Because we can’t take our Early Learning Nation Studio on the road during this time, stay tuned as ELN recaps Top Takeaways from important conversations, panels, town halls and virtual events from the Early Learning field. Read them all andjoin the conversation! And visit our Early Learning Nation channel on YouTube for interviews with leaders from education, child development, business, politics and more.
On November 19, The Hunt Institute and the National Head Start Association (NHSA) hosted a conversation with researchers and educators about racism in America’s child care industry. Dr. Bernadine Futrell (NHSA) moderated the panel, which included Dr. Kerry Ann-Escayg (University of Nebraska), Jennifer McConnell (Brookland Academy Child Development Center) and Dr. Iheoma Iruka, (FPG Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill).
Here are our top 5 takeaways.
1. Racism is a systemic issue. There are many interconnected systems affecting children’s daily lives and well-being. As with other systems in America, “The early childhood sector reflects many of the longstanding inequities that stem from the historical injustice of slavery, Jim Crow, as well as current policies and practices,” Escayg explained.
While changes have been made, these issues persist on individual and macro levels. This history is evident when valuing the profession, as well as when distinguishing between who is leading and who is in the service roles.
2. Legacy and leadership matter. “A lot of Black women, both enslaved and during Reconstruction, etc., were required to take care of other people’s children,” Futrell said, “And that notion, that history is still there to some extent.”
Today, the groups, institutions and organizations leading in the early childhood care and education arena are still very much white, “If we are not changing some of those levers, then we will continue to be racist in our underpinnings even if we do well for young children,” Dr. Iruka explained.
3. Care and education access must be equitable and high quality. Seminal studies show that high-quality care helps in terms of school entry, life and health outcomes. “We see lower rates of criminal offenses, higher rates of employment and stability and actual physical health outcomes in terms of diabetes and cardiovascular,” Dr. Iruka explained.
Not every family relies on these forms of child care, but there is a shortage for those that do. “We have a shortage in terms of spaces but also in terms of the workforce around prenatal and birth to age 5.” This deficit again disproportionately impacts children and families of color, including the providers themselves.
4. More representation in research is needed. “Because of stereotypes, the rich cultural perspectives and experiences of Black women are ignored, dismissed and silenced, and this is apparent in how we define quality in early childhood education,” Escayg said, adding, “Research funding and assessment continue to implement practices that deny the saliency of marginalized voices while recentering the social capital, power and privilege of the dominant group.”
Researchers define what matters, from whose perspective and create the measurement tools. Research must include more Black voices and researchers should apply a very critical, race-theory lens in their work.
5. Alignment and action are required. Before we begin work to change the system, we have to take stock in ourselves to ensure that “each of us is on a journey towards making sure that we aware of the biases that we hold and understand that we are gatekeepers to many things,” Dr. Iruka said.
She urged everyone to acknowledge the interconnectedness of this landscape and the need for wider anti-racist alignment. “We have to work hard with health systems, k-12 systems, community systems, even family support systems, to make deep and lasting change,” she said.
Racism is not something that only impacts Black or brown children; it impacts all of us. “This is about getting the best outcomes for our children,” McConnell explained. “They’re going to go beyond our homes and programs, and we want to make sure we have them well equipped.”
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.