Children first! This was the chant I heard a few weeks ago while advocating for quality child care and early education in Washington, D.C. Along with several hundred others advocating in the capitol, I asked representatives and senators from Ohio to put children first by not cutting funds when it comes to our children and families. Imagine my shock when I learned that when people become parents their political involvement and voting decreases. How could I expect our representatives and senators to listen to me when the voices of parents are diminishing?
Prior to our “day on Capitol Hill,” a pollster who had worked on various campaigns came to speak with us about trends expressed by the various voting groups across the United States. It wasn’t surprising to hear that most Americans want to leave a better world for our children and that most believe preparing our children for the future is critical to our national success. What was surprising was that despite these claims, parents as a group do not vote. As parents’ political involvement and voting decreases, legislators and candidates cease looking to that group when it comes time to consider their platforms, to determine the course of public policy. Women, minorities, young voters – these are all groups that are paid attention to, but parents, as a group, are not.
Time and time again during my time in Washington, D.C. we were told by representatives and aides that though they agreed with our position, it was unlikely that the changes and support we needed for quality child care and early education would make it to their agendas this year. And though they didn’t want to cut funding to children and families, often this funding was combined with other initiatives that they could not support. Wow, what a jolt of reality. Were they saying that yes, children should come first, but they likely won’t?
A prime example of an important issue we advocated for was consistent background checking regulations for child care workers and family child care providers. Did you know that in Ohio fingerprinting for these groups does not require a review of the child abuse registry or sex offender registry? This means that someone who committed child abuse but was not criminally charged, which can and does happen, can continue to work in the child care industry. How many parents are aware of this fact? Or of the fact that the federal block grant, which provides child care assistance to states, was last reviewed in 1996? This means that dollars coming to states for child care are not regulated by quality standards or any early childhood research that has occurred over the past 15 years. What was provided in 1996 for our children is still “good enough” by federal standards, even though we know so much more now about brain development and school readiness for young children now than we did then.
If the issues and continued funding we advocated for on behalf of our children will not be addressed or secured, then who is to blame? The representatives and senators who make decisions or the parents who do not make their voices heard? We have a lot to say, and parents need to be heard. Children first!