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.