RIght from the Start

December 2, 2019

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.

Strolling Thunder Advocate Story: Military Parent Alyssa Nichol

June 18, 2021

Low Pay and High Turnover is Challenging for Kids, Parents, and Child Care Programs

Alyssa Nichol is the mother of two young children, and currently stationed at Navy Station Newport as a Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General). Having been active duty for ten years, Alyssa is used to relocating, and quickly adapting in new communities. “Most military families move often and depend on access to community-based child care,” said Alyssa. “ We don’t have long-term family or friends nearby to help with our kids, and taking a break from the workforce isn’t really an option. We really depend on consistent access to stable child care.”

Sandpipers Early Learning Center in Middletown was able to immediately enroll Alyssa’s daughters when she relocated to Rhode Island, and she’s been thrilled with the program. “Whenever I’m working, I know my girls are loved, thriving, learning, and socializing. I’m incredibly grateful to have that peace of mind,” she said.

Alyssa says her daughters’ teachers are a key part of the support system they’ve found in Rhode Island, but she worries that child care providers are not equipped to survive under the current funding model because family tuition payments and government subsidies for low-income families are not sufficient to pay teachers decent wages. “All the teachers at Sandpipers are incredible, and pour their heart and soul into their jobs,” said Alyssa. “Unfortunately, my daughter’s previous teacher had to leave for a better-paying career path, even though she loved teaching and was highly qualified. She couldn’t afford to stay in a job that doesn’t typically pay a living wage.”  

Alyssa worries that early learning centers can’t attract and retain enough highly qualified teachers because they can’t survive on the low wages that are standard for the child care field (an average of $12/hour in Rhode Island). She believes that child care centers, teachers, and students deserve stability, and encourages Rhode Island General Assembly members to support The Child Care is Essential Act to ensure that funding is in place to support the child care industry as a crucial element of economic stability.

Strolling Thunder Advocate Story: Parent Wilmaris Soto-Ramos

June 16, 2021

Supporting RI Families with Children Ages Zero to Three

Pawtucket resident Wilmaris Soto-Ramos and her partner Stephen welcomed their rainbow baby in October of 2020, after experiencing the heartbreak of two consecutive second-trimester losses and the stress and isolation of pregnancy during a pandemic. Wilmaris’s challenging journey to motherhood, as well as the research she’s done as a new mom, inspired her to become a parent advocate. 

“It’s crucial that we improve policies that protect and support new parents, who desperately need time to heal and bond with their child,” said Wilmaris. “When you become a new parent, you face a series of challenges, from becoming aware of your birthing and paid leave options, to thinking about child care and returning to the workforce.”

When they began to look for child care for their daughter, Wilmaris and Stephen quickly realized that affordability would be a deciding factor in their choice. “Even with two household incomes, high-quality child care is just not affordable for most working families in Rhode Island,” said Wilmaris. “We’ve had to rely on family support because child care is simply too expensive for us at this time.”

Wilmaris and her family were selected to represent Rhode Island as part of the 2021 National Strolling Thunder campaign and were able to meet virtually with their elected congressional representatives in Washington DC (Senator Jack Reed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressman David Cicilline) to introduce one of their youngest constituents, baby Amarie.  Wilmaris shared their personal experiences as a family with a child under the age of three and advocated for federal funding and policies to help families with young children, including support for the American Family Plan. 

Wilmaris believes that Rhode Island’s child care system must be updated to meet the needs of young families. “We need to ensure that child care and early learning programs have the funding they need to provide high-quality services and to recruit and retain excellent early educators,” said Wilmaris. “This will allow more families to access the benefits of child care so they can continue to work while their children are cared for in high-quality settings.” 

Wilmaris strongly urges General Assembly leaders to support the Rhode Island Child Care is Essential Act, and to use federal and state funding to make permanent increases to the child care reimbursement rates. This legislation is necessary so more families can access affordable, high-quality child care, allowing parents to work while their children grow, learn, and thrive.

Strolling Thunder Advocate Story: Veronica Manfredi & Minerva Waldron

June 15, 2021

High-Quality Programs Still Struggle to Retain Staff and Keep Doors Open

Sisters Minerva Waldron and Veronica Manfredi are co-owners of Over the Rainbow, a family-owned child care program with locations in Providence and Johnston. Before the pandemic, their centers always had at least 20 families seeking enrollment on their waitlist. 

However, even after they were allowed to reopen a few months into the pandemic, families were still scared to send their children back. “We tried to reassure families that their children are safe and that we’re taking all the necessary precautions, but they just weren’t coming back,” said Minerva. “We’re still not at full enrollment. The temporary rates provided by DHS are keeping us open. Without the increased rates, many centers like us would have permanently closed.” 

The pandemic also heightened staffing issues that were widespread throughout the child care industry even before the pandemic due to low pay ($12.01/hour is the average pay for a child care educator in Rhode Island). During the last year, Over the Rainbow lost several staff members who couldn’t afford to pay for child care for their own school-age children who were suddenly distance learning. Other staff left because they were afraid to be in a classroom during a pandemic with young children who do not reliably wear masks. In an industry that demands a lot from workers but is not structured to pay them competitive salaries, the loss of highly qualified child care staff is challenging. 

Minerva and Veronica consider themselves lucky to have many highly qualified, experienced early childhood educators who have worked for them for years. “We are very grateful to our hardworking staff who pour their heart and soul into nurturing and teaching young children,” said Minerva. “Even before the pandemic, we’ve unfortunately had staff members forced to make the difficult decision to leave the child care industry in order to better financially support their family with higher-paying jobs. It shouldn’t be that way.” 

Minerva and Veronica hope that Rhode Island legislators recognize how crucial it is to ensure child care programs and early childhood education programs receive rates that meet federal equal access standards so they can serve children from low-income families and retain high-quality early education educators. 

“Child care providers don’t get enough credit,” said Veronica. “Without adequate child care options, the economy comes to a halt. With no one to care for their children, parents can’t stay in the workforce, and the entire economy is affected.”

Strolling Thunder Advocate Story: Essential Worker & Parent Soani Delgado

June 15, 2021

Finding Support through the Family Child Care System

While many Rhode Islanders were being asked to stay home to “flatten the curve” of rising COVID-19 infections, essential workers like Providence resident Soani Delgado scrambled to piece together child care so they could continue going to work. Soani and her husband work in neighborhood bodegas, which many people rely on for necessities such as groceries, medicine, and home essentials.

Soani Delgado helping a customer at a neighborhood bodega.

Soani and her husband figured out a way to temporarily alternate their schedules and piece together care within her family while child care programs were closed during the early months of the pandemic, but Soani says this struggle brought them back to what they’d faced a few years earlier in accessing affordable, high-quality care.

“After my son was born, we couldn’t afford high-quality child care, even with both of us working. So we decided that the best decision financially for our family was for me to stay home with our son,” says Soani. “Two years later, we were able to utilize the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which allowed us to find a high-quality program that fit our needs so I could return to work.”

When her oldest was two, she was relieved to find Nuris Ynoa Family Child Care, a high-quality, licensed home child care program that accepts CCAP. “We’ve been with Nuris for a few years now, and I feel like I’m leaving my kids with family,” says Soani. “At Nuris’s home, my kids get the best of both worlds. They’re in a warm, caring environment, and they get the structure, routine, and early learning skills to prepare them for success in kindergarten.”

Soani and her husband are grateful that they’ve been able to find a licensed, high-quality child care provider, and that they’re able to access assistance so they can both work to support their family. They encourage Rhode Island lawmakers to continue the increased CCAP rates so that high-quality providers like Nuris can continue to serve families with young children across Rhode Island.

“The challenges this past year reinforced how much we rely on Nuris. She’s a key part of our support system,” says Soani. “She accommodates our crazy work schedules, and we go to work confident that our kids are safe and having fun in a high-quality early childhood education setting.”

Strolling Thunder Advocate Story: Family Child Care Provider Nuris Ynoa

May 24, 2021

Advocating to Strengthen Rhode Island’s Licensed Family Child Care System  

Nuris Ynoa opened her licensed home child care program after learning that her own child was struggling with a speech delay. She and her husband Jose wanted to create an early learning environment at home to support their son through those developmental challenges.  They’re still working hard 22 years later to ensure that all children who pass through their program leave ready to thrive in school. Their current enrolled students range in age from seven months to four years old, and they provide individualized age-appropriate learning and enrichment for each child.

Nuris Ynoa reading to her students.

“There’s a stigma out there that home child care providers are babysitters, and that is not true. The truth is that we are educators,” said Nuris. “I went to school to make sure that I earned the necessary credentials to become an early childhood educator, and I attend regular trainings to improve my knowledge so I can keep offering the best learning and care for our kids,” says Nuris, who is one of the highest-rated family child care providers in Rhode Island according to the BrightStars rating system. 

In addition to the perception challenges they face, Nuris and Jose are also dealing with the financial struggles facing child care providers across the country, which have only been worsened by the pandemic. Enrollment numbers dropped because parents were keeping their kids home due to the pandemic, and providers had to absorb the cost of additional cleaning supplies and PPE, as well as accounting for the time to complete the COVID-related enhanced cleaning protocols. “I’m concerned about maintaining the safety of the kids. This is something we have always focused on, but now we have to be more diligent. Kids learn by putting things in their mouth, so we have to be on top of every precaution to keep them safe,” said Nuris.

Nuris currently cares for five children, many who attend the program through the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), a program that helps low-income families by paying part of the cost of child care. “As home child care providers, we need increased CCAP payments since our business depends on CCAP rates to survive,” said Nuris. “The CCAP rates and long hours we work mean that we struggle to earn even minimum wage.  We also want access to the same training and program support that child care centers receive, so we can continue to serve Rhode Island families in a high-quality, home-based program.”

Strolling Thunder Advocate Story: The Garvin Family

May 24, 2021

Working Mom Forced Out of Workforce Due to Child Care Costs

Before having children, Providence resident Kristen Garvin earned her Master’s degree in Psychology and opened a private practice as a licensed therapist, an undertaking she describes as “a business I loved, with clients I loved.” After having her second child three years ago, the high cost of child care for two children forced her and her husband Greg Garvin to make the difficult decision to close her business so she could stay home as a primary caregiver. “I worked really hard to get my degree and my license and start my business. It’s work that I enjoy. It was the decision we had to make as a family, but it felt unfair,” said Kristen. 

The Garvin Family

Kristen and Greg’s daughter was in a full-time preschool until the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, and she’s spent the past 14 months at home with her parents and younger brother. While the family has enjoyed the time together, Kristen worries that their kids have fallen behind at home, without the benefit of learning in a setting with peers. “I know the crucial role that the first five years of life play in a child’s educational and professional path. It has a profound impact,” said Kristen. “I’m concerned about the missed opportunities due to her absence from school. We’re doing as much as we can at home, but will it be enough? She has to learn in the real world outside our home and problem solve with other kids. She’s missed opportunities this year to learn and to grow in a way that only a child care setting can offer her.” 

The Garvins have been reflecting on what would help families like theirs, where the cost of high-quality child care is greater than one parent’s income.  “I would like to see a voucher system, for money to stay with the child or with the family, and let the parents decide what kind of child care works for them the best, “ said Greg. “Ultimately that gives families the flexibility to make a decision that fits their schedule and their needs.”

Kristen and Greg hope to enroll both children in an early childhood education setting in the near future so that Kristen can return to work.  They hope that state leaders and lawmakers grasp the importance of the first five years of life, and invest resources into supporting young children and their families so that their parents can work, contributing to both their family’s financial security, as well as Rhode Island’s economy.

RI Paid Leave Coalition & RIght from the Start Applaud Senate Bill No. 688’s Expansion of Paid Family Leave to 8 Weeks, Urge Inclusion of Increased Wage Supplement

May 21, 2021

Increased weeks for paid family leave are only viable if working families can afford to take the time off.

PROVIDENCE, R.I.–The Rhode Island Paid Leave Coalition and the RIght from the Start campaign are applauding the Senate Labor Committee’s passage of Senate Bill 688 which would increase Rhode Island’s temporary caregiver benefits program (also known as Paid Family Leave) to 8 weeks by 2023, but are urging the Senate to also pass Senate Bill 436 to increase wage replacement rates, particularly for lower-income workers.

During the Senate hearing on these bills, 13 organizations, representing organizations that advocate for Rhode Islanders across the life spectrum including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Associations of Retired Persons testified in support of Senator Goldin’s comprehensive bill. Below are statements from five members of the coalition and campaign making the argument for why it’s necessary to increase wage replacement rates to support workers earning low wages.

RACHEL FLUM, ECONOMIC PROGRESS INSTITUTE: “We are glad that the Senate is focusing on improving paid family leave this year since we’ve seen what a lifeline it has been for so many families during the pandemic,” said Rachel Flum of the Economic Progress Institute. “However, only increasing TCI to 8 weeks without increasing Rhode Island’s lowest in the nation wage replacement rates will do little to make this benefit available to our state’s lower-income workers who literally can’t afford to take this critical care time off. That’s not right, and that’s why we are urging the Senate to also pass Senator Goldin’s comprehensive TCI expansion bill that will increase Rhode Island’s paid family leave replacement rate to at least 75% for lower income workers. Everyone deserves access to this important benefit, not just those who can afford it.”

LEANNE BARRETT, RHODE ISLAND KIDS COUNT: “We know that new parents who earn lower wages take paid leave at lower rates than parent who earn higher wages,” said Leanne Barrett, Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “Low-wage workers are often women and people of color. Rhode Island needs to act to increase wage replacement rates to ensure all families can use the benefit they contribute a portion of their paycheck to. We also strongly support the effort to extend the number of weeks of leave available to be closer to the national standard of 12 weeks of leave.”

PAMELA HIGH, MD, RI CHAPTER OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: “Paid family leave improves the short-term and long-term health of both moms and babies,” said Pamela High, MD, Pediatrician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and member of the RI Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “All families deserve to have time at home to provide the intensive care that babies need during the first few weeks and months of life without having to worry about making ends meet. The RI Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics urges the General Assembly to strongly consider improving the wage replacement rates for this program to make it more inclusive for low-income workers in addition to extending the number of weeks.”

SAM SALGANIK, RI PARENT INFORMATION NETWORK: “Every day in our work, we see how impactful TCI is for Rhode Islanders, especially parents raising children with special needs and adults caring for aging parents and loved ones,” said Sam Salganik, Executive Director of the RI Parent Information Network. “We support Senator Goldin’s comprehensive approach, including higher wage replacement rates, because it does the most to make this critical support available to low-income families who need it.”

MAUREEN MAIGRET, CHAIR OF THE AGING IN COMMUNITY SUBCOMMITTEE: “We know many grandparents who are still in workforce are responsible for caring for their grandchildren,” said Maureen Maigret, chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council. “To deny them the opportunity to take paid leave to care for a seriously ill grandchild who they care for is a grave omission from the current law as is the omission of siblings. When parents become unable to care for older children who become ill or injured it is often siblings who step in as the main caregiver and they need the financial support provided by this law.”

For additional background on Rhode Island’s paid family leave program and the Paid Leave Coalition, see www.economicprogressri.org/paidleave, and RIght from the Start’s “Improving Rhode Island’s Paid Family Leave Program” presentation.

RIght Start Celebrates Rhode Island Strolling Thunder 2021!

May 18, 2021

RIght from the Start and Rhode Island KIDS COUNT have been proudly participating in Strolling Thunder Rhode Island 2021. Working together with parents, advocates, educators, and legislators, we’ve held seven Zoom advocacy events that featured REAL families sharing REAL experiences and struggles to help advocate for the RIght Start Agenda of policies and legislation designed to help Rhode Island’s young children and families weather the COVID-19 crisis and emerge stronger on the other side.

Our April 28, 2021 virtual event focused on child care and featured remarks from Wilmaris Soto-Ramos, a new mom from Pawtucket who is also the Rhode Island representative to national Strolling Thunder.  Wilmaris talked about why she advocates for improved state policies and funding for programs that help families like hers and how better state policies will help her daughter and all kids get off to the right start!

Rhode Island Capitol TV also worked with us to create a special production: Child Care Makes the World Go Round which features remarks from the Governor, Lt. Governor, General Assembly leaders, child care program leaders, and parents of young children.

Throughout May we’ve been organizing individual meetings between parents of young children and key Rhode Island legislative leaders as the General Assembly prepares to make decisions on legislation and state budget priorities in June.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and remote advocacy, Strolling Thunder Rhode Island is ensuring that our legislators are hearing directly from parents in support of policies, legislation, and budget items that will help ALL children get off to the right start.

Rhode Island Capitol TV Special: Child Care Makes The World Go Round

May 11, 2021

In case you missed it, watch the full version of Rhode Island Capitol TV’s “Childcare Makes the World Go Round” special produced in celebration of Rhode Island Child Care Awareness Day.

RIght Start Wage Supplement Infographic: Worthy Wages for Early Educators

April 27, 2021

Building Rhode Island’s child care sector back better and bolder means creating a wage supplement to help child care programs retain qualified and effective early educators.