One Family’s Story
By: Nicole Grenier
The following remarks were presented by BBF State Advisory Council member Nicole Grenier at BBF’s 2017 Legislative Breakfast on Dec 14th. Nicole received a standing ovation from the over 50 people gathered at the event for her compelling story that weaves together the importance of social and emotional supports and high quality child care for all Vermont children and families.
When I had my son, Eli, almost ten years ago, I was working full-time as the director of a school-based, children’s mental health program. We worked with children with severe emotional and behavioral challenges and their families in an effort to keep them from being removed from their home, their school, and their community.
To put these challenges into the context of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the average ACE score for the children and families we served was consistently six or more, and typically existed across multiple generations with very few protective factors in place to balance their experiences.
The evidence-based practices and interventions we provided to these children and families included individualized behavioral assessments, planning, parent and teacher trainings, and one-on-one student support. While this was very effective, it was also incredibly intense, expensive and was used too often as a last resort to prevent students from being placed into more restrictive environments, including residential care.
I can’t tell you how often our teams wished for the opportunity to have intervened sooner – long before school age – to help provide the right kind of supports to both the child and the family; to build upon their strengths, foster their resilience, and help them reset the course towards success.
When my son was six-months-old, I was devastated to find myself going through a very difficult divorce, while still very much learning to juggle being a new parent, working full-time, and making ends meet in my new circumstances. I suddenly felt like my son’s wellbeing, as well as my own, could be at risk.
While my own personal ACE score is also in the category of six or more, I consider myself to be among the lucky few whose resilience score was also high. All that this means, is that I was lucky to have had enough protective factors present in my life to help sustain me through my adversity during childhood, and then again during this difficult time.
I was blessed to have been surrounded by the support of family and friends, and because of my work, I was also comforted by my knowledge of the services available to me within our system of care. I knew I had people who loved me, whom I could turn to and trust.
Still, as it seemed everything I knew was shifting and changing, the one most consistent comfort I credit with giving me the greatest peace of mind during that difficult time, was knowing that the dedicated providers of my child’s care could 100% be counted on to provide and maintain healthy, nurturing, supportive relationships with my son, with me, and with my son’s father no matter what.
I can tell you with certainty that the outcomes for my son and my family would have been quite different if not for our ability to access quality child care that emphasized supporting protective factors and social and emotional wellness for all of us. The kind of care that meant I never once had to question my child’s safety, happiness, or access to learning as I left him in order to go to work each day.
Now, that’s not to say that this invaluable care was exactly affordable!
Even with a well paying job, a Master’s Degree (and the student loans to go with it), I was very much among the middle-income families not eligible for child care financial assistance and spending more than 40% of my income on childcare. While it was a heavy financial burden, I felt absolutely grateful for it as I continued to try and help so many other families struggling to find available care for their own children.
Now, my three-year-old daughter, Rosalie, benefits from quality child care three days a week, which allows me to run my own business just down the road from my son’s school, while also volunteering and advocating for my community. Again, all with the peace of mind that she is being very well cared for by an incredibly dedicated, albeit still under-compensated, early childhood professional.
We know that investments in early care & learning, as well as investments in the early childhood professionals who make all the difference, is the right thing to do for Vermont’s children and families, our communities, and our economy.
As a mother, a business owner, and an advocate for all children and families, I thank you all for your time and attention to high-quality, affordable child care; Universal Pre K; addressing ACEs through protective factors; and social and emotional wellness, all clear legislative priorities in 2018.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“The time is always right to do the right thing.”