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Passion Needed: Be a Big Voice for Little Kids!

Amanda Perez, Senior Advocacy Specialist, ZERO TO THREE

Hello from the ZERO TO THREE Policy Center! I work with our team to develop resources and opportunities for infant toddler professionals and parents to use their stories, knowledge and expertise to impact public policy for infants, toddlers and families. In other words, my job is to support YOU in engaging as an advocate. But, let me tell you that no one is more surprised than I am that I am working in policy advocacy! For years, as a clinical social worker, I had worked under public programs, but my heart was squarely with the children, families and staff I served. The policy and regulations that governed my work felt removed and dry.

But as I look around at my colleagues at the Policy Center, I notice that we are a diverse group with one main thing in common: a passion for the youngest children and their families. Not dry at all! In fact, when I asked them what led them to policy and advocacy from such different disciplines and directions, they spoke of their deep desire to help others, of wanting to get to the roots of problems, of being frustrated and looking for a better way for the people they served:

  • Kim Keating, Senior Policy Research Analyst: I entered the policy world after many years of doing Head Start research and evaluating child welfare programs. What launched me into direct advocacy for infants and toddlers was seeing that decades, if not centuries, of lessons learned might very easily be ignored in our country’s current environment for policymaking. I realized it was time to turn up the volume.
  • Janie Huddleston, Director, Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (QIC-CT): When I was at the Department of Human Services in Arkansas, I saw many broken families that had great difficulty accessing the services they needed. The children that needed mental health services were especially troubling. We began to work with Medicaid to cover the services these children needed. I realized that if we were determined, we could change the mental health system in our state. Infants and toddlers can receive dyadic treatment through Medicaid today due to the efforts of a small group of dedicated people!!
  • Daniel Hains, Advocacy Specialist: I wanted to have a career focused on meeting the needs of children, but after a number of experiences in direct services – volunteering and working with children in very low-income communities – I came to realize that the multitude of challenges their families faced called for systemic solutions. An early childhood policy internship convinced me that if we really want to make a difference in children’s lives, we have to start intervening early, when their brains are developing most rapidly.
  • Therese Ahlers, Senior Technical Assistance Specialist for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH): I was the clinical manager of a targeted case management program supporting adults with mental illness. I experienced many things that upset me – long waiting lists, people getting bumped on waiting list, people struggling and not getting what they needed. I wanted to be the person who determined who got money rather than always begging for it!
  • Liz DiLauro, Senior Director of Advocacy: I always wanted to be a child psychologist. But as I entered the workforce, I saw that larger, systemic problems were creating almost insurmountable barriers for kids. So I switched gears and started down the path of child advocacy! Many years later, I still can’t think of anything more powerful to advocate for than babies – you’ve got the scientific evidence behind you, the economic evidence – and of course, adorable babies. What more could an advocate ask for?

As for me, I had worked in child care, early intervention, home visiting, and Early Head Start before I found advocacy. One night, I went home to the day’s news and wondered, for the 100th time, what else I could do about the anger, fear and helplessness that I saw bubbling over in our communities. After a day of talking about the extraordinary work and impact of Early Head Start programs, it hit me: I knew exactly what could help. The next morning, I wrote a letter, and two months after that, I applied for my job with the Policy Center.

Of course, not all of us want to work in policy, but all of us are advocates! We know your passion, like ours, is with babies. Do you know how public policy affects your work and the children and families you serve? What do you see in terms of the barriers they face and the programs that serve them best? Do you know that there are many ways to advocate, simple and more complex, and that we have a whole team of people and many resources here to help? Mostly, do you know the importance of your voice and your unique insight and expertise?

Right now, babies need us all to Be a Big Voice for Little KidsTM. It is time to turn up the volume, as Kim says! We are here to help you find your passion in policy! Come see us at the ZERO TO THREE Policy Booth at the Annual Conference in Denver, or reach out to us at any time at the policycenter@zerotothree.org. We can’t wait to talk with you!

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