Name of Initiative: Raising New York
Interview with: Hope Lesane, Senior Advisor & Melodie Baker, Steering Committee, Raising NY Co-chair
Regions served: New York State
Populations served: Families with children pre-natal to three in NYS
Funding: Pritzker Children’s Initiative
About Raising New York:
Vision statement: Raising NY is a diverse statewide coalition of parent, early childhood, education, civil rights, business, and health organizations dedicated to increasing the number of children who are on track for school readiness, with a focus on improving long-term outcomes for children who are low-income, children of color, and other under-served groups.
Name: Sally Mayes, Chief of Staff, Education Trust–New York
The coalition of Raising New York (Raising NY) has a unique and intentional structure that informs their mission driven work. The coalition is led by three Co-chairs, including Melodie Baker, who guides the work of the steering committee. The steering committee is made up of 15 organizations, broken down into 5 subcommittees which are aligned with Raising NY’s policy priorities: Economic Security, Maternal Infant Toddler Health, Home Visiting, High Quality Child Care, Early Intervention, and Infant Toddler Support. Melodie Baker, Co-chair, explains that “Each member is connected to a coalition or organization reflecting a diverse group of individuals whose priorities are focused on increasing investments in early childhood development. We realize that addressing the early childhood system in New York, is complex and multifaceted, and no one organization could take it on alone. Therefore, we worked with community leaders and stakeholders to identify representatives from various sectors and communities which includes parents, health, mental health, civil rights, education, government, and business to collectively and comprehensively work to modernize and advance the birth to three community.” Hope Lesane, Senior Advisor, highlights the role of parent voice in the coalition stating that “Leveraging the voices of parents has been integral to our work. Our steering committee has led the charge in bringing parents and families lived experiences to every discussion. It is imperative that we stay connected to the work leaders, providers and other community members are driving on the ground.”
Race equity has been foundational to the structure, mission, and work of Raising NY since its inception. Hope highlights the importance of having a race equity agenda at the core of the work: “It is integral for race equity to be deliberately woven into every conversation we have. It is ineffective when it is an add-on or seen an optional. There has to be a continued focus on race equity in everything that we do whether we are talking about early intervention services, maternal health and well-being, or access to affordable high-quality early childhood education, our focus has to be intentional and explicit.” Melodie echoes this, stating that “the research is clear, children and families of color bear the burden of inequity and racism in our society. Black mothers and babies have a substantially higher mortality rate at birth than their white counter parts, and Black, Latinx and immigrant children are less likely to have access to safe and high-quality childcare. Framing race equity at the center of early childhood development priorities is key to advancing our society and foundational to our work. The color of a child’s skin or the zip code of a child’s residence should not be a risk factor, for developmental delays or worse, a perinatal death sentence.”
While the need to focus on race equity is not new, the disparities due to systemic racism are more apparent, lethal, and urgent than ever as the pandemic persists. Hope explains that: “Families of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 because of the racist structures that existed prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has impacted communities that are low income and communities of color the hardest, exacerbating the inequities in health care, educational opportunity, and wealth that existed long before the coronavirus. Even in this moment of budget challenges, state action is both an economic and equity imperative. We need to make sure infants and toddlers needs are being met.”
The impact of COVID-19 on the pre-natal to three community were demonstrated in Raising NY’s recent poll. Hope explains that: “The results spoke to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on families with young children, 0-3 years old. It was crystal clear that basic family needs are not being met. Parents of infants and toddlers across New York State continue to experience intense financial insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic, with one in three indicating that they are skipping or reducing meals and one in ten saying they are reducing meals for their children. The poll served as a wakeup call and a call to action. The crisis hasn’t gone away, and even if the media is not focusing on it in the same way, families are still living it.” Melodie elaborates stating that, “This survey is powerful way to tell the story of inequity. We can’t continue to make early childhood development a second thought. In order to create change we have to acknowledge real deficits in society and address them head on.”
Research on infant and toddler brain development highlights the need to center and support families with young children experiencing effects of systemic racism compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hope explains that “The research is clear. Brain science confirms there is a critical window in a child’s life where we have the opportunity to build lifelong brain connections and that happens between 0-3.” It is, therefore, critical to keep infants and toddlers at the forefront of our plans to build back better. Melodie expands on this, stating that: “Infancy and the early developmental phases of a child’s life represent the most significant stages of growth. Cognitive and emotional development is dramatically influenced by a child’s environment. Research proves that expanding quality early learning opportunities narrow opportunity gaps, and boost children’s earnings later in life. Despite vast amounts of literature reporting the high returns on early child investments, the zero to three sector receives the least amount of funding locally, state-wide and federally.” Hope highlights the opportunity in this moment: "The lack of access to and cost of quality child care for infants and toddlers is a challenge parents faced to often before the pandemic, and now has become amplified – creating additional barriers to community well-being across New York State. This is us, our families, our babies, our future, if we don’t figure out how to build back better, we are going to continue to be at the brink of a collapse. I am hopeful that as we think about what it means to build a stronger more equitable early child care system that we will think about our history and redo some of the wrongs of our past by making the investment in infants and toddlers.”
The mission of Raising NY is ambitious. Melodie Baker states that “We will know that Raising NY is successful when all families in New York State feel this is the best place to raise children.” Hope highlights another primary indicator of their success: “I see movement building as a success. We will continue to build the movement for infants and toddlers by connecting and linking arms with others across the state that are doing this work, leveraging all our voices together and encouraging everyone to continue to prioritize infants, toddlers and their families. We will continue to amplify the importance of investment in the early years as a long-term solution for creating more equitable systems.” Coalition building is integral to disrupting systemic inequities experienced by families with young children to ensure each has access to high quality health care, housing, education and early childhood experiences.