As a result of the longstanding history of systemic racism and marginalization in the United States, babies in communities of color, particularly Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native infants and toddlers, are disproportionately at risk for poorer outcomes in each of ZERO TO THREE’s policy framework domains of well-being that are essential for healthy development—Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences.
The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) held their annual Strolling ThunderTM event in February 2021. The context of the pandemic has created additional hurdles for families to engage in advocacy while at the same time making it more important than ever that their voices be at the table. Recognizing this, GEEARS approached the event differently than in previous years. Their 2021 Strolling Thunder was held virtually and rather than featuring a rally and day of meetings with policymakers at the state capitol, it included entertainment for infants and toddlers from the Alliance Theatre, a legislative panel, and a letter writing workshop. The workshop provided training and support to help families share their stories and what they want their policymakers to do in writing.
The event was in fact two identical events held at different times (one on a weekday evening and one during the day on a Saturday) to accommodate the differing scheduling needs of families. Materials were mailed to families in advance and a stipend was provided in recognition of their time. In addition to these general approaches to making the event welcoming and supportive for families, GEEARS used targeted strategies to reach families who are most often excluded such as: working with a local Salvation Army to reach several women with infants/toddlers currently experiencing homelessness and working with CDF Action, an organization that supports diverse children and youth in Clarkston, GA, to recruit Arabic- and Amharic-speaking families. Arabic, Amharic, and Spanish simultaneous interpretation was provided to families, and during breakout sessions, the families were placed in virtual meeting rooms with a facilitator who spoke their language. The event’s 71 participants included 10 Arabic-speaking, 9 Amharic-speaking, and 2 Spanish-speaking families. In spite of the challenging fiscal context of the pandemic, Georgia saw increased investments in child care for infants and toddlers as well as other policy advances such as express lane eligibility for Medicaid and creation of a paid leave program for state employees which represents a substantial step forward in the conversation around paid leave in the state.
To learn more about addressing bias and advancing equity in state policy read here.