If you’ve been following the news in Vermont over the last few months, you’ll know that addressing Vermont’s child care crisis is front of mind for the administration and legislature this session. Here at Building Bright Futures, we’re excited to see our state’s leaders commit to action on this issue. We’re especially excited to see the policy proposals are grounded in the recommendations of the Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up Think Tank, including:
- Making changes to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) to increase affordability and accessibility for families
- Supporting qualifications and compensation for people working with young children
- Developing new sources of revenue for early care and learning, and
- Creating a dedicated early care and learning fund
The Think Tank report represented the culmination of a multi-year statewide stakeholder engagement effort to explore and develop recommendations for an enhanced, comprehensive, and integrated early care and learning system in Vermont. This process originated in 2016 with the Blue Ribbon Commission on High Quality Child Care, continued with the Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up Summit process in 2017, and concluded with the work of Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up Think Tank.
Looking back at this process demonstrates the power of the statewide BBF council network to ensure that sensible state policy is informed by the wisdom of communities.
Gathering the Wisdom of Communities
On October 3-4, 2017, BBF convened over 200 Vermonters from across the state, representing a wide variety of early childhood sectors, in a collaborative design process to identify what works best in the current early care and learning system, and how to leverage these strengths toward our future system.
Recognizing that many early childhood stakeholders would be unable to participate in the two-day summit, BBF engaged in a pre-summit community outreach process in the summer of 2017. BBF partnered with Let’s Grow Kids to conduct 94 one-on-one and group interviews with over 300 early childhood stakeholders in every Vermont county. These interviews captured interviewees’ vision for the future of Vermont’s early care and learning system. Of those interviewed, 31% were parents of children five or under and 19% were early care and learning professionals. Other sectors interviewed include health care, mental health, K-12 educators, and business.
These interviews outlined a vision for a future where early childhood is valued, where children, families, and educators have the support they need to thrive, and where early childhood services are integrated, accessible, and affordable for all.
Graphic illustration by Angelique McAlpine from the Summit
This statewide outreach laid the foundation for the two-day summit. Over the course of the event, participants self-selected into “design studios” to flesh out specific aspects of the future system. A report of design ideas that emerged from the Summit can be found at https://buildingbrightfutures.org/what-we-do/projects-pilots/building-vermonts-future-from-the-child-up-2/.
Refining Our Recommendations
The ideas generated at the Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up summit provided tangible opportunities for innovation and implementation. However, Building Bright Futures determined that further work was needed to synthesize and sequence the ideas, and apply research and policy analysis to determine which ideas would most effectively maximize resources while ensuring high-quality experiences for all Vermont children and families.
In 2018, Building Bright Futures convened a small group of stakeholders with the policy and implementation expertise needed to build on the framework provided by the Summit Report, and develop a set of refined early care and learning systems recommendations. This group, the Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up Think Tank, met four times between April and October 2018.
Think Tank members worked in small groups to consider components of the future system that would have the most impact in moving from the current state to the desired state for VT’s early care and learning system. Using iterative feedback from the whole group, the Think Tank made refinements to their work across the meetings, eventually arriving at a set of recommendations.
Significantly, each of the Think Tank’s final six recommendations aligned with a design idea that emerged at the October 2017 summit:
- Recommendation 1: High-Quality Program Support and Accountability
- Recommendation 2: Professionalized Workforce & Professional Compensation
- Recommendation 3: Early Care and Learning Hubs
- Recommendation 4: New Sources of Revenue
- Recommendation 5: Redesigned Child Care Financial Assistance
- Recommendation 6: A Dedicated Early Childhood Fund
Informing Legislative Action
BBF released the Think Tank report in January 2019 and our leadership have testified on the recommendations to multiple legislative committees, including Senate Education and House Human Services.
Since the report’s release, several pieces of legislation have been introduced that seek to address challenges in Vermont’s child care system and that align with the Think Tank recommendations, including: making changes to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) to increase affordability and accessibility for families; supporting workforce qualifications and compensation; developing new sources of revenue for child care, and; creating a dedicated early care and learning fund.
As a public-private backbone organization for early childhood in Vermont, BBF is charged with advising the administration and legislature on early childhood policy. We are very encouraged to see how the high-level recommendations that BBF and partners delivered this year are coming to life. They were developed to improve the lives of Vermont’s children, families and communities, informed by the experience and expertise of our cross-sector partners around the state, and are now influencing the legislative process this session!