RIght from the Start is a legislative and budget campaign to advance state policies for young children and their families in Rhode Island. During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become even more clear that policies and programs that help families with young children are essential for a strong economy and public health. Investments now will help our state and Rhode Island’s young children and families weather this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side.
You might remember a very cute young boy stealing the show at RI Strolling Thunder 2023 by spontaneously grabbing a toy microphone and joining Governor McKee and other leaders to offer his “remarks.” Here’s Donovan’s story of thriving in Early Head Start. THIS is why the General Assembly needs to increase state funding to keep all RI Pre-K, Head Start, and Early Head Start classrooms open in Rhode Island!
Providence mom Heaven Barbour has all three of her young children in Early Head Start with Children’s Friend (King Street center) and is very appreciative of the education and supports the family has received.
Donovan is two years old (3 in July). His younger twin brothers, Deaven and D’Shawn, (11 month) joined Donovan in the program three months ago. “An Early Head Start nurse, Ariona, came about once a week to check in on the boys right after they were born and helped me and their dad make sure all learning, development and health needs where met, as they were premature. She then helped me get them into a center-based services.”
Donovan was originally referred to Children’s Friend from his early intervention (EI) provider at Gordon, where he was getting occupational therapy and speech language services. He continues to get EI services during the day during his Early Head Start program.
“I am very happy with our experience with Early Head Start. I love that my boys are learning and happy. The staff are very attentive and let me know if there are any concerns with the boys. They have helped with potty training and encouraging Donovan to eat more diverse foods. Donovan is thriving and loves school. He loves a schedule. They have also had staff come into their home to help make sure things are running smoothly.
“I am attending school to become a Medical Assistance while the children are at EHS. The boys’ dad and I alternate our work schedules to be able to care for the boys when they are not at Children’s Friend and we are so grateful that the Early Head Start program runs all year so we don’t have to find alternate arrangements in the summer.
I really hope that the General Assembly invests in the Early Head Start program so that our family and others can continue to benefit from the wonderful program.”
No family should have to worry about whether they can afford to bring their little ones in to see a doctor for checkups, screenings, immunizations, or illness. That’s why it’s time to pass H-5986 / S-247 to provide continuous Medicaid eligibility for all RI children under age 6!
On Tuesday, May 2nd, families, advocates, and elected leaders gathered at the Rhode Island State House for RI Strolling Thunder 2023 and to advocate for legislation and budget investments designed to ensure that ALL families and young children have what they need to thrive.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for a wonderful day of advocacy!
9 out of 10 families in Rhode Island lack access to affordable, reliable, quality child care. We partnered with the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island to help parents share their stories. Here’s State Representative Megan Cotter’s story:
While today, I am a working professional and representative supporting the greater Exeter, Richmond and Hopkinton communities, it wasn’t too long ago that I delayed my professional career due to the astronomical child care costs facing me and my young family. Instead of starting my career upon my college graduation in 2008, I waitressed in the evenings after my husband got home from his day job. We had to trade off our caregiving responsibilities because we just couldn’t justify the child care expense when we were so early in our professional careers. My story is just one – This issue disproportionately impacts women. I know I represent thousands of my constituents, many who have their own child care payment challenges. They often tell me of the stress facing their family and the burden child care causes them and their family.
9 out of 10 families in Rhode Island lack access to affordable, reliable, quality child care. We partnered with the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island to help parents share their stories. Here’s Elizabeth’s story:
My name is Elizabeth Polanco and I am a parent of three beautiful children. Obtaining childcare has been a struggle for me and my family for years. When I had Eliana, who is now 14 years old, I applied for childcare assistance and was denied for not meeting the income eligibility requirements. As a single parent not having access to affordable and quality childcare became a daily challenge. It was a moment of many uncertainties and frustration. The current structure of our childcare system creates a domino effect that negatively impacts many areas of life. How was I going to go to work without having childcare? Was I going to lose my job and if so, how would I be able to maintain my household without an income? I ended up asking my mother to care for her and was lucky to have my mother’s support during this difficult time.
Years later, now with Saeliz (who is 5-years old), I applied to the pre-k lottery application and fortunately was selected to enroll my child, but I am faced today with the same predicament of not having access to childcare assistance for my 2-year-old Joel. I do not meet the income eligibility benchmark. Joel is being cared by my aunt whom I’ve paid out of pocket since he was born. This is a financial strain for my family and I and not to mention my frustration to know my child is not receiving the quality childcare to help his social and emotional development. Having access to childcare assistance would have such a positive impact for my family and me. Having access to childcare would mean Joel would have a wonderful opportunity to learn and develop alongside other children of his age. It would also mean a stable work schedule for my husband and I to manage daily and his would mean the world to us!
9 out of 10 families in Rhode Island lack access to affordable, reliable, quality child care. We partnered with the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island to help parents share their stories. Here’s Sarah’s story:
My name is Sarah and my 5-month-old Alma and I have been trying to access childcare since October 2022 in Rhode Island. I have contacted DHS over 5 times in person in Woonsocket and Providence and over the phone with 4-and-a-half-hour wait times and have been continuously denied for RI Child Works. Infant childcare is the most expensive, costing $300 a week, out-of-pocket. I recently began a Workforce Training program through Lifespan and cannot access childcare because they believe I can take care of my baby now since I’m unemployed. I am constantly being given the run-around and it feels like no one wants to help. Something needs to change to support those like me and my daughter.
9 out of 10 families in Rhode Island lack access to affordable, reliable, quality child care. We partnered with the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island to help parents share their stories. Here’s Emily’s story:
Accessing affordable, high-quality childcare has been a struggle for my family as we have navigated through the pandemic and remains difficult for many people even now as we are slowly coming out of the pandemic. When searching for a program to bring my infant daughter in early 2021, each place we looked at had a waitlist of at least a few months, and even then, they were not feasible, affordable options for us. We felt that in order to enroll her in a center, we’d have to either make an exception to the standard of quality we were willing to accept or pay way more than we would have been able to budget. We ultimately ended up keeping her at home with us as long as possible, as my husband was working from home full-time and I was working from home several days a week. Juggling work responsibilities in addition to giving our daughter our full attention was very difficult and left us both feeling like we couldn’t give 100% to her or to our jobs.
Our son was born in October of 2022, and I was set to return to work at the end of December. Unfortunately, the program my daughter has been attending since mid-2021 did not have a spot for our son until the end of January. Once again, we were in a tough situation in which I had to return to work remotely (thanks to my employer for being so flexible and understanding) while also caring for my son until he was able to attend. This time, however, I was almost completely on my own, as my husband now works outside of the house. Between generous grandparents and friends of our family, we were able to make it work temporarily when I needed to leave the house for work or appointments before he was enrolled in child care. Balancing working from home, caring for my baby almost completely alone, and maintaining household responsibilities, all simultaneously, took a toll on my mental health for the brief period before we had child care. We were so fortunate to be able to get him in so quickly, but many families aren’t so lucky. I cannot fathom having to balance all of those things without having any relief in sight.
We are beyond grateful for campaigns like RIght from the Start, which advocates for families like ours that struggle with accessing child care without sacrificing our entire paychecks or the quality our children deserve.
Emily Grant Souza
H-5547 (Diaz) & S-0534 (Miller)
H-5781 (Kazarian) & S-0139 (Lawson) H-5990 (Giraldo) & S-0145 (Cano)
Rhode Island is a leader in providing paid family leave for families with babies, newly adopted or foster children, and seriously ill family members through the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program.
One of only 11 state based paid leave programs, TCI provides up to six weeks of partial (about 60%) wage replacement for workers who need to take time from their jobs to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. In 2022, 8,084 workers used TCI, to either take time from work to care for a new baby (77% of claimants) or provide care for a seriously ill family member (23% of claimants). Proposals introduced in 2023 seek to address three main problems:
Rhode Island offers the shortest paid family leave in U.S. Rhode Island’s TCI provides a maximum of 6 weeks of paid family leave. This is the shortest length of any paid family leave policy in the country and significantly less than the minimum 12 weeks of leave that researchers and medical professionals recommend for new parents.
Rhode Island’s wage replacement during paid family leave is the lowest in U.S. Rhode Island’s TCI wage replacement is currently at 60%, meaning that workers only receive up to 60% of their regular pay when on leave. This wage replacement is the lowest amongst all paid family leave policies in the country. Expenses increase significantly when a new baby or child joins a family, and families need their full paycheck to cover both their regular living expenses and to meet the needs of a baby.
Access to Rhode Island’s paid family leave program is not equitable. The lowest-wage workers use the TCI program at lower rates than they contribute to it. Data shows that workers with the lowest earnings, less than $30,000 per year, made up 47% of the people who contribute to the TDI/TCI fund, but only 27% of the people who file claims to take leave. With Rhode Island’s wage replacement at 60%, these workers may be unable to afford to take the paid leave they are entitled to.
There are several bills seeking to improve Rhode Island’s paid leave program and job-protection. The Campaign urges passage of these proposals.
Improving Equity and Access: H5547/S-0534 (Diaz/Miller) would address inequities by improving wage replacement rates and allowing gig workers and self-employed workers to contribute to and benefit from this program. This legislation would:
- Create a progressive wage replacement structure so that those with lower wages will receive a higher percentage of their wages while out on leave (90% for those earning less than
$27,000/year; and 75% for those earning between $27,000 and $54,000/year)
- Expand TDI/TCI benefits to gig workers and self-employed workers
- Increase the wage cap for contributions to $160,200 to fund the improvements
Increasing Weeks & Expanding Family Definition: H-5781/S-0139 (Kazarian/Lawson) would improve the program by expanding to meet national and regional (MA/CT) standards for paid leave. This legislation would:
- Increase weeks from 6 to 12 weeks
- Increase dependent allowance from $10/week to $20/week
- Expand family definition to include grandchildren, siblings, and care recipients
Update the 1987 RI Parental and Family Medical Leave Act: H-5990/S-145 (Giraldo/Cano) would update Rhode Island’s law, enacted six years before the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, ensuring eligible workers can take job-protected leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. Paid leave or wage replacement is not required under this state law.
- Our state law allows for up to 13 weeks of job-protected leave during any 24-month period. Federal law provides 12 weeks in any 12-month period. So, currently, eligible workers in Rhode Island can take 25 weeks over two years (13 weeks under Rhode Island law in year one and 12 weeks under federal law in year two).
- This bill would allow parents to take 24 or 26 weeks over two years and can be taken all in one year when needed to care for new babies, new foster or adopted children, and seriously ill family members. Under federal law, eligible workers would still be entitled to 12 weeks of leave in the second year for another qualifying event (another new baby/child or seriously ill family member).
- Research shows that at least 26 weeks of family leave after the birth of a baby improves the health and well-being of both mothers and babies.
H-5810 (Giraldo) & S-207 (Valverde)
First Connections is Rhode Island’s frontline home visiting service for families with newborns statewide. Currently delivered by four non-profit agencies, it is designed to identify babies’ and families’ needs as early as possible and connect them with services to address those needs, including mental health services, WIC, help with affordable housing, Early Intervention, and comprehensive evidence-based family home visiting programs.
Rhode Island’s Evidence-Based Family Home Visiting programs (Early Head Start, Healthy Families, Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers) provide long-term, comprehensive services designed to help the whole family. These programs follow rigorous research models that produce lasting improved outcomes for children and families including: significant reductions in child maltreatment, language delays, and emergency room visits for accidents; and improvements in school readiness, maternal mental health, and parental education and employment.
Fewer Rhode Island Babies and Families Are Getting the Help They Need
Since 2015, the number of families served by First Connections has dropped by 18%. Just since 2021, the number of families served by the comprehensive, evidence-based program has dropped by 21%.
The First Connections & Family Home Visiting 2023 bill will:
- Make the long-needed (22 years!) rate increase permanent for the Rhode Island First Connections newborn home visiting program. Prior to the temporary rate increase, First Connections programs had an average operating loss of $136.70 per visit, causing a significant financial and staffing crisis that limits services for children and families.
- Require the development of a plan to sustain and expand voluntary family home visiting services, including meeting the new state funding match requirements for the federal Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting funds ($800K in 2024, $1.1 million in 2025, $1.6 million in 2026, $2.4 million in 2027), so that high-quality programs are offered to all families who could benefit.
|City/Town||# Received First Connections Visit in 2022||# Enrolled in Evidence-Based Home Visiting on October 1, 2022|