Through this spring and summer, a coalition looking to move the state closer to a publicly funded early care and education system is hosting a listening tour in 20 communities.
CandL (Care and Learning) is a “cross-sector, multidisciplinary, inclusive coalition of families, communities, grassroots organizations, early childhood organizations, funders, businesses and early care and education providers” that formed during the pandemic, according to the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF). The group is asking parents and child care providers about their experiences with, and desires for, early childhood care and education.
“We are forever changed by this pandemic, which revealed just how fragile our current system is and just how many kids are existing outside of it,” said Muffy Grant, NCECF executive director, in an interview with EdNC. “And so what we want to do is broaden the system to be accessible, affordable, and remaining high quality, with cultural responsiveness for all families.”
CandL is eventually looking to create an agenda around insights from the tour and to launch a multiyear campaign. But instead of assuming what parents and providers want, Grant said, the coalition wants to keep the questions as open-ended as possible.
The approach of the tour and the following work will focus on “what do they want to see in the system — and building the system to that instead of, ‘In the current system, where can you fit the least awkwardly?'” Grant said.
The stops on the tour
Local organizations will facilitate the listening sessions with help from a marketing firm, The Link Group, asking what changes community members would like to see and how early care and education has and has not met their families’ needs.
Some of the organizations have been selected: Children First/Communities in Schools in Buncombe County, Hayes-Taylor Memorial YMCA in Guilford County, Communities in Schools of Cape Fear and New Hanover County Resiliency Task Force in New Hanover County, and WAGES (Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency Inc.) in Wayne County.
Listening sessions will be held in 17 more counties that don’t have announced hosts yet: Swain, Watauga, Polk, Gaston, Cabarrus, Forsyth, Alamance, Wake, Harnett, Cumberland, Richmond, Robeson, Pitt, Lenoir, Halifax, Hertford, and Onslow.
The group has already hosted pilot sessions in Mecklenburg, Durham, and Craven counties. The goal is to talk to 12 to 15 participants in each session, resulting in a few hundred participants, Grant said.
The tour is funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and ChildTrust Foundation.
‘Every type of person who has historically been absent’
The coalition’s one-pager mentions a commitment to family choice in setting, support for educators and providers as professionals, and retainment of educators of color. A recent CandL newsletter, which you can sign up to receive monthly here, says the group members will consider the listening tour a success if they:
Heard from marginalized communities,
Conducted focus groups with enough representation to feel we have heard from every type of person who has historically been absent from these conversations,
Built legitimacy with multiple audiences,
Honored the work done by collaborators,
Built relationships with our contributors so that “they are crossing the finish line with us,” and
Lifted recurrent themes up from the data we’ve collected.
This work is especially important as the state and country consider early childhood investments, Grant said.
“We need to be nimble enough to respond to the needs of now and also be prepared for any potential care infrastructure that comes our way, and this work is what is going to sustain our early care and education system.”
Editor’s Note: The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and ChildTrust Foundation are supporters of EducationNC.