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 Stories – Parent Asiata Teah: Essential Workers Struggle to Find Affordable Child Care

April 14, 2022

Providence resident Asiata Teah and her husband are both essential workers, but haven’t been able to afford consistent, high-quality child care for their two-year-old son despite having two incomes. Asiata returned to her work when their son was three months old, and has relied on family and friends to care for him for two and a half years. This support from her inner circle isn’t reliable, and Asiata struggles to maintain a full-time schedule at her job in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I plan my work schedule around their changing availability, and unfortunately they can’t always follow through. I’ve had to call out of work, I can’t pick up extra shifts, and I’m constantly late for work,” said Asiata. “Although my manager has been accommodating so far, missing out on work means I lose income. It hurts our family financially and is damaging my career to not have consistent child care.”

Asiata’s household income is too high to qualify for Child Care Assistance Payment (CCAP), which would help her pay for a stable, high-quality learning environment for her son. If she was to pay the full price of child care out of pocket, it would be over 60% of the income she brings in, which is far above the level recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s affordability standard, which states that child care is only affordable if it costs no more than 7% of a family’s income.

“Prices are rapidly rising for everything from gas to housing to groceries, and it’s increasingly hard to make ends meet,” said Asiata. “If I was to pay for child care out of pocket, the cheapest option would still take up my entire paycheck.”

On top of the pressure of being an essential worker during a pandemic and the stress of an ongoing search for reliable child care she can afford, Asiata is also currently working towards earning her public health administration bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island.

“I just want the opportunity to work to help my community and support my family. In this country, you need a strong educational foundation to live comfortably and pursue your dreams,” said Asiata. “We need affordable options for early childhood education, which will allow parents of young children to work and further their education. We’re free to pursue our dreams if we know that our children are safe in a high-quality learning environment that prepares them for success once they start school.”

Asiata is still seeking a child care spot for her son so she can get to work without worrying about his care. She strongly urges legislators to support policies and funding that help the countless Rhode Island middle class families like hers access affordable, high-quality child care so they can work, regardless of income level.

Early Intervention: Dalisha’s Story

April 4, 2022

Dalisha’s first son, DJ, was born premature. By the time of his first birthday, delays in DJ’s development had become apparent.

Dalisha and her son were enrolled in Early Intervention at Children’s Friend. Her EI service provider evaluated DJ and helped Dalisha connect with speech and occupational therapy to support her son’s development.

A couple of years later, Dalisha’s second son Da’Marion was born and was also identified as needing Early Intervention services.

Dalisha says that without the support of Early Intervention, she would not be able to advocate for her children and see that their needs were met. “They helped me ask the pediatrician the right questions, and get the specialist referrals and evaluations my sons needed.”

With help from the Early Intervention team, DJ has now transitioned to Pre-K with special education services in place.

But while Dalisha is grateful for Early Intervention and her service providers’ responsiveness, systemic issues continue to create barriers for her family.

“There is a waiting list for everything now,” Dalisha says. Da’Marion is on a waiting list for the Children’s Neurodevelopment Center and related services at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Meanwhile, DJ is waiting for a slot to open up for ABA therapy.
“They said it could be up to six months.”

Dalisha wants state leaders in Rhode Island to know that without Early Intervention, she would not have even recognized her sons’ developmental delays. “As a new mom, you don’t know much. I wouldn’t have known what direction to take.”

Most of all, Dalisha credits Early Intervention with improving her advocacy skills as a parent.

“They helped me learn to speak up for my kids when I didn’t know how.”

Early Intervention: Naiommy’s Story

April 4, 2022

It is not a secret that High quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities.

Intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided EARLIER in life rather than LATER. Therefore, I personally don’t know where I would have been without my son’s early intervention services. It is already hard enough to balance many things as a parent, so having a team of support to better prepare me to meet my child’s learning, and social emotional development has been a blessing.

I understand how critical the first three years of life are for my son. This is why families benefit from Early Intervention by being able to better meet their children’s special needs from an early age and throughout their lives. I was fortunate to obtain these vital services right before the waitlist began and even though I have a great team it has not been an easy transition to have to obtain many of my services virtually. Though my team has gone above and beyond to provide quality services and provide in-person opportunities, we no longer can have services in my backyard during these winter days and my little one is not able to stay on video for more than 15 minutes.

More children need services than are currently being served, especially since the start of Covid-19. As an Afro Latina woman, I have seen firsthand how Covid has disproportionately affected our BIPOC community, MORE SO OUR LITTLE ONES that have had to enter this world during the Covid Pandemic. We deserve to do better for THEM, this is not a question of whether we should allocate funding for them and be flexible. It is a HUMAN RIGHT to receive quality services no child should be left without these vital supports!

— Naiommy Baret

Early Intervention: Luna’s Story

April 4, 2022

Arileibys’s daughter Luna was born premature and had to spend several weeks in the NICU. Overwhelmed and worried for her newborn, Arileibys felt like she was all alone.

Before Luna was even discharged from the hospital, Arileibys was connected with Early Intervention through Meeting Street.

“When something happens in just the right moment, that for me was Early Intervention,” Arileibys says.

With support from Early Intervention, Arileibys was able to find a pediatrician who understood Luna’s needs. Meeting Street set her up with occupational and physical therapy, a speech language pathologist, and a nutritionist for her daughter.

But because Luna requires a home care nurse, Arileibys is unable to find adequate childcare for care Luna, making Arileibys’s goal of continuing her education that much harder to reach.

Arileibys wants state leaders to know that without the supports she received from Early Intervention, she would not know how to go about getting any of the services and specialist care that Luna needs. “Luna is doing so much better today, speaking so much better,” she says. “Early Intervention fought so hard for her, and taught me and my family how to fight for her.”

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Wellness Factsheet

March 28, 2022

H-7801 (Cassar) / S-2614 (DiMario)

What is Infant and Early Childhood Mental Wellness?

  • The developing capacity of a child from birth to age five to experience, express and regulate emotions, form close, secure interpersonal relationships, and explore their environment and learn, all in the context of family, community, and culture.
  • Infant and early childhood mental wellness is the foundation for all future development and is necessary for the development of curiosity, persistence, motivation, and trust.

Why is Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Important?

  • Research shows that 16% to 18% of infants and young children can and do experience mental health challenges; roughly the same prevalence rate as experienced by older children.
  • Many mental health challenges occurring in the first years of life persist and increase the risk of problems in the early years, and to serious long-term health, mental health, and educational challenges.
  • Infant and early childhood mental health challenges can be identified using developmentally appropriate tools and can be treated effectively through relationship-based therapies.

What will this Legislation do?

The bill would require the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop a plan by June 30, 2023 to promote best practices for screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health conditions for children from birth through age 5 with RIte Care/Medicaid insurance, to include:

  • Strategies to promote use of developmentally appropriate and research-based screening and evaluation tools, a diagnostic system, and effective therapies.
  • A plan to strengthen infant and early childhood mental health skills, knowledge and practice of all providers who work with young children (0-5).
  • A plan to establish a registry of trained infant/early childhood mental health professionals that can be a resource across health care, education, child welfare, and human service settings.
  • Strategies to address intergenerational effects of racism, economic insecurity, and toxic stress that influence the mental health of parents/caregivers, babies, and young children.

Strolling Thunder Stories – Parent Felicia Powers: Turning Down Higher Pay In Order to Afford Child Care

March 21, 2022

Woonsocket resident Felicia Powers has a ten-year-old daughter and two-year-old son, and has faced numerous barriers to accessing child care so she can work to support her family as a single parent. 

Although she currently works in human services, Felicia spent years as an essential worker in the nursing home industry. Now that her son is in enrolled in a high-quality child care program that accepts Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) payments, she must also spend time meticulously calculating how much she can make to cover her family’s living expenses while keeping her earnings low enough to remain eligible for the benefits her family currently needs to survive, including child care assistance, rent subsidy, health care benefits, and SNAP benefits. 

“I feel stuck in a system that doesn’t allow me the flexibility to pursue better opportunities to lift my family out of financial struggle,” said Felicia. “If I made just a couple dollars more per hour, I’d lose eligibility for CCAP, and child care would cost 75 percent of my household income. We’d likely also lose additional benefits, and wouldn’t be able to survive.” 

Felicia enjoys working in human services in a nursing home, but would love to attend nursing school and become a Registered Nurse (RN). However, she can’t do that while limited by Rhode Island’s low family income limits for the Child Care Assistance Program. 

Felicia knows other parents facing similar challenges, who have had to turn down opportunities for higher-paying jobs, or even working extra shifts, because the additional income would make them  ineligible for CCAP but they still wouldn’t make enough to afford living expenses and child care. 

“Ultimately, I have to make sure my family has the things we need to feel secure and healthy, such as food on the table and safe housing,” said Felicia. “The way the system is structured, you can’t climb the ladder to raise your family out of poverty. You are forced to leap off the ladder and hope for the best.”

Felicia strongly believes that child care should be affordable and accessible for all families. She encourages Rhode Island legislators to ensure that family income limits are raised so more families can get help and families that are receiving help can earn more money and advance their careers.

Early Educator Pandemic Retention Bonus Program

March 20, 2022

Early educators employed at licensed child care providers could be eligible for $1,500 during the first application window to continue the vital work of supporting the State’s littlest learners. To learn more about the Early Educator Pandemic Retention Bonus Program, click here.

Rhode Island Early Educator Higher Education Career Pathways – Challenges, Barriers, and Solutions

February 23, 2022

Several members of the RIght from the Start Steering Committee worked together to document systemic barriers and challenges that early educators face when trying to earn professional credentials, complete college degrees, and improve their wages and benefits while continuing to do the work they love – caring for and educating infants, toddlers, and young children in community-based programs. We are working with Senator Sandra Cano and Rep. Julie Casimiro and other legislative leaders this year to pass the Early Educator Investment Act (S-2235 and H-7283) and are eager to help the Postsecondary Education Commissioner, Department of Human Services, and Rhode Island Department of Education implement solutions that help working early educators earn credentials, complete degrees, and improve their compensation. In Rhode Island and nationally, early educators earn very low wages, are almost entirely women, and a significant proportion of them are women of color.

Read the full report here.

Vox News: Why the US doesn’t have universal child care (anymore)

February 22, 2022

Check out this excellent Vox News video history of child care in the United States.

“President Richard Nixon set us on a path where any kind of federal child care policy would be as underfunded and stigmatized as possible. It’s a system that reinforces and deepens inequalities of race, gender, and class . . . But just because we’re on that path does not mean we can’t change it.” — Anna Danziger Halperin, child care historian

National Strolling Thunder 2022 Looking for Rhode Island Babies & Families

February 10, 2022

RIght Start partner ZERO TO THREE is looking for babies and families to represent Rhode Island at this year’s virtual Strolling Thunder on Capitol Hill on May 17th. Do you or someone you know have a story about child care, paid leave, economic security, infant and early childhood mental health, or Early Head Start? Learn more and apply today. Submissions are due by February 25, 2022.