Advocacy Matters: Standing Up for What You Believe In Makes a Difference

I have worn many hats in my lifetime (often at the same time), but the hat that I’m most proud of and most passionate about is my advocacy hat. I have spent my life as a strong advocate for children because they are among our society’s most vulnerable population. Many can’t speak for themselves or don’t have a public forum in which to speak and lead. Babies don’t choose the families in which they are born.

Raising visibility about the needs of babies and young children helps educate the public and policymakers about challenges families face, the life-long impact these challenges can have on a child’s trajectory, from starting school ready to learn to graduating high school either college- or career-ready to lifetime earnings, which impacts not just a single individual or household, but also their contribution to the community.

Being an advocate is hard. It’s continuous. It’s not a singular event. It’s not a single letter to a policymaker or an email. It’s a journey. It’s a way of life. Why? Because in a democracy, where policymakers are elected by the people, it’s important that elected officials and those in positions of trust who draft policies affecting people understand the needs and views of those they represent or serve. Our prosperity as a nation depends on it.

Advocacy matters. At all levels. Many years ago, when I was a teacher in a high school, I advocated for the children in my classroom. Today, I advocate for our youngest children who do not yet know how to speak. Whether it’s local, state or national advocacy related to children, the goals are the same—to educate those who have decision-making authority or policy creation responsibility to craft those choices and policies to best meet the needs of children.

The hardest aspect of being an advocate is sometimes feeling alone or feeling as if no one is listening. Or asking again and again and again for the same thing, a policy change that is needed. Over the years, what I’ve come to realize is that we are stronger together. Each individual voice bands with others and while it may seem that you are alone, you really are not. It is the collective of our individual voices that makes each voice stronger.

Over the years, advocacy methods have changed. Events, rallies, marches, letters, emails, social media, etc. However, the basic nature of advocacy has not changed. It is standing up for what you believe in to educate others and establishing relationships with those in policy-making positions and making sure they understand the issues at hand.

It’s harder today. There are so many issues in the public limelight. The politics seem so polarized. Are our policymakers more interested in issuing press releases than in searching for good common-sense solutions to policy challenges? Common-sense solutions require a thoughtful exchange of ideas, a willingness to meet with each other, listen and to find common ground from which policy solutions can be drafted. In a democracy, that’s important. It’s on us as advocates to ensure that our messages cut through the polarization, not add to it.

At this moment, Congress, many state legislatures and many county or local governments are reviewing budget options for the next year. For families who can’t afford child care or for families who live in communities with insufficient child care (e.g., where the supply fails to meet the need), this is a critically important time. To be honest, it is also important for families who can afford it, too.

Through advocacy, we can journey together to affect policy at all levels. To do so, we must remain vigilant in our efforts. There’s so much riding at each level of government. For example, in Congress, child care funding may or may not be included in budget reconciliation, a large budget bill currently being negotiated behind closed doors. We know that access to child care can be the difference between whether a mother joins or rejoins the workforce or stays home. And we know that in this tight labor market, employers are struggling to hire for many positions. Access to affordable child care will help us here in North Carolina and as a nation to return to 2019 labor force participation rates. That in turn will help promote economic growth.

State legislatures, county councils and local government leaders are also meeting to set budget priorities. At each level, there is an additional opportunity to address the supply of child care, the quality of child care and the affordability of child care. For advocates, it’s hard to switch back and forth among the levels, but it’s important to do so. There is no one magic wand to solve our challenges with child care.

Advocating together, we can make a difference. Funding for child care was included in three Congressional COVID-19 relief bills. That would not have happened without the hard work of advocates and the policy choices made by elected officials. Yet, the reality is that the funding in those bills was temporary. The need to help make child care more affordable for more families continues. Affordability is the key to access and access is what fuels labor force participation. The need to support the business of child care as a public good continues because programs are struggling to hire and retain staff because child care wages are among the lowest of all occupations.

There are policy solutions to these challenges. Hang in there advocates. Our work continues. It’s more important now than ever. Have you talked to your policymakers lately? Or, today? It’s time. Access to high-quality child care helps parents work and children learn. Both help make us a stronger country now and in the future.