare subsidy rate increases (family eligibility increases and ECE program monthly reimbursements, or contracts)
- A universal screening and referral system
For ease of mapping various policy focus areas over time, we are aligning priorities to one or more of the three system-changing levers that address access (equity and opportunity), quality (preparedness and achievement) and affordability (cost for families and return on investment).
Developing a cross-sector workforce strategy for early childhood is important to the field and to our community. Ensuring there are equitable pathways to attract and retain talent contributes to the learning and development of young children and offers safe, meaningful and reliable options for their parents. A cross-sector workforce strategy is a different approach to our traditional and separate pushes for better appreciation, wage and benefits across these early childhood professions of community health workers, doulas, childcare providers and health consultants. Overall, this combined workforce is undervalued and underpaid. These essential workers need benefits and promising professional development opportunities. Policies that provide for increased wages, shared health insurance models and multiple career pathways with similar entry qualifications support solid attraction and retention approaches that lead to responsive relationships for children and adults, strengthen core two-gen life skills, and reduce sources of stress in the lives of children and families. This policy priority activates all three levers, access, quality, and affordability.
Finding new ways to fund early childhood and making better use of current resources is necessary to continue to raise childcare subsidy eligibility and reimbursement rates to levels necessary for the financial stability of families, program providers, our community and state. The demand for childcare is increasing, however, the high cost of childcare is a major barrier for some parents who may earn low wages. There is a significant need to continue to push the eligibility threshold so that more families who need childcare to work or go to school can afford it. This policy priority is in alignment with access and affordability. Additionally, more is needed to also increase early childhood program quality and reduce program instability for children and their families by shifting bi-weekly reimbursements to monthly contracts for early childhood programs. Research shows that quality early childhood care and education experiences provide a strong foundation for success in school and in life.
Early childhood education programs can strengthen parents’ attachment to the labor force and increase their earning potential by providing a safe and nurturing environment that furthers the education and development that parents are providing at home. Children who enter school at higher levels of readiness gain higher earnings throughout their lives. If families and caregivers can provide quality early childhood development, then children will start school ready to learn. Early experiences promote future learning, behavior, and health. If children start school ready to learn, they are more likely to read at grade level by 3rd grade. If children read at grade level by 3rd grade, they’re more likely to graduate from high school. If children graduate from high school, they are more likely to go on to higher education or higher wage-earning vocation. This policy priority is in alignment with quality.
Finally, if we want to make sure that children are born healthy, survive and thrive we must address the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age, or the social determinants of health. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power, and resources at global, national, and local levels. The social determinants of health also determine access and quality of medical care that promote the health, development, and well-being of Detroit children. We know that the first 1,000 days are a time of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability. How well or how poorly mothers and children are nourished and cared for during this time has a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive.
As a first step to increasing the access and quality of medical care and social service needs, we are advocating for a universal screening and referral service system where the needs of children and choices of families are central. All families need a system which will ease access, identify concerns early, engage respectfully and guarantee seamless connectivity from access to information to warm hand-off from primary care to referral agencies to service provider and touchpoints that follow the child and family after birth. This policy priority is largely aligned to access and affordability.
We are hopeful that our community partners, stakeholders, legislators, and policy makers embrace and actively engage to move each of the above policy priorities forward to legislation and increased investment statewide and in the city of Detroit. We believe these are the first best steps in putting children and families first and supporting the early childhood sector best!