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.
RIght from the Start Letter to Senators Reed & Whitehouse Urges Inclusion of Child Care Funding In Budget Reconciliation Package
Dear Senators Reed & Whitehouse:
I write to you on behalf of the RIght from the Start Campaign Steering Committee to express our disappointment in hearing the news that investments in child care and early learning may no longer being considered for part of the reconciliation package. The scale of the child care problem isn’t one that families or providers can solve on their own and Rhode Island continues to decline to invest more state General Revenue. More expanded and permanent federal investments are necessary to sustain and expand families access to affordable, reliable, high-quality child care. Leaving child care out of reconciliation means leaving families, children, and businesses behind.
This week, the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and a coalition of 85 leading national organizations and even more state organizations, including all of us, sent a letter to you highlighting the urgent need to ensure the reconciliation package includes critical investments for child care.
We ask that you and Senator Whitehouse reach out to Senator Manchin to point out how important investments in child care are for families in both Rhode Island and West Virginia. The federal funding cliff for child care detailed in the attached letter from West Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources to Senator Manchin will also occur in Rhode Island. Neglecting to include child care in this package will just create more instability in state government. In addition, we ask you to implore Senate Majority Leader Schumer to reinstate an investment in child care within the reconciliation package.
We would also like to share testimony from your constituents collected since the COVID-19 pandemic. Robert Halley of West Warwick is a Program Administrator experiencing staffing shortages that cause waitlists for families in need of child care. These staffing shortages create dangerous situations for children, as described by Meagan Richards of Johnston. Estefany Ortiz, a family child care provider in Providence, struggles with low wages and stalled career goals. Kayla Arruda testified to her struggle to find qualified staff for the program she administers in North Providence; since publication, she herself left the field. Erin Thibealt is a parent from East Providence that believes her positive (but expensive) experience with child care should be replicated for all families, regardless of income. Khadija Lewis-Khan echoes concern of affordability and believes child care is a necessary part of our economic infrastructure. Jeanette Perez is a parent from Providence that says this lack of affordable child care causes her extreme stress. A Woonsocket parent named Felicia Powers turned down a raise in order maintain her child care subsidy. Once she falls of the subsidy cliff, any trace of her raise will be consumed by child care costs. Another parent, Asiata Teah of Providence, is unable to afford consistent child care despite living in a dual income household. Kinte Howie, a Family Worker from the Woonsocket Head Start Child Development Association, is concerned that low wages will keep him from staying in a field he is passionate about. Emma Villa’s family child care business would have closed without the CCRSA and ARPA funds, and she fears for her business when this money runs out, a sentiment shared by many of us.
In addition to these personal stories, RIAEYC is happy to share the following statistics related post-pandemic child care in Rhode Island, cited from Child Care Aware of America’s recent report, Demanding Change: Repairing Our Child Care System.
- A single parent making the median wage in Rhode Island will have to spend 45% of their income on child care in the current market.
- Placing an infant in child care for one year in Rhode Island costs more than in-state college tuition.
- The average price to send two children to child care costs 111% more than the average rent in Rhode Island.
- Rhode Island ranks #6 for least affordable family child care programs
- Rhode Island ranks #16 for least affordable infant care
- Rhode Island ranks #12 for least affordable toddler care
- Rhode Island ranks #16 for least affordable preschool care
We hope that this testimony and data from throughout Rhode Island further compels you to advocate for Rhode Island’s child care families during this critical moment. Our industry depends on this investment.
Lisa A. Hildebrand, MA
Executive Director, RIAEYC on behalf of the Right from the Start Steering Committee
RIght from the Start Steering Committee
Beautiful Beginnings Child Care
Economic Progress Institute
Latino Policy Institute
Parents Leading for Educational Equity
Rhode Island Association for Infant Mental Health
Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children
Rhode Island Head Start Association
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT
2022 General Assembly Session Wrap-Up: Major Progress for Rhode Island Families With Young Children, But More Work Needed
Thanks to all of your advocacy and strong leadership from the Governor and General Assembly leaders, Rhode Island is strengthening policies and programs that help young children get off to the Right Start! Read our full 2022 Rhode Island General Assembly session wrap-up below.
Child Care is Essential:
- Lifts the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) family income eligibility at entrance from 180% FPL ($41,454 for a family of 3) to 200% FPL ($46,060 for a family of 3).
- Lifts family income eligibility at exit from 225% FPL ($51,817 for a family of 3) to 300% FPL ($69,090 for a family of 3) – 300% is the highest eligibility level in RI history!
- Makes CCAP eligibility permanent for low-income college students enrolled at RI public higher education institution.
- Maintains the 7% cap on family copayments.
- Increases CCAP provider rates for all ages of children enrolled in licensed child care centers to range from the 50th percentile to the 80th percentile of the 2021 RI Child Care Market Rate Survey and ensures that rates for programs at the 4 and 5 star quality levels meet or exceed the federal equal access standard.
- Allocates funds for a child care licensing information technology system.
- Allocates ARPA funds to provide start-up grants to incentivize people to open and license new family child care homes.
- Allocates ARPA funds for quality improvement grants to licensed child care centers and family child care homes.
Early Educator Investment:
- Requires a state plan to prepare, recruit, and retain a highly qualified early childhood workforce, including “adequate wages for early childhood educators regardless of setting.”
- Allocates ARPA funds for a second year of retention bonuses for educators and direct care staff at licensed child care centers and family child care homes.
- Allocates ARPA funds to expand the RI’s T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood workforce development model to help more early educators earn post-secondary credentials and degrees.
- Allocates ARPA funds to develop an early educator workforce registry.
Early Intervention and First Connections:
- Provides a permanent 45% Medicaid rate increase for Early Intervention – the first rate increase in 20 years! This rate increase will help the 60% of EI children with Medicaid and will also trigger rate increases from commercial health insurance providers (about 40% of EI children have commercial insurance). This will help Early Intervention programs raise wages to more competitive levels so they can recruit and retain qualified staff and then enroll children off the statewide waiting list.
- Allocates $5.5 million in ARPA funding for Early Intervention Recovery to “provide relief to early intervention providers in response to a decline in enrollment for early intervention, family home visiting, and screening programs. This program will also provide performance bonuses for providers who hit certain targets, such as recovering referral numbers and achieving reduced staff turnover.”
- Provides a temporary Medicaid rate increase for the First Connections Home Visiting Program that will be effective July 1, 2022 to help the program raise wages to recruit and retain nurses, social workers, and community health workers. First Connections is the mandatory Child Find program for Early Intervention and helps families with newborns connect to essential services and resources. First Connections had not received a rate increase in more than 20 years.
Cover All Kids:
- Restores Medicaid/RIte Care Coverage to all income-eligible children who are residents of RI, regardless of immigration status.
Medicaid Postpartum Extension:
- Extends Medicaid/RIte Care Coverage from 60 days postpartum to 12 months postpartum for moms, regardless of immigration status.
Infant/Early Childhood Mental Wellness:
- Creates a State Infant/Early Childhood Mental Wellness Task Force to develop a state plan on or before June 30, 2023, to promote the adoption of best practices for screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health challenges in Medicaid for infants and young children under the age of six.
Pre-K/State Funded Head Start:
- Provides level state funding for RI Pre-K and state-funded Head Start for 2022-2023 to maintain existing classrooms and seats.
- Amends the RI Pre-K Act to require state agencies to develop a plan to expand the RI Pre-K program to serve 5,000 children ages 3 and 4 within five years with expansion beginning in FY24. The plan will also include recommendations for achieving universal access to Pre-K in RI for all children ages 3 and 4.
- Requires the Pre-K expansion plan to ensure that infant and toddler care is not at risk as Pre-K is expanded.
Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning:
- Establishes an “Early Childhood Governance Working Group” that will be convened by the chair of the Children’s Cabinet to develop recommendations by October 1, 2023, regarding the governance of early childhood programs in the state.
- The recommendations shall address, but need not be limited to:
- The coordination and administration of early childhood programs and services;
- The governance and organizational structure of early childhood programs and services, including whether, and under what circumstances, the state should consider unifying early childhood programs under one state agency;
- The fiscal structure of proposed recommendations; and
- The implementation of early childhood data systems, for strategic planning, program implementation and program evaluation.
- The existing RI Early Learning Council shall serve as the advisory body to the Working Group.
Let RI Vote:
- Improves voter access by removing barriers to vote by mail or early in-person in RI!
Paid Family Leave/Temporary Caregivers Insurance:
- No changes to the Parental and Family Medical Leave Act or the Temporary Caregivers Insurance program were enacted.
Revenue for Rhode Island:
- No changes were enacted to the state tax rate for the top 1% of earners in order to generate more state revenue to help kids and families.
“The budget passed by the General Assembly and signed into law today by Governor McKee contains numerous wins for the health and education of Rhode Island’s children and parents,” said Leanne Barrett, Senior Policy Analyst, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and Coordinator of the RIght from the Start Campaign, led by Beautiful Beginnings, Economic Progress Institute, Latino Policy Institute, Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE), Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children, Rhode Island Association for Infant Mental Health, the Rhode Island Head Start Association, and Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “The budget increases access to quality, affordable child care for working parents, while investing in our state’s workforce of early educators. We’re also pleased to see much needed investments in Early Intervention and First Connections, programs that are essential to young children experiencing developmental challenges. Finally, the budget includes important wins for child and maternal health including expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income children regardless of immigration status and expanding Medicaid coverage through 12-months postpartum to ensure the health of new moms. The RIght from the Start Campaign thanks Governor McKee, the House and Senate for their work on this budget and for important investments that will help to ensure all Rhode Island kids get off to the right start in life.”
Nearly two decades ago, Jen Rathbun was asked to join the Board of Directors for the nonprofit child care program Joyful Noise in West Warwick, Rhode Island when her son was a toddler attending the program. She held a few different roles within the organization, and was named director in 2017.
“Ensuring parents are happy is extremely important, but I realized quickly that it’s arguably most important to keep your staff happy,” said Jen. “If I notice someone on my team showing signs of burnout, I immediately get them additional support, or switch up their classroom assignment or their co-teachers–something to ensure their personal well-being and their ability to continue to do their job at the necessary level of peak performance. And of course I’m doing everything I can to get funding to increase their wages–they deserve more.”
Although the pandemic has made things difficult for Joyful Noise, as it has for the entire child care industry, Jen and her team found it to be a unique opportunity to address staff compensation challenges. Joyful Noise received a child care reinvigoration grant (funded with federal COVID relief resources) which allowed them to make necessary upgrades to their facilities, and applied for various COVID-related child care stabilization grants which allowed them to provide much-needed wage increases, bonuses for teachers and staff, and even tuition relief for a few families enrolled in the program who were facing pandemic-related financial difficulties.
“Families and teachers in our community were struggling. It was so important for us to help with tuition so families could stay on their feet, and to pay our teachers bonuses and wage increases to ensure we retain the talented, qualified staff to run our business successfully,” said Jen. “We’re doing ok now because of this temporary support, but when these grants are no longer available, I don’t see how we’ll keep the highly qualified teachers we need. So many centers have closed, and the child care crisis will worsen without this pandemic relief that has been a lifeline.”
Joyful Noise currently has a long waitlist, including thirty families for their toddler classroom alone. However, they’re still struggling to find and retain enough qualified teachers to staff their classrooms.
“Many job applicants aren’t qualified, and qualified teachers often can’t justify staying in the field due to the low pay. In the long-term, we need big changes so that we can adequately pay early childhood educators, but in the short term, we spend a lot of time and money constantly searching for and hiring new teachers, and training them to work with the kids,” said Jen.
Jen stresses the importance of passing the Early Educator Investment Act (H-7283 / S-2235) and passing an FY23 state budget includes funds to continue the ARPA pandemic retention bonus for all child care educators, to provide $2 million to expand the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood scholarship program model, and to provide $5 million in ARPA funds to launch the Child Care WAGE$ model to provide additional compensation to child care educators with post-secondary credentials.
“Professional development is mandatory for us, and our teachers spend many hours continuing their education so we can provide the highest quality early learning environment. We also have multiple employees who have been able to take advantage of the incredible T.E.A.C.H. program, which reimburses them for some of the costs to get their degree while they’re working, and reimburses child care centers so we can pay someone to fill in for them. It benefits everyone,” said Jen.
She also encourages legislators to pass the Child Care is Essential Act (H-7177 / S-2681) and include $50 million in state and federal funding to increase Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) rates, and lift family income eligibility limits so more families can get help paying for child care, continue CCAP payments based on children’s enrollment, and make investments to improve the quality and expand the supply of child care statewide.
“I hope legislators and other decision-makers realize how important this workforce is, and compensate them accordingly so we can attract the best and brightest teachers to the field. Early childhood educators shape the future. They can’t be at the bottom of the scale in terms of pay–this work is too important, and we’re missing out on so many incredible educators if we’re not willing to pay them a living wage,” said Jen.
Emma Villa has been running Emma’s Home Daycare for almost 20 years out of her Providence home. Originally from Mexico, Emma has always had a passion for teaching.
“Parents sometimes come in with the misconception that home child care providers are ‘just babysitters,’ and I’m proud to change their perspective,” said Emma. “They see that I’m an educator, helping their child learn in a safe, loving environment. I teach them developmentally appropriate skills that create an educational foundation for the rest of their life.”
Before the pandemic, Emma’s business was thriving, and she often had a long waitlist. Since the start of the pandemic, enrollment has fluctuated dramatically. Many parents in Emma’s community rely on Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) subsidies to pay for childcare, and even small raises and extra income from working overtime can mean that families lose the assistance they rely on to pay for child care. If a family no longer meets eligibility requirements, they cannot afford the cost of child care on their own. Families have to look for other options (often unlicensed) or figure out how to reduce their income so they can retain their CCAP subsidy. When families cannot afford the payments for her program and don’t qualify for CCAP, Emma has to look for another child to enroll in her program who has a family eligible for CCAP.
“At one point during the pandemic, I had only one child attending for seven months, while I still had to pay for the operating costs for my program.. It’s not sustainable, especially when the cost of everything else–basic living expenses, gasoline, safety protocols–has gone up.” Statewide data show that the number of families with a child care subsidy is at an all time low. Since 2019, the number of families who have qualified for a child care subsidy is down 42%.
Although Emma’s classroom is still only at half capacity, she was able to stay in business through the financial hardships of the last few years due to pandemic relief funds. She considers herself “one of the lucky ones,” but doesn’t know how she’ll stay open if the current funding system doesn’t change.
“Home child care providers are in serious trouble. With less spots to fill, we are vulnerable to economic fluctuations than larger centers. With less options for funding streams coming in, we have less of a safety net when families leave,” said Emma. “It’s a demanding job, with little financial reward. We enter this profession because we love working with children, but then we often don’t have access to a decent quality of life for ourselves.”
Emma encourages legislators to increase eligibility for CCAP, so that families are able to continue to access child care even as the cost of living continues to rise and families must earn more to support themselves. In addition to ensuring that families maintain access to child care, Emma encourages legislators to ensure that child care providers are able to keep their doors open by increasing funding and reimbursement rates, and providing support so home child care providers can access crucial grants. Emma says better compensation for home child care would allow providers to enjoy paid time off and adequate health insurance coverage, including mental health coverage. She stresses that supporting the health and wellbeing of the workforce is crucial to ensuring that families are able to find qualified providers who are well-equipped to care for their children.
“The current child care system doesn’t meet the needs of families or child care providers. Costs go up, and nothing significantly changes in how providers are compensated or reimbursed,” said Emma. “If increasing numbers of families can’t afford care and providers can’t afford to stay open, then what happens to all those kids? They’re missing out on high quality child care, and falling behind before they even enter school. It sets up future generations for failure.”
Parent Janette Perez’s Story: Unable to Finish College and Work Full-Time Without High-Quality Child Care
Providence resident Janette Perez has struggled to access affordable high-quality child care for her family for eight years. Her three children are currently three, five, and eleven, and she’s faced numerous barriers navigating the child care system since her oldest was born.
“My stress level has been incredibly high from when each of my kids were born until they were eligible for the state-run Pre-K lottery,” said Janette. “When my oldest turned three, I was able to enroll her in a free full time, high quality Head Start program, which was an incredible relief. This huge barrier was suddenly removed–I could complete my Bachelor’s degree when my oldest was three and continue to support my family. I also felt better knowing that she was being given the tools to thrive socially and emotionally.”
Janette is grateful that access to Head Start and RI Pre-K allowed her to complete both her Bachelor’s degree and her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) at Rhode Island College. She was surprised that figuring out how to access child care was the hardest part of her path to completing her education. Janette found herself simultaneously juggling a full course load, completing a full time internship, and working a full time work study job. Since her schedule didn’t allow her to earn enough to pay for child care out of pocket, she sought child care assistance from the state of Rhode Island, and was told that she did not qualify because she wasn’t working enough paid hours.
“When my oldest daughter was three, I went to DHS to apply for child care assistance. In what was hopefully an isolated incident, the case worker advised me to drop out of school and apply for cash assistance so I could be eligible for child care,” said Janette. “I’m not sure what her intentions were, but her shocking words lit a fire under me and I learned to get creative and resourceful with my school scholarships and my connections to people who knew about lesser-known resources for families who were struggling. Although I do feel empowered, it’s difficult for a family of five on just my partner’s salary. It shouldn’t be this difficult for families with young children to work to lift themselves out of poverty.”
Janette cites accessing child care as the biggest cause of stress in her life. “I went to school to get my family out of the cycle of poverty, and it hurts to know that despite those degrees, I’m back in the cycle since I can’t pay for child care that is affordable, high quality, and safe to work full time–I just feel stuck.” she said.
Even though Janette was not able to access child care assistance through the state, she encourages legislators to bolster support for the program, and to increase access to high quality child care for all Rhode Island families. Janette’s and other parents’ advocacy led to funding for a pilot program that allowed some low-income college students in RI to access the Child Care Assistance Program. This pilot program ran from October 2021 through April 2022 and helped 10 low-income families with 21 children before the allocated funds were depleted. Governor McKee’s proposed FY23 budget and the RI Child Care Assistance bill pending at the State House would make this pilot program permanent to help low-income college students get help paying for child care so they can earn degrees. Passage of the RI Child Care is Essential bill will also dramatically expand access to the Child Care Assistance Program to help more low- and moderate-income working families.
”Creating a system of affordable, high quality child care options is key to families thriving,” said Janette. “You need to offer high quality child care so parents can work with the peace of mind that their children are safe and being set up to succeed in school. It’s an investment in society–children are our future, and they need a foundation that will allow them to succeed.”
Meagan Richard’s son Lincoln was born in 2020, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. An event and trade show producer, the Johnston resident lost her job when the pandemic shut down in-person events. Newly jobless, Meagan found herself struggling at home with an infant son who confounded experts.
“From the day Lincoln was born until he started at his current child care program two months ago, he would cry for a minimum of three hours a day. Nothing his pediatrician or Early Intervention specialists suggested alleviated his distress,” said Meagan.
Meagan planned to continue her career after she had children, so she and her husband had applied for waitlists for multiple high-quality child care programs before Lincoln was even born. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to secure a spot at any of their preferred centers so they had to make do with child care options that were available during a nationwide and statewide staffing crisis for licensed child care programs.
When Lincoln was thirteen months old, he managed to toddle out of the licensed child care center he was attending due to lack of proper supervision, and a stranger found him walking by a busy road and took him back to the center. Meagan and her husband didn’t find out what happened for five days because the center didn’t report it–which they’re mandated to do. The stranger who rescued Lincoln contacted the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) to report the encounter, and DCYF got involved. Meagan describes the incident as “a devastating breach of trust” and she immediately took Lincoln out of the child care program.
Although it took 20 months to get Lincoln into a high-quality child care center, a referral specialist at BrightStars helped him find a spot in a child care program at Meeting Street Early Learning Center–a setting that allows him to thrive. Meagan is now working again and 55% of her paycheck goes to paying for his child care, which is far higher than the federal affordability guideline for child care. Meagan’s family does not qualify for the Child Care Assistance Program at current family income limits, and are thankful they’re able to make the financial situation work. Meagan is horrified to think about what could have happened to her son and how he’d be doing if he hadn’t gotten into his current high-quality program.
“At my son’s last center, they’d tell me that he’d tantrum for two hours straight, and there was nothing they could do to help him, which was consistent with our experience at home,” said Meagan. “Lincoln now has teachers and support staff who are trained to help him with sensory and over-stimulation issues, and he is finally happy and able to communicate with my husband and I and his teachers. He hasn’t had a tantrum since he started at Meeting Street two months ago!”
Meagan is passionate about advocating for all families who are navigating a confusing and overwhelmed system to find high quality child care options to meet their needs. “Families often don’t seek help until they’ve called dozens of child care programs and hit hundreds of dead ends. It shouldn’t take a team of specialists and 55% of your income to enroll your child in a high-quality child care program with qualified educators. The system is not adequately funded and it’s failing our children,” she said.
Meagan strongly supports the RI Early Educator Investment Act to improve early educator compensation in child care, Pre-K, family home visiting, and Early Intervention programs. She stresses that without competitive living wages for early childhood educators, programs and services will continue to face staffing challenges and families will continue to struggle to access high-quality child care and early learning support services.
“How many children will fail to thrive if these crucial services aren’t available? Meeting Street program director Andrea Furtado recently told me that Lincoln came in with challenges and after being given the tools and resources, he decided to rewrite his story,” said Meagan. “It’s been a tough road, but we’re now headed down a positive path. It terrifies me to think about the impossible situation countless families are facing without access to these crucial services.”
Woonsocket Head Start family worker Kinte Howie recently shared his story on a RIght from the Start Zoom event focused on legislation to improve the pay of Rhode Island’s early educators. Read his full story below on the importance of investing in our early childhood educators and the work they do:
My name is Kinte Howie, I’m a Family Worker at Woonsocket Head Start. I’m a 2019 graduate of the University of Rhode Island. I have been working with children since I was 18. I have worked in a classroom as an assistant, to being a site coordinator of an Before and After-school Program, to now a family worker.
A constant theme that I have noticed in all of these places are that education is deeply devalued not just in this country but in this state. Especially Early Childhood. I don’t think these are new issues but I think these are issues that were pushed under a rug until the pandemic made it apparent that not only do we need Early Childhood Education but that our teachers are severely underpaid and undervalued. Many Early Childhood educators have made the decision to dedicate their lives to teaching children at the earliest and the most important time of their development, and yet are being paid at rates that don’t encourage them to stay in this very rewarding field.
The amount of work that Early Childhood teachers put into their classes far exceed what they are being compensated for. Some Early Childhood teachers are having to evaluate / screen children, implement behavior plans, and manage severe behaviors due to education deficits created by the pandemic.
To be an Early Childhood teacher requires you to have knowledge about child development so that children can be monitored to make sure they are developmentally on track both. It usually takes a college degree to have knowledge of that. Many teachers, both Early and Public are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, in addition to being stressed out about not being paid more to be able to put food on table, or not being able to pay their mortgage, or student loans. To be an Early Childhood teacher is to have the power to mold young minds, and to support those young minds into growing up and being valued citizens of our society.
However, if there is no incentive for our teachers and other Early Childhood staff such as family workers, behavioral specialists, and occupational therapists to continue in this field, they will continue to flock to low stress high paying jobs. The issues that we are seeing in this field will continue to become more prominent. I ask you to consider carefully your support for this bill. Support for this bill, to compensate Early Childhood teachers and staff for their expertise will help to alleviate some of these issues.
H-7628 (Giraldo) & S-2546 (Valverde)
Rhode Island’s Early Intervention program provides special education services to infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities. Early Intervention is the front door to the state’s public education system and the foundation of the special education system implemented by public schools for children from age 3 to high school graduation. Researchers have found that about one-third of infants and toddlers who received Early Intervention no longer had a developmental delay, disability, or special education need in kindergarten.
Under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) “Child Find” mandate, states must identify, locate, and evaluate all infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities to determine eligibility for Early Intervention as early as possible. States must serve all eligible infants and toddlers. Rhode Island’s Child Find program is the First Connections home visiting program.
Rhode Island’s Early Intervention program is experiencing a major financial and staffing crisis that is limiting access for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities. The Rhode Island Early Intervention program has not received a rate increase in 20 years. In fact, Early Intervention programs received rate cuts in 2009 that have not been restored. In 2015, two agencies stopped providing Early Intervention services due to the very low rates that were not sufficient to staff the program. In 2019, a statewide survey of Early Intervention staff, showed that only 28% of staff reported high job satisfaction, 82% planned to leave their jobs if wages did not improve, and 52% had looked for another job in the past six months. In November 2021, a statewide waiting list for Early Intervention was established. As of April 2022, approximately 400 infants and toddlers were on the waiting list for Early Intervention.
Rhode Island’s First Connections program is also experiencing a significant financial and staffing crisis that limits services for children and families. The First Connections program has not received a rate increase in 22 years. Several agencies that provide First Connections services plan to terminate their contract with the state due to lack of funds to adequately staff the program. First Connections programs have an average operating loss for programs of $136.70 per visit. Each year, approximately 60% of all babies born in Rhode Island are identified as being at-risk for poor health and development and are referred to First Connections. In 2020, about 30% of babies received at least one visit from First Connections.
The Early Intervention & First Connections Act will:
1) Provide a 70% Medicaid rate increase for Early Intervention services. This increase is needed to offer competitive wages to Early Intervention specialists (family educators, service coordinators, and licensed therapists) so the program can be adequately staffed, and the waiting list can be eliminated. We estimate that $4 million in additional state general revenue would be needed to raise rates to this level.
2) Provide a 123% Medicaid rate increase for First Connections services. This increase is needed to offer competitive waves to First Connections staff (nurses, social workers, and community health workers). We estimate that $500,000 in additional state general revenue would be needed to raise rates to this level.
We need families from all 39 Rhode Island cities and towns to ask elected officials to support state policies and funding that helps families with babies and young children get off to the right start! This includes advocating for passage of:
- The RI Child Care is Essential Act, to help more families access high-quality child care;
- The RI Early Educator Investment Act, to reduce turnover and improve compensation of early educators;
- The RI Early Intervention & First Connections Act, to eliminate the Early Intervention waiting list which is delaying access to services for infants and toddlers with developmental challenges
How we need your help:
- Register by Friday, May 6th for the Strolling Thunder Virtual Rally and submit a photo of your baby/child! The first family to register for Strolling Thunder (and participate on May 11th) from each Rhode Island city or town will receive a $25 thank you gift! Everyone who registers by May 1st will receive a Strolling Thunder Rally Kit in the mail.
- Take one minute NOW to use our electronic advocacy tool to send a message to Governor McKee, your State Representative and State Senator urging support for Right from the Start priorities!
- Show up for the Strolling Thunder Virtual Rally on Wednesday, May 11th! We will send you the Zoom link for the virtual rally that will take place from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.
No advocacy experience is necessary.
We look forward to working with you as an advocate!