The February 22nd BBF State Advisory Council focused on early childhood policy including a mid-session update on priority and legislative issues, a presentation of the cradle-to-career vision by agency leadership, and grounding our work in Goal 4 of Vermont’s Early Childhood Action Plan. The meeting ended with brief small group discussions on barriers and opportunities to improve integration in our early childhood system. 263 people attended the meeting held on Zoom which was recorded and can be seen here.
Chloe Learey, SAC co-chair opened the meeting by asking three SAC members to reflect on what challenges families are facing, particularly as we approach a year of pandemic life and what families may need as we plan for a recovery phase. Emily Merrill, a parent representative serving on the SAC, talked about the isolation families are feeling right now and the value of universal therapeutic interventions for children. Christy Swenson, the Head Start representative, expressed concern for families without stable housing and may lose their housing once the moratorium on evictions is lifted. Amy Johnson, the Parent Child Center Network representative, shared that her staff at the Parent Child Center at Northwest Counseling and Support Services are seeing increased needs of children and families meanwhile staff are carrying a high caseload. To respond, she commented the need to invest in the human resources to serve these complex needs of families in an integrated whole-system approach.
Matt Levin, Executive Director of the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance provided an overview of the Alliance’s legislative agenda and mid-session status. Sarah Kenney, Policy Director at Let’s Grow Kids addressed H. 171, a bill related to childcare financing and governance. These issues are moving quickly through committees and advocacy partners are available to answer your questions.
The meeting transitioned to a presentation from Education Secretary French and DCF Commissioner Brown about the cradle-to-career vision for an integrated education system in Vermont. Currently, administration of most early childhood development programs are housed within the Child Development Division of the Agency of Human Services and while there is coordination with the Agency of Education, the Governor and Agency leadership shared a vision to reorganize administration of early childhood programs (including child care licensing, administration of the Childcare Financial Assistance Program, Children’s Integrated Services among others) to other divisions in AHS or the Agency of Education. There were many questions regarding this proposal which would have significant implications for how early childhood development and education programs are administered by the state. SAC members were able to ask questions to clarify the proposal followed by small group discussions focused on the proposal and identifying barriers and strategies toward integration.
The BBF State Advisory Council is following up on this presentation with an anonymous survey to elevate the voice of families and early childhood stakeholders. The survey is part of a larger information gathering effort including a review of existing data and bringing together experts across sectors and regions to focus on integration in Vermont’s early childhood system. BBF will analyze this information and present the findings to policy-makers and stakeholders. BBF’s ultimate goal in this effort is to generate additional evidence to inform programs, service provision and policy for children and families in Vermont as we move toward Goal 4 of the VECAP: Vermont’s early childhood system will be integrated, well-resourced, and data-informed. The SAC does not directly support or oppose any specific proposal or bill, however, BBF is well positioned, using its collective impact approach, to determine where there is consensus among state-wide partners and identify the biggest roadblocks that impede forward progress. All invested stakeholders are invited to complete the survey regardless if you attended the SAC by March 12th (extended from the 5th) to inform early childhood and development policy.