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Centering the Voices of Family and Early Childhood Practitioners

August 4, 2022
Updated July 11, 2024

The Educare Five, a policy agenda for ensuring all families thrive, was launched during the 2021 Policy Exchange, an event co-hosted by Start Early and the Educare Learning Network as a forum for collective thinking and action.

“I want us to be more powerful as a whole.” – Kaira Wolfe, teacher, Educare Winnebago.

When we lift the voices and expertise of families, we can advance public policies to build a more equitable future for young children and families in this country. The Educare Five, the Educare Learning Network’s newly released policy agenda, commits to this approach for advancing five public policy priorities to ensure all children, families, and communities thrive.

Together with the financial support of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Start Early and the Educare Learning Network co-hosted the virtual 2021 Policy Exchange in mid-June, as an opportunity for parents, Educare staff, state and federal advocates, researchers and partners to learn collectively about pressing issues and promising strategies for advancing the Network’s policy priorities and recommendations at the local, state and federal level. The Policy Exchange also celebrated the official launch of The Educare Five.

What We Learned

The final session of the week, “Centering the Voices of Families and Early Childhood Practitioners: A Listening Session for Policy and Decision-Makers,” provided a forum for Educare parents, staff and school leaders from Educare Denver, Flint, Miami and Winnebago to voice their priorities and recommendations, grounded in their unique stories and perspectives. They shared their hopes for their children and all young children to be healthy, valued, loved, safe and thriving; to find and use their voices; and to be their best selves. Many spoke openly about their struggles and losses throughout the pandemic. We were honored by and grateful for their candor and sincerity.

We felt the weight of their words as they described the ways in which we, as a society, ask too much of parents and families. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact, especially in communities of color. We fail when we ask and expect families to be more and more resilient, but do not make structural changes to address barriers to health and well-being.

“One of my biggest concerns is that we are going to continue to ask parents to be resilient instead of truly interrogating the systems and figuring out how we develop them in a way that can be responsive to the needs of families. I think it’s admirable that so many of our families are able to continue to persevere despite just unprecedented circumstances, but the fact that we expect them to ant for our systems to remain the same, is problematic.” –Ja’Nel Jamerson, executive director, Educare Flint.

We heard how Educare programs, long committed to strong school-parent partnerships, provided resources and supports as parents faced job losses and children experienced school closures, recognizing that not all children and families have access to such programs. High-quality early learning programs “should be the norm for all children and not the demonstration,” noted Beth Berglin, director for public policy at Educare Miami.

We listened as parents described the appreciation and gratitude they have for their children’s teachers, along with a recognition that the early childhood workforce is underpaid, under-supported and undervalued.  

“School is a safe haven … schools save lives.” – Rae Ivory, parent ambassador, Educare Denver/Clayton Early Learning .

What We Can Do Next

We also heard loud and clear that we need more action and less talk to move policy reforms, but we must listen to parents, amplify their voices to policymakers and trust their expertise to know how policies would impact them. As we advance The Educare Five, the voices, perspectives and experiences of parents and program staff must drive our way forward.

To use your voice and help build this movement, visit for tools and resources. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter @educareschools. Encourage others to do the same!

A special thank you to the listening session panelists: Luke Gober, Rae Ivory, and Christina Walker at Educare Denver/Clayton Early Learning; Ja’Nel Jamerson at Educare Flint; Darlene Abreu and Beth Berglin at Educare Miami; and Amy LaPointe, Iva Masquat and Kaira Wolfe at Educare Winnebago.

The Educare Learning Network of 25 independent, non-profit birth-to-five schools, located across 15 states, in the District of Columbia and on the tribal land of the Winnebago Indian Reservation, reaches nearly 4,000 infant, toddler and preschool children and their families each year. Start Early, formerly the Ounce of Prevention Fund, provides backbone support for the Network, helping to guide strategy, amplify innovation, share best practices, advance policy and support school-level implementation of Educare’s core features. Start Early and the Educare Learning Network are improving access to high-quality early education across our country.

About The Authors

  • Cynthia D. Jackson, executive director, Educare Learning Network
  • Kristin Bernhard, senior vice president of advocacy & policy, Start Early