Health Care

RIght from the Start campaign seeks to support families with young children

“This is not a fight that can wait,” said Governor Gina Raimondo. “Any time we delay measures to improve the lives of Rhode Island families, more children are left behind.” RIght from the Start is a legislative and state budget campaign to advance policies for young children and families in Rhode Island. The campaign seeks to address the fact that
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Published on February 27, 2020
By Steve Ahlquist

This is not a fight that can wait,” said Governor Gina Raimondo. “Any time we delay measures to improve the lives of Rhode Island families, more children are left behind.”

RIght from the Start is a legislative and state budget campaign to advance policies for young children and families in Rhode Island. The campaign seeks to address the fact that “too many families struggle to support their young children during the critical early years of brain development.” The campaign seeks sustainable state funding and additional state revenue for programs and policies that support families and their children from prenatal to Pre-K.

Advocates, parents and elected official announced the launch of the campaign today at the Rhode Island State House.

“About seven years ago I started my journey as a new parent,” said Osmary Baker, holding her one-year old daughter as she spoke. “I was grateful that I was able to identify some high quality programs for my kiddo,” but after being laid off from her job, Baker worried that she would be unable to keep her children in good quality programs of the kind her children “had come to love and thrive in.” She was lucky to find the help she needed for her children, but many in Rhode Island are less fortunate. Some of the services are in high demand.

The seven priorities that the RIght from the Start campaign seeks to address are all needed. This is “not a menu,” said Baker, but “a recipe for success for our kids.”

“An investment in [our children] is an investment in our future.”

“I have been fortunate that I have been able to take four weeks of paid family leave for all three of my children,” said Andrew Poyant, father and Providence resident. “If it wasn’t for the Temporary Caregiver Insurance program, I would not have been able to spend this time with my family.

“Every parent I’ve talked to struggles to either pay for childcare, find quality childcare or both. This has taken different forms in my family over the last 6 years. We have used different daycare centers, and different home daycares, both at times being part time, and full time. We were fortunate last year that our oldest was able to attend a state Pre-K program. At varying points, my wife was full time caring for the children, working part time, or working full time. When our two oldest children were in a daycare center full time, we were spending 2.5 times on daycare than we were on housing. Our kindergartener has asked why do we pay her siblings teacher and not hers. RIght from the Start is a huge step in the right direction for increasing support for our children and families. We need to do more so that our children all receive a high-quality education and support from zero to high school regardless of whether they live in Providence or Barrington.”

The RIght from the Start campaign has seven priorities:

Paid Family Leave

Rhode Island parents and their babies need dedicated time together after birth or adoption to develop close, nurturing relationships during the early months of brain development. Our state’s paid family leave policy is a step in the right direction, but the low wage replacement rates mean that many of the families that need it the most are not being reached. We need to improve Rhode Island’s paid family leave policy so parents can take the time they need to set the foundation for their child’s healthy development while ensuring they can make ends meet.

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Community-Based Doula Services

Racial discrimination and implicit bias result in unequal treatment of Black women in the medical system and drive health inequity. In Rhode Island, Black women are 42% more likely to experience a severe complication at delivery than White women. The infant mortality rate for Black infants in Rhode Island is three times that of White infants. A key strategy to address this issue is making doula services eligible for reimbursement through Medicaid and private insurance and investing in building, supporting, and sustaining the doula workforce and infrastructure in the state. These services and investments should be targeted toward communities most impacted by these disparities.

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Family Home Visiting Prevention Program

Parenting is hard and families can use extra help nurturing their babies and setting them up for a healthy life. Rhode Island has a strong network of voluntary, evidence-based home visiting prevention programs that help guide parents during these critical early years when a child’s brain is rapidly developing and laying the foundation for future learning, health, and behavior. We need to invest $1.3 million in state and federal funding to sustain these programs that are proven to help build more strong, healthy families today and save costs over time.

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Child Care Assistance Program

Families need access to affordable, high-quality child care so parents can work and their children can thrive through nurturing relationships with educators who provide enriching early learning experiences. But the rates for Rhode Island’s Child Care Assistance Program do not meet federal standards and only 10% of children are in high-quality programs. Low state rates impact the quality of care available to all families. An investment of $7.5 million in state and federal funding will ensure more families can access high-quality child care that provides a strong foundation for children to thrive.

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Early Educator Workforce Development

High-quality early childhood programs have effective educators who know how to work with children and families to support young children’s rapid brain development. However, many early educators earn wages that are at the bottom of the occupational ladder ($12/hour for child care teachers). Effective professionals are leaving the field for better paying jobs. Rhode Island needs to establish state goals and find solutions that will attract and retain skilled, qualified, diverse educators in essential programs to ensure children get a strong start in school and life and maintain Rhode Island’s healthy economy today and tomorrow.

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Pre-K Expansion

Rhode Island Pre-K is a high-quality program delivered by public schools, Head Start agencies, and child care programs that produces learning gains and helps to close achievement gaps. But too many 4-year-olds in our state don’t have access to this critical opportunity for healthy development. An investment of $7.5 million in state and federal funding will allow more children to attend Pre-K across the state and when combined with increased investments in programs for children from birth through age 3, will ensure more children start kindergarten ready to succeed.

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Housing/Early Learning Facilities Bond

Housing and child care are the two biggest costs for families with young children. Affordable housing options are very limited across the state and concentrated in only a few communities. Child care and early learning facilities are aging, have inadequate resources to make improvements, and have very limited resources to expand. More than half of the buildings that house early learning programs in Rhode Island are in poor condition. Passing an affordable housing bond proposal that includes $15 million to renovate and expand early learning facilities will help address two essential needs of young families.

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“Every Rhode Island child, regardless of their zip code or their parent’s race, ethnicity, or income deserves to get off to the right start in life,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. “A start where young mothers have healthy births, where new parents have the precious time needed to bond with their babies, and equitable access to affordable, high quality child care, Pre-K, and early learning options are available across Island in bright, beautiful facilities. As a state, we’ve made tremendous strides in these areas, but there’s much more to do to ensure that all of our kids get off to the right start. That’s what the RIght from the Start agenda is all about and why we’ll be working with our elected leaders to pass this critical package of legislation and investments.”

“Forty-five percent of young children in Rhode Island are people of color, most of whom are Latinos, yet too many of our families are struggling to make ends meet and give their kids the right start they deserve so they can thrive,” said Marcela Betancour, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. “Investing in young learners and their families is essential to our state’s future. From increasing access to doula services for new moms — especially Black mothers who disproportionately are impacted by maternal and infant mortality, to increasing access to affordable, high quality childcare and Pre-K, to investing in affordable housing and early learning facilities, the Latino Policy Institute strongly supports the RIght from the Start agenda.”

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo called for the passage of her early childhood budget priorities, specifically her proposals to expand public pre-K seats by 50 percent next year, put on the ballot a $15m bond to revitalize Rhode Island’s early learning facilities, and fully fund the Family Home Visiting program. “This is not a fight that can wait,” said Governor Raimondo. “Any time we delay measures to improve the lives of Rhode Island families, more children are left behind. | look forward to working together to make Rhode Island the best place in America for a child to grow up.”

“I hear from my constituents all the time about how difficult it is to find affordable child care and to balance the needs of work while also finding quality time to spend with their young children,” said Rhode Island State Senator Sandra Cano (Democrat, District 8, Pawtucket). “As a new mom, I understand the struggle firsthand and that’s why I support the RIght from the Start agenda including expanding Rhode Island’s paid family leave program, covering community-based doula services, increasing access to quality, affordable child care and Pre-K, and investing in our early childhood educators.”

“Our youngest learners are literally the future of our state, and it is critical that we invest in their success,” said Rhode Island State Representative Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence). “We’ve made great strides in increasing access to high quality child care and Pre-K, but much more needs to be done to ensure that all Rhode Island kids and families can take advantage of these critical early learning resources. That’s why | support the RIght from the Start agenda and why I’m proud to sponsor legislation to further expand quality child care options and invest in our early childhood educators.”

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