Start With Those Who Know The Challenge Best

The Ideas & Solutions blog is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of child care and early education issues and ideas. We hope to provoke thoughtful discussions within the field and to help those outside the field gain a better understanding of priorities and concerns.

By Julia McBride, Vice President, Kansas Leadership Center

Originally published in the Winter 2021 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine

If you aspire to launch more creative child care solutions, you know you need to get par­ents and child care providers involved. Don’t delay! Too many advocates and policy-devel­opers wait until they’ve chosen their favorite solution to get parents and child care provid­ers on board. They recruit moms, dads, grand­parents and child care providers to talk with legislators and sell their marvelous solution. Well-meaning, perhaps, but not the way to set things up for success.

What if you got families and providers involved much earlier in the process? Rath­er than waiting to hand off a plan to these best-of-all-advocates, why not pull them in at the very beginning? Let their on-the-ground experience inspire creative solutions to child care dilemmas.

Wouldn’t that be messy? Won’t it take too much time? Yes. It might be messy — or at least not as straightforward as you want it to be. And yes, time is an issue. Engaging all those powerful voices will take more time than if you designed the plan yourself. But research and experience from the Kansas Leadership Center shows that treating creative child care solution design as the complex, adaptive chal­lenge it is leads to more lasting change and real progress for the people you care about. Recognizing child care as a complex chal­lenge opens opportunities for engaging the right voices and seeing new ways forward.

OK, so it will take more time, but that time will pay dividends in lasting solutions. How do we start? How do we get parents and care­givers involved in designing solutions?

Before you start to consider new ways, use focus groups, surveys, interviews and infor­mal one-on-ones to hear about what’s going on from those who know best. Have conver­sations that allow parents and caregivers to describe the problem from their point of view.

Ask wide-open questions, such as:

• For you, what are the most pressing child care issues?

• What’s happening?

• What’s not satisfactory?

• What’s the gap between where we are now and the kind of child care system you want for your community?

• What’s working?

• What do you, personally, struggle with?

• If you could wave a magic wand and make child care wonderful, what changes would you make?

Pose a question, then, just listen. Listen ac­tively and deeply. Make sure you really under­stand what parents and providers care about most. Then, after you’ve heard from as many as you can, describe the problem in writing from their point of view. Describe the child care problem not as you — the policymaker — see it, but from the point of view of the people living with the problem every day.

Get the people who matter most engaged from the beginning. Once you see the prob­lem as stakeholders see it, you’ll be in a much stronger position to mobilize families and providers in a trustworthy process to design solutions. Those solutions will be more cre­ative and more lasting, with your best advo­cates even better prepared to make the case for change.

  • Child Care Aware of Kansas

    Child Care Aware of Kansas connects everyone with a stake in child care — parents, child care providers, businesses, local and state leaders, and community members — to the information and ideas they need to take action. We provide opportunities, connections, and support for Kansans to envision what a better child care system can look like for them. Working within a network of Child Care Resource & Referral agencies, we also connect caregivers and providers to the information and support they need.