BUILD Initiative Blog
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

BUILDing Strong Foundations

BUILD Initiative Blog



In the US, the coronavirus pandemic is calling attention to our country’s inequities. In addition to creating immediate problems for many of our most vulnerable citizens, it is putting a focus on the gaps that exist – by income, race/ethnicity, language, and culture – in our early childhood system. It is those with the lowest incomes and of minority cultures that are most challenged when we as a nation are instructed to stay home. Many literally cannot afford to follow this directive.

Dismantling racism at the personal, institutional, and structural levels is an ongoing process. To support BUILD’s process in that effort, and that of our partners and colleagues, we have invited Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a leading voice in equity and antiracism, as a plenary speaker at QRIS 2020. Dr. Kendi believes that, "Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” If you haven’t found Dr. Kendi on your social media feed or morning TV yet, get up to speed with some of the compelling articles and podcasts below.

I believe that equity, justice, and early childhood systems change requires that leaders reflect the complex social diversities present in the children, families, communities, and workforce served in all early childhood systems and settings. In systems-building work, we continue to face thorny problems, such as systemic inequality, disproportionality in the workforce, underfunding, inadequate compensation, and fragmentation. If we intend to solve these and other challenging problems that characterize early childhood systems, we need leadership at policy tables (e.g., municipal, state, federal) where key decisions are made that is socially diverse (i.e., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation). This assertion is not simply my opinion but is based on decades of research from psychology, demography, sociology, and organizational science.

The linguistic skills a young dual language learner (DLL) acquires are life-long assets. However, all DLL children share a common trait: they are learning at least two or more distinct linguistic systems during a critical and rapid period of linguistic and cognitive development. How do we best support these learners and their families during this crucial stage of learning?

During the Leading for Indigenous Children and Communities session at QRIS 2019, Patina Park, Miniconjou Lakota-Cheyenne River and Executive Director at the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, set us up with a brief but illuminating history of US domestic colonization and displacement. Before she introduced the rest of the panel, she channeled James Baldwin with these words for our consideration: History is not past. It is current, present, and a living, breathing experience.

As early childhood systems builders, we are well aware that infants and young children undergo rapid developmental changes that are highly influenced by relationships and environment. Supporting families to provide safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments should be a key element of early care and education programs and services, particularly those that serve populations at high-risk, such as children at risk of entering foster care. (National data show that children birth to age five are at higher risk of placement and enter foster care at higher rates than older children and youth.) Programs and services also should be provided to help prevent child abuse and neglect and to aid pregnant women and families with young children. Through recently approved federal legislation, protecting children at high-risk has become more actionable.

Policymakers increasingly understand the importance of expanding the availability of quality early care and education for young children. But far too often, the lack of funding stands in the way.  A new report, Funding Our Future: Generating State and Local Tax Revenue for Quality Early Care and Education, catalogues successful examples of how state and local tax revenue have been used to support early care and education. The report also introduces potential “next generation” tax policy ideas to bridge the funding gap. 

I encourage parents to stand behind what they believe is best for their children. But I also see instances in which the opportunities don’t exist for parents to act on those beliefs, leaving families without the care and services they need.

The conversations revealed a distressing picture of fear, stress, and unease that occupy the minds of millions of young children and their parents daily and come with harmful implications for children’s long-term development.

While supporting children and families is our utmost priority, working with them can be triggering and overwhelming. Studies show that from 6 to 26 percent of therapists working with traumatized populations, and up to 50 percent of child welfare workers, are at high risk for vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress (STS).

Many immigrant families make the difficult decision to flee their own countries based on unsuitable living conditions at home – from lack of food, water, and shelter to war, forced labor, and torture. They make the often perilous journey to the US only to experience immigration policies here that create fear and anxiety and have profound negative effects on their mental health. Furthermore, those offering services to them often suffer secondary traumatic stress. It is essential that all involved be provided the support they need to avert the short- and long-term impacts of trauma. Please join the BUILD Initiative as we offer four webinars, from April through July 2019, that will provide important areas for consideration in the provision of trauma-informed care as it relates to immigration and US immigration policies.

The early years lay the foundation for children’s long-term health and well-being. Children need secure and stable caregivers, good nutrition, adequate medical care, and a safe place for them to learn and grow. Yet the current immigration policy context is directly threatening these foundations that children need to thrive and is imposing incredible hardship during formative years of children’s development. This policy-induced trauma can have enduring, even life-long consequences for children’s health and wellbeing.

It seems simple enough. For good health: eat well, exercise, take your vitamins. For a successful relationship: listen more than you speak, assume good intent, be there. For a successful career: make good on your commitments, be trustworthy, work hard in what you’re passionate about. And yet, some of the most obvious, accepted approaches for success seem out of reach. If it were so simple, we would all be fit, in happy relationships, and working in our dream jobs. Just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean it comes naturally.

As we look forward to QRIS 2019: Expanding Reach, Enhancing Impact, Advancing Equity, we are reminded of the plea made by the plenary speaker at the 2018 conference. Honoring BUILD’s dedication of last year’s conference to those working to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot addressed her plenary to the researchers, practitioners, scholars, activists, policy makers, and advocates focused on the promise of equal educational opportunity for all of our children.

In our early childhood education program, connecting families to available community resources is one of the most important things we do. I consider it an essential responsibility in my role as a preschool teacher. But building that bridge is often complicated and frustrating. In my classroom, we are fortunate to have a diverse population of children and families, with at least 10 primary languages spoken. We need to support these families and recognize that our systems are not well organized to be easily accessible to them.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), jointly with the Department of Education (ED) (the Departments), awarded one-year Preschool Development Grants Birth to Five (PDG B-5) to 43 states, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands in the final days of 2018. The new Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five program provides states with an historic opportunity to design and implement an early care and education system that gives equitable access to high-quality programs for all children and families.

2018 was a year with some big opportunities for state early childhood systems builders and young children while it was also a year of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Through it all, BUILD maintained its focus on advancing early childhood systems across the country, including through new federal initiatives; advancing racial and health equity; supporting the efforts of leaders in partner states; working with many more states on building robust early learning quality improvement systems; and increasing access and quality in programs and services for infants, toddlers, and their families.

We know that the first 1,000 days of children’s lives are the most crucial to their development. Evidence also tells us that children on Medicaid have better health and life outcomes. With health equity as a goal, New York State has taken steps to ensure that its Medicaid program is working with health, education, and other system stakeholders to maximize outcomes and deliver results for the children we serve.

What brought us to Equity and Social Justice Work? We may have taken different routes to get there but we both arrived at equity and social justice work with a strong desire to create the change we see as needed. We joined forces, through our participation in BUILD's Equity Leaders Action Network, to create a pilot fellowship for participants who were interested in leading efforts for equity and wanted to increase their knowledge, skills, and understanding of leadership and management relevant to today’s early childhood professional communities. In this blog, we reflect on the reasons why we created it, some of our experiences providing it, and the ways in which it still is resonating, long after it has ended.