October Recap: Third Annual State and Regional Council Virtual Assembly

The October 26, 2020 BBF Vermont Early Childhood State Advisory Council hosted the third annual State and Regional Council virtual assembly. The value of this annual convening is to bring together people at every level of the BBF network infrastructure: regional councils, Vermont Early Childhood Action Plan (VECAP) committees, and State Advisory Council members. Strengthening connection with regional, state and national leaders is critical to improving the lives of children and families and we were pleased to have both Congressman Peter Welch and Ethan Latour, liaison to the Governor’s Office, attend the meeting. Listen in on the full meeting recording here or read on to learn more.

Holding the meeting virtually enabled one of the best-attended SAC meetings with 93 people coming together to identify challenges to equitable access for children and families; a shared priority among early childhood partners. The annual convening concluded with the presentation and approval of the updated Vermont Early Childhood Action Plan, 2020 SAC Policy Recommendations as well as the Early Childhood Systems Needs Assessment report.

Creating an anti-racist and equitable system is a priority articulated by Regional Councils, outlined in the Vermont Eary Childhood Action Plan and in the 2020 State Advisory Council recommendations. Beth Truzansky, BBF deputy director, opened the meeting acknowledging that many early childhood policies are shaped by a history of systemic and structural racism. As a result, there are major disparities in children’s access to quality services that meet their needs. She shared the BUILD racial equity levels of change as a reminder that this word takes humility, especially among white people, to gain awareness and take action at the personal, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels. 

An equitable early childhood education system supports all children’s health and development, including socio-emotional development related to a child’s cultural, racial, and linguistic identity. In addition, it provides affordable access and high-quality choices to all families and employs its service providers  in high-quality jobs with a baseline living wage and a pathway to higher wages based on knowledge, skills, and competencies. Three regional early childhood representatives from different sectors across the state shared their experience and observations of challenges to access to education, housing, mental health and culturally and linguistically responsive services. Panelists included:

  • Kheya Ganguly, Assistant Director Youth and Family Services at United Counseling Service, Bennington
  • Laura Nugent, Senior Director of Student Support Services at the Burlington School District
  • Samantha Stevens, Equity and Community Outreach Coordinator at North Country Supervisory Union

One story illustrated how a case manager’s white privilege impacted their ability to successfully support a BIPOC young adult.  It was a good example of white privilege which is, “the ability to ignore because it doesn’t affect your safety or your children’s safety and it doesn’t affect your piece of mind unless you choose for it to affect you.” The panel demonstrated the impacts of a system that does not work for each and every Vermont child and family and how systemic racism and discrimination impact children’s opportunities to thrive.

Participants were given an opportunity to reflect in virtual small groups on their personal journey of awareness, acknowledgement and action to deconstruct systemic racism and discrimination. Here are a sample of the reflections shared,

  • Having spent more than half of my life in the NEK – I was reminded of the insidious – albeit “quiet” – nature of systemic racism there – and how easily it can be missed unless we are asking those questions about equitable access to resources. 
  • We need to continue to practice having these tough conversations…we stumble, and will continue to do so but that is part of the work. Leaning into discomfort.

  • I am having staff members take implicit bias tests to bring awareness of their biases.
For child care, it’s not only training but also the resources and staffing needed to ensure full inclusion
It seems to be easy to dismiss these issues in a state where there are so few BIPOC. In many ways it’s even more important for BIPOC people to feel supported in their communities because there are so few of them. It can be really difficult to convince people of this when there are limited resources.

We talked about how to make discussions of equity, racism and justice meaningful, embedded in all our work, not an “add on” or a workshop we do once a year.

Representation matter, particularly in early education curriculum. Ensure that books, videos and media with BIPOC characters make their way into the hands of all kids and families.

The discussion concluded with Flor Diaz-Smith, an SAC member, school board member for the Washington County Unified Union School District and also serves on the task force on Diversifying the Educator Workforce in New England and Vermont. Flor shared about her experience as a Guatemalan living in Vermont and racism she and her family has sustained. She shared, “I feel hopeful. Diversifying the educator workforce is an actionable thing BBF and partners can do. All Vermont children will benefit from being educated by teachers and caregivers who are racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse. It prepares them to succeed in a diverse society.”

Congressman Peter Welch shared his commitment to calling out inequities in our systems to build a more inclusive and socially just system. He reflected on the impact of civil rights leaders like John Lewis and now his ongoing work advocating for resources for children and families, and to create an integrated, seamless early childhood system. He spoke to the challenges of affording childcare, the economic impact of COVID on families and impact of systemic racism and discrimination on communities of color.  The Congressman said, “Every family needs security with healthcare, with childcare, with access to education” and referenced legislation he and fellow representatives hope to move out of the House to the Senate in the upcoming session in support of more affordable childcare for families.

Dr. Morgan Crossman presented the updated Vermont Early Childhood Action Plan (VECAP) presented to the SAC for final approval after a nearly 2 year process with input from over 300 stakeholders. The VECAP is designed to hold fast to its commitment to achieving measurable 2026 goals, while at the same time adapting and evolving to include new evidence, best practices, lessons learned and improved analytics. One important element in this version is a full set of indicators to measure and report on our progress and inform strategy.  The BBF SAC and VECAP committees will provide the accountability structure, support and monitoring. Morgan called on the SAC to see themselves and their work represented in the VECAP, be proud of the important work the network has produced over the last year and feel confident in the recommendations collectively we are making to create change in the next year. The SAC voted to endorse the updated Vermont Early Childhood Action Plan that serves as the vision for Vermont’s early childhood system by the year 2026, and establishes shared accountability to achieve statewide priorities for children and families.

Morgan then presented the 2020 SAC final Policy Recommendations. Different from the VECAP which is a long range plan, the policy recommendations are developed each year by VECAP committees and the SAC to elevate actionable strategies to the legislature and administration. Historically, recommendations have only been focused on legislative action. However change must happen at every level to improve outcomes for children and families therefore this year’s recommendations are mapped to levels of change in the VECAP. The 2020 SAC Recommendations are in the following 5 categories:

  1. Recognize Vermont’s Early Care and Education System and Workforce as Essential and continuing investment in the redesigning the state’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program 
  2. Mitigate COVID impacts on family economic stability and mental health
  3. Recognize chronic inequities and racism as a public health crisis
  4. Empower family voice to build a stronger system
  5. Evolve the early childhood data system to address gaps

The SAC voted to endorse the Recommendations that serve to inform the ongoing work of the system to support children and families. These recommendations will be included in the How Are Vermont’s Young Children and Families report and policy briefs that can be used to inform legislation and practice changes.

Finally, the SAC formally received the 2020 Early Childhood Systems Needs Assessment. BBF was tasked to conduct a needs assessment under the Preschool Development Grant in addition to conducting a periodic needs assessment per the charge to BBF by the Vermont Legislature under Vermont’s Act 104.  BBF presented highlights of the Needs Assessment to the August SAC in a webinar and at this time presented a full report. The needs assessment collected data to examine the strengths and opportunities for the EC system at this critical time, and to better understand important questions including:

  • What do we know about the quality and availability of programs and support for Vermont’s young children and families?
  • To what extent are the most vulnerable young Vermonters and their families able to access the services and support that they want and need?
  • How are families and communities engaged in, informing, and leading Vermont’s EC systems?
  • What strengths, gaps, and opportunities are there in EC systems, including the availability of data, financial and practical resources, its professional workforce, and systemwide coordination and integration? 

The annual convening concluded with appreciation to early childhood partners for gathering together around the virtual BBF table and recognizing the value of showing up to identify challenges to equitable access for children and families and committing to make a stronger system.

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