Ensuring an equitable start for all babies requires understanding the influence of race, ethnicity, and racism in the lives of babies and families. 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.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) engaged the Center for the Study of Social Policy in the fall of 2020 to help them assess their efforts and develop intentional plans to ensure racial equity and parent engagement. As part of this process, the 50-member Think Babies NJ coalition was surveyed to assess coalition members’ perceptions of how well the coalition is currently doing in these areas. The results indicated that while coalition members felt that good progress had been made with regard to explicitly focusing on equity in policy conversations, there was room to grow in how the coalition worked with parents. Following review of the results and dialogue with partners, ACNJ has embarked on an effort to move from parent engagement centered around specific, time-limited opportunities for ongoing parent partnership and leadership that centers parents in the policymaking process at every step of the way. In seeking to act on the feedback from the survey and conversations with stakeholders, ACNJ has partnered with Melinated Moms ( https://melinatedmoms.com), a community-based coalition for women and moms of color, to support the strategy. In the fall of 2020, parents of young children from across New Jersey were recruited to participate in a two-part virtual Find Your Roar advocacy training series to build the capacity of family advocates and build relationships with interested families. Trainings were held in the evenings, and parents were compensated for their time and participation. Graduates of the training series were invited to participate in a Parent Leadership Council which is being designed and co-created with the parent members. The purpose of the council is to provide parents with the opportunity to connect and engage with each other, practice advocacy actions, practice telling their stories, and learn about policy areas of interest to them. Parent voices in New Jersey have already influenced policy outcomes for infants, toddlers, and their families including increased investments in child care, improved paid leave policies, and improvements to infant and early childhood mental health policies. This new phase of the work presents the opportunity to engage parents more deeply as partners and leaders at every stage of the process. An example of this is New Jersey’s 4th annual Strolling Thunder event which took place in June 2021. In addition to engaging parents as participants, this year’s event was co-designed and led by parent leaders.
To learn more about addressing bias and advancing equity in state policy read here.