Advocacy is one of the most important and most underutilized tools we have to influence child care policy in the political system. And we need to work on that – fast!
Research has proven that 90% of a child’s critical brain development happens by age 5. That’s why the earliest years in a child’s life are a critical time for learning and development. And right now it’s crucial for us to advocate for a strong and bright future – for our children, our families, and our country.
With a majority of families in the United States requiring two working parents just to get by, it’s time to speak out about making high-quality child care and early childhood education as affordable as it is essential.
Over the past decade, I have been a community organizer, campaign operative, and grassroots strategist for a variety of electoral and issue campaigns, and have seen firsthand how individual voices can shape a conversation, change minds, and move the needle towards improving policies that support our country.
I’ve witnessed policymakers reverse their position on an issue once they’ve talked with parents about their experience, visited a child care program and talked with teachers, or had calls pour into their offices.
Now’s the time to use your voice to change hearts and minds!
Here are seven simple ways to elevate child care as a national priority with your elected officials:
Sharing your story is a powerful way to talk about how the status quo needs to change. Explain the problem you’ve experiencedwith child care, and how it impacts you, your family, friends, or community. Then explain your solution and what the policymaker can do about it.
Before a meeting with an elected official, do your research about who you are meeting with and how you can appeal to their values as a legislator. Practice telling your story and your “ask.” Your ask is important – it lets your legislator know what you want them to do about your issue. Know your data and be ready to follow up with any questions they may have, either in-person or by email after your meeting. You can use research from Child Care Aware® of America to back up your points about the need for affordable, high-quality child care, or download sample letters and talking points.
We know that social media is the way many policymakers are getting their news and keeping constituents informed. Let’s meet them where they are! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Tweet at them with hashtags pertinent to child care like #ChildCare, #ECE, and #EarlyEd. You can find your lawmakers on Twitter using the Tweet Congress tool! If there’s a trending topic that’s relevant to the issue, make sure you incorporate that when possible.
Leverage the media.
Media coverage, letters to the editor of your local paper, and opinion editorials are great ways to get policymakers and the general public to pay attention to your issue. If your paper recently printed an article about the cost or availability of child care, or issues in the early education space, you can use that as an opportunity to respond. If your letter is published in the paper, make sure you also share it with your network on social media. (Remember #3!)
Stay informed and connected by subscribing to Child Care Aware® of America’s Capitol Connection newsletter, a bi-weekly email focused on legislative issues in the child care and early education space. You’ll receive policy updates about what’s happening at the federal level, and get occasional action alerts directing you to contact Congress about an urgent issue. This will help you to be “at the ready” to respond.
Join a CCR&R or advocacy organization.
There is serious political power in numbers. One voice is important but multiple voices show strength behind the issue. Make sure you are involved with local organizations that fight for quality child care. To find one, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay in touch.
After your visit, be sure to follow up by sending a note thanking them for their time. This is also a great way to maintain a relationship with a policymaker’s office. Remind them of your visit and what you discussed, and don’t forget to include your contact information at the end of the letter.
Early childhood education and child care are important – both to families and the community at large. But with your help, we can make it affordable and accessible for all families in the United States.
Michelle McCready, MPP, is the Chief of Policy at Child Care Aware® of America.