Why Early Care and Education Policies Must Advance Equity and Protect Civil Rights
By Steven Almazán
As a former graduate of Early Head Start and Head Start programs in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood on the eastside of Los Angeles, I know the tremendous benefits that early childhood education programs had on myself and my family, particularly my mother who immigrated to the United States from México. As a working-class parent, my mom was able to volunteer in these programs while I participated in school readiness activities, ate healthy snacks, and played safely with other kids in the program. We both benefited from these programs and developed a trusting relationship with the staff and providers at the Park Place Head Start Daycare Center, who reflected the community members of Boyle Heights.
Early care and education programs transform the lives of young children, their families, and others who care for them. Research also shows that early childhood education programs have lifelong benefits for children, especially children of color and low-income families, for their overall well-being and educational outcomes. For me, I know that my participation in a high-quality and culturally responsive early care and education program provided lifelong investments in school readiness, social emotional growth, and all-around health benefits.
The pandemic brought to light how essential child care and early learning are to our country, while also revealing profound flaws and disparities. America’s existing child care system is unsustainable. Most parents can’t afford the price of care, and too many families live in areas without access to quality care options at all. Most providers can only charge what families in their area can afford, which often translates to near-poverty wages for early educators.
Addressing these ongoing challenges requires a comprehensive approach to securing ample child care supply and capacity, while ensuring there are quality options available for all families when and where they need them. Policymakers must ensure children and families who have been historically marginalized — including children with disabilities or delays, families with low incomes, communities of color, immigrant families, Native communities, LGBTQ-led families, and those who live in rural areas, are homeless, or are mobile — are prioritized for the receipt of child care assistance and universal preschool services.
Earlier this year, the civil and human rights community came together to identify Civil Rights Principles for Early Care and Education so that we could lay out those characteristics of an early care and education system that protects civil rights and advances equity for children, families, staff, and providers. The principles, joined by 46 organizations, demonstrate the coalition’s collective pursuit of an early care and education system that offers meaningful equal opportunity and success for all children, especially those who have been historically marginalized.
For example, the principles outline how children and families must have access to, and be included in, all early care and education programs without regard to their immigration status, disability or developmental delay, family income, race, ethnicity, religion, family configuration, sex (including sexual orientation or gender identity), age of the parent, preferred language, nationality, housing status, or involvement in the child welfare system. This is just one of the 10 principles that collectively aim to advance an equitable early care and education system.
The civil rights community calls on decision makers at all levels to create and maintain an equitable early care and education system for children, families, and providers by incorporating these principles into all relevant policies. Contact your members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today and urge them to create a path forward to ensure that children and families have access to and are included in comprehensive, diverse, and high-quality early care and education settings that reflect these principles.
Steven Almazán is the K12 Education Program Manager at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.