January 07, 2021

Things to be grateful for in 2020 and looking forward to 2021!

2021 Celebration, Happy New Year!

One of our network organizations, Hively (Alameda county), launched 30 days of gratitude in December creating an opportunity for reflection and recognition of the positive experiences we’ve encountered. Thank you Hively for the invitation which I am using to share out loud and appreciate five important gifts from this tumultuous year that I bring into what will continue to be challenging and exciting times for all of us in 2021 and beyond. I hope what you are grateful for in 2020 will also guide you in your work in the coming year.

1. Unity and care for one another.

The humanity, empathy, and solidarity across our nation and globe were truly amazing and captivating throughout much of the year. From the nightly singing voices from balconies in Italy, the messages of appreciation for our front line health care workers, the hundreds of hours on Zoom calls across our field to help respond to the needs of parents and providers, standing up to systemic racism while in a pandemic and making efforts to listen, see, understand and commit to disrupting the cycle of valuation of people based on notions of the hierarchy of lives, and for people to come out in record numbers to cast their votes for the future they want to see – these were huge demonstrations of compassion and our ability to come together because we believe we can and do deserve better for each other. I observed many of us also come together in new, expanded or deepened ways at the local and state level, across imaginary boundaries of politics. I am hopeful that the discoveries made this year strengthens our ability to hear each other clearly, so we can prioritize well and make the greatest gains we can together.

2. Focus on outcomes with an openness to examine what we have to do to achieve our vision.

I’m excited that we are grappling with the concept of equity – where we want everyone to be, and especially with a renewed understanding of what this means in light of our nation’s racial reckoning. I’m encouraged because it has given us a new North Star. It seems we were stuck in “fairness,” “equality” and in general, making sure that everyone got a little something. We operationalized this without really challenging who and why populations of people were not getting to the outcomes we wanted (assuming we even knew and agreed what those outcomes were), nor did we have the disaggregated data to help
us analyze our challenges. Sometimes our system deflected its role and instead, sent implicit messages blaming the victim for not reaching expected outcomes – “they should not have chosen a license exempt provider.”

The encouraging part of the Master Plan is not only calling out a desire to focus on equity, but it also touches upon the circumstances that prevent us from achieving the outcomes we want. More specifically, the Master Plan puts forward a whole child approach that includes the family and community surrounding the child. I support having disaggregated data because if we can predict who won’t be able to make it, then that tells us it is not within individuals where challenges lay, but instead, we have to probe more and examine the challenges within our system. I also have to call out appreciation for Keisha Nzewi, Laurie Furstenfeld from the Child Care Law Center, and Clarissa Doutherd from Parent Voices Oakland for their annual conference workshop that gave a renewed and eye opening history of Black women’s historic role in child care which lays groundwork for understanding why the inequities continue to this day and have been baked into much of the social service systems that we are all part of that need to be challenged and remade. It also reminds me of what Professor and renowned researcher Walter Gilliam of Yale University, Edward Zigler Center said this summer at a Child Care Aware of America opening panel, “What are the confederate statues in our field?” The Master Plan gives us an opening to bring in all that we learned this year and to do something different for the coming decade.

3. We can’t let implicit bias become normalized.

The New York City incident that went viral with pet owner Amy Cooper calling the police on bird watcher, Christian Cooper, was a national eye opener to what becomes conscious bias, especially when not called upon and allowed to continue to happen over and over again. It is painful, but when there are no consequences and bias is allowed to continue, then it perpetuates itself. The parallel for me in our field was the early fall conversation about the impact of a QRIS system. Many people commented to us that they knew or could see that there were biases in these judgment systems, but no one really knew how to challenge it or where to start. While not the most elegant way to initiate a conversation, the disruption from the letter criticizing a QRIS system caused much examination and hopefully a disruption of implicit bias that normalizes a consciously biased system against groupings of providers and parents.

I’m grateful for the awareness that because of the power of implicit bias, it is that much more important to create new narratives, and to keep practicing new narratives so these become an equally powerful default position. This is why it is so important to have role models across all positions in our early childhood workforce, and why I am so encouraged by the inclusion of FFN providers in our early childhood professional development system. Our children will pick up on the valuation of hierarchy if our system consciously or unconsciously conveys that. This gives our work with home based providers added urgency to tell our stories about working with home based providers.

Lastly, I’m struck by the huge responsibility we hold to change the negatively biased narratives about people of color. I’m remembering at one of our Director’s Institute a few years ago, University of Southern California Professor Manuel Pastor, spoke to us about the future of our state, and thus the nation: If people of color are becoming the majority of our state and nation, our fate is dependent on the success of people of color. We all have a stake in combating racism and ensuring every child is able to reach their full potential.

4. The state and national levels don’t have the wisdom of the local level.

In reality, it is local level solutions that solve larger problems. Everything from addressing the spread of Covid-19, to vaccine distribution and school reopenings, to the support of child care providers and parents and essential workers – how the local level innovated, partnered, and found creative solutions is what has been the most successful to tackling the biggest challenge of our state. I know this is not news to any of you who have been part of many amazing responses and guidance to state decision makers. They know they can’t do things without you, and they know you have solutions they had not considered. This is why it is also very exciting to see both in the Master Plan and in recent years of policy making, that there is acknowledgement and space for the inclusion of voices of those with lived experience and people on the front line. I am hopeful that parents are being seen as experts in their communities and in making rational decisions in navigating their lives. This would be a huge transformation in power sharing and a demonstrated respect of those who are often the most marginalized in decision making.

5. Importance of telling and hearing the stories of lived experiences.

Covid-19 still seems abstract to many people, until they tell you that they know someone that has fallen very ill or has died from Covid-19 complications. It elevates the seriousness when you hear of the story and actual experience of people affected to which they then start to hear the news or heed warnings. Similarly, at our conference this year Director Kim Johnson, and Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris shared their very vivid experiences with racism, which was an important connection moment for conferees. People we identify with, respect or care about make the changes sought very real and can inspire us or others to act. Bringing to light the experiences of people will be an important part of our advocacy and empathy work if we are trying to gain more allies and partners in our fight.

I’m grateful for the time to take a look back at what 2020 taught me as we look forward. Like they say, a crisis is not an opportunity to waste, and I can reflect back that there were many amazing moments. We also can’t wait for complacency to set in. We have already said that we don’t want to go back to normal if normal is not, or should not have been acceptable. If those designs have failed us, now is the best time to redesign, and make the most until we probe, learn and do better.

Onward to 2021!

Linda Asato, Executive Director