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Equitable High-Quality Childcare with Eve Gilmore

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Eve dishes on the importance of high-quality learning and care for every child and addresses the challenges of developing racial and gender equity in childcare.


Joshua Croke (00:18):

Hello Worcester and the world. This is Public Hearing, a podcast and radio show from Action! By Design, about cities, engaging community, and materializing equitable, just and joy-filled futures. I am your host and founder of Action! By Design, Joshua Croke. We use design thinking and an equity-centered framework to help organizations, address challenges facing communities like imagining a youth justice system that is trauma-informed anti-racist, and developmentally appropriate to the age of the child. We believe the strongest ideas to solve those problems come from within the communities that are most impacted by them to learn more about our work visit actionbydesign.co. This is the Public Hearing podcast.

Joshua Croke (01:01):

Public Hearing is available wherever you listen to podcasts and on WICN 90.5 FM on Wednesdays at 6:00 PM. Worcester's only NPR affiliate station. We are in part three of our series discussing early childhood education and care. If you're just tuning in early childhood is considered prenatal or age zero to around eight years old. Kim Davenport from Edward Street pitched this topic idea and we're thrilled to be producing these episodes. Kim joined us as our first guest to introduce the importance of early childhood education. And last episode, we spoke to Amy O’Leary at Strategies for Children for a deeper dive into policy advocacy and the state and national conversations happening around early childhood. I'm thrilled to be continuing our conversation around these issues today with Eve Gilmore, the Executive Director of Edward Street, who has spent the past decade-plus advocating for high-quality early education and care for young children and their families.

Joshua Croke (02:00):

Eve's been in the nonprofit space for over 30 years. And Has previously held positions at the United Way of Central Mass and the YWCA of Central Mass and has remained active with multiple boards and committees in the fields of early education and care and social services, Worcester resident, Holy Cross, grad MSW from Boston College School of Social Work raised three children. Eve, thank you so much for being here. I always like to provide space for our guests to add to their intro so they, you can highlight any experiences or motivations you want to bring into this space today that might not get covered in a bio. So welcome, and what else can you tell us about you and your work? 

Eve Gilmore (02:38):

Thank you so much, Josh. It's a pleasure to be here today. I'm happy to be a transplanted “Worcesterite.” I was originally from the south shore in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but got pulled back into Worcester four times during my life for school and career. So now I'm a permanent resident. I have a unique family situation in which I adopted three young children who were just infants at the time of their adoption. We are a multicultural family and I bring that up because it plays a lot into understanding education in the Worcester community and Action! By Design's commitment to looking at DEI lens in turn of the topics that we're discussing is critically important. And I found that with my children over the years, as their youngest experiences in early childhood, straight through the public school system and onto college has been an eye-opener for me as a white woman in her upper fifties, sixties. And I wanna bring some of that experience to our conversation today.

Joshua Croke (03:41):

Fantastic. Thank you so much. And I'd like to start today talking a bit more about the history, you know, the roots of this from an equity perspective. So, you know, what's the backstory here with early education and care?

Eve Gilmore (03:54):

Well, for our organization Edward Street, which was founded in 1883, the interest was around the need for families to have someone to care for young children while a mom was in the hospital, giving birth to another child, families were large then. Men were working out in the factories in the city. There was a real need for someone to help caretake children. And so Edward Street came to be a direct service childcare agency eventually was called a nursery to begin with and was formulated through the interests and concerns of seven different church communities in the city. And I bring that to the table because even then when we look at who was caretaking children, we go back and we have to recognize a lot of the roots of that caretaking certainly ended up in the hands and appropriately.

Eve Gilmore (04:50):

So of women who were giving birth, but also as society evolved and civilized, there were, was much more emphasis on servants being engaged potentially looking at slaves, being engaged and indentured servants were brought from Europe to help be able to, to caretake children. You know, when we really look at that history and also look that women had very little choice to work outside the home, even though they were working within the home very hard and full time it has always been for the longest time been seen as women's work and even in my own career, as I moved into the world of work in the 1970s, you know, there was still this uncertainty about what happens with your job should you get pregnant? You know, are you going to have to leave workplace? And what are the alternatives for you?

Eve Gilmore (05:44):

And there were some very momentous and critical things that happened at the national level in the seventies and eighties which affected our cultural perspective on the changes that were happening for most families. It wasn't a choice as to whether we went to two-income families. It was a necessity based on the costs of everything that were part of a middle-class family, then for those who were single parenting, it was even more stressful. And as a result, we had to look towards going back to the workplace and then ask the question, but how are we going to do that? And if we don't have good care for children and really what is that care about in the last 20 to 30 years research and science has evolved to understand that the most critical time for children's growth and development, particularly from the architecture of their brain is literally in the first nine months of their existence.

Eve Gilmore (06:39):

So we really today have a very different perspective on why high-quality, early education and care is imperative for everyone. Not just so that women can go to work, but so that children can thrive. When we look at the impact of poverty in our society, and in our city, we fully are cognizant of the fact that there are great disparities and those disparities have an impact on young children's growth and development from preterm straight through birth and to the kindergarten classroom. We talk about the achievement gap. Now we talk about the opportunity gap. And what we know is that if we focus our attention on those youngest years, we can change the opportunities that our children in the city are presented with. So looking at high-quality early education and care has become almost an accepted cultural shift from where we were in seventies and eighties. And yet there's still this cliff that we sit on, we're waiting, we're waiting for Build Back Better. We're waiting for the opera funds to flow from the state. We're waiting for the rallies that we're gonna have on Saturday morning for Common Start to change the legislation so that families are across the country, but in particular in Massachusetts and Worcester have the opportunity to have affordable, accessible, high-quality care in their communities. So it is a long history and a lot of change that's taken place.

Joshua Croke (08:14):

Absolutely. And so for our listeners, you drop some terms that maybe it would be helpful to give like some quick context to like Common Start and ARPA and opportunity gap, achievement gaps, some of the terms that are utilized in this space. So for listeners who are less familiar can you contextualize that? A bit more.

Eve Gilmore (08:35):

Sure. So in referencing Build Back Better and ARPA I'm talking very specifically about the likelihood of government at the state and federal level being able to support local families. So looking at the perspective legislation of being able to cap the cost of high-quality early education and care for any family at 7% of their income, and that hopefully will happen. But the challenges associated with those that government involvement is equally important because right now the field of early education and care is actually in crisis, we are struggling because teachers are so poorly paid in the field of early education and care that we are losing them to other industries and sectors, particularly post-pandemic, but it was true pre-pandemic as well. And I'm sure Kim shared an earlier session that we, you know, we've lost almost 20 to 25% of the positions for children in high-quality care across the state.

Eve Gilmore (09:44):

And certainly in Worcester and the surrounding Central Mass region. The concerns we have are that is going to present a setback for our children. We see a little bit of that as a result of the pandemic where children were not in school for almost 18 months. And as a result, we are experiencing a large number of concerns around children's ability to socialize with children and with adults, around children's ability to use language, to develop their fine motor and gross motor skills.  That doesn't happen unless you're in a trusting relationship with others and early education and care provides that experience and that stimulation of children. It also helps professionals engage families to understand how children develop over time and that every child's path to growth is different and unique. So those are things that come from high-quality care that we wanna ensure our local families can access.

Eve Gilmore (10:42):

When you talk about the achievement gap or the opportunity gap, oftentimes we hear about children in our community being 2, 3, 6 steps behind the child who lives in a different zip code, even within our own city. And a lot of that is related to the experiences that children have and how that, or don't have and how that impacts their overall growth and development stimulation. Families everywhere want the best education for their children. They want the best opportunities for their children. It doesn't matter if you're single parent, dual-parent doesn't matter if you're rich or you're a subsidized parent, everybody wants the best for their children to succeed. And that is something that a parent can't always do on their own. In our community today, I think one of the strengths is that we try and look outside our own doors and windows and open those doors to each other, to better understand stand that not all families, nor all work experiences and are created equal.

Eve Gilmore (11:45):

And as a result, different families need different kinds of resources. And that we have to engage each other to understand the unique needs of our community in our community. We have portions of the city where there really are almost no high-quality early education and care centers. So we have what we would call childcare deserts, if you will in certain zip codes in the city, that's a thing that we would like to be able to see change to overtime. And it needs to change because parents at different stages in their family development have different kinds of needs. As a child ages out, they, in terms of no longer being in early education and care, they're moving into the K to 12 school system. They need afterschool care, and that's a very different kind of experience than early childhood where they need much more interaction and, and exposure to adults in order to thrive. So when we look at the field of early education and care locally, there's a lot, and there are many caring people who are invested in trying to provide the highest quality care at the most reasonable price for our families. 

Joshua Croke (12:56):

Yeah,  it was startling to me to hear the statistic that both Kim and Amy talked about of 37% of early care workers rely on or are available for some

Eve Gilmore (13:10):

Type of subsidy yes. 

Joshua Croke (13:12):

Support or subsidy. And when you talk about the history as well, and some of the connection to what might be manifesting in this situation, as you know, sexist and you know, bias, you know the decision to compensate people at such low wages for performing this work. I think it's important to kind of set that in the context of history, when we're talking about equity, when we're talking about fairness and you know, getting rid of the gender pay gap and, and things like that. So you see that, in this work work.

Eve Gilmore (13:52):

We see it very, very strongly in this field. I think the challenge there too for us, is recognizing that caring for our children is a value that we bring as a community to the table. And historically, you know, you see it a lot in British dramas children should be neither seen nor heard until they're adults almost. And they had their nannies and their governesses and all of that. Well, that certainly manifests itself here in the United States in a big way. And yet we know better because there are times in our country's history where culturally, we had to do something different. We didn’t have a choice. If we went to war in World War II, then women had to go to the factories and work and someone had to take care of the children. Well, the government figured out that we had to have high-quality care for those children in order for families to continue to thrive upon the conclusion of war.

Eve Gilmore (14:53):

As a result, we today have a military system that has one of the finest examples of high-quality, early education and care where pay equity is a focus for early childhood educators, where families have peace of mind and choice about the types of care or that their children will have. And know that that is an early education and positive learning experience for their children. We do that in a beautiful way within the military structure. We also do it within the Head Start community. And as a result back in the seventies, eighties, the beginning of that on poverty at the end of the sixties, that approach of saying we need to offer our children something more before they hit the kindergarten door, having Head Start with two to three years experience for many families is a real boon for kids, so that they're starting on a somewhat more equitable footing with their peers who have other vintages that families can afford to give them. That has been a major program across the United States with very sophisticated development over time. We need to be able to offer that here in our communities locally, but it can't just start at age three because with brain development and science, we know trauma and the opportunities present themselves from pre-birth straight through the first couple of years as well.

Joshua Croke (16:16):

And you know, so much of the context of this conversation. I think it's important to place a focus on trauma-informed care, trauma-informed practices. And that's so critical in how we're rethinking and imagining new ways of engaging in education. And one of the questions that kind of came up through reflecting on the past conversations with Kim and, and Amy is thinking about, you know, we have with the Afghan resettlement and the refugees coming into Worcester specifically, we have so many immigrant families that are now bringing young kids, you know, into this system. And what are the unique needs in ways that we're setting up those families for success? And, you know, I'm interested in, you know, both immigrant families when we're talking also about Kim mentioned the early screening processes for things like dyslexia and other types of neurodivergent needs that young children are needing support for

Eve Gilmore (17:15):

Exactly, and as we talked about children develop in their own unique ways on and different pathways. And when we talk about living in a highly diverse community where we are welcoming to families who are coming from all over the world, either as refugees or immigrants, whose as are starting just like many of our own started within the last 50 to a hundred years here in the United States. We're looking at families, who've experienced some pretty stressful changes and transitions. And as a result, we need to be keenly aware that we do have resources that can help families have a smoother transition, less traumatic transition. But what we're also learning is that when people come from different cultures the access to resources it can often be a mixed bag in terms of their understanding. Whereas we might feel very comfortable in the early childhood realm, talking about early childhood mental health other people, when you mention mental health their backs go up because the experience is that someone is crazy or someone needs to be locked up, or the stigma attached is not something that's been looked at and challenged and understood over time.

Eve Gilmore (18:30):

And with those challenges, we find that too in young families, that because they bring their own childhood experiences as adults into the families they're formulating that oftentimes there are many factors that can interfere or can inhibit the successful growth and development of children. And also the parents' effective relationship with the child in their parenting skills, we are a community, unlike many others that is rich with resources, particularly through UMass Medical School and the hospital system, healthcare system. I bring that up because the opportunities that are available to families to reach out before things get really challenging, difficult, or critical for children and for parents are available to us and we just need to be able to get them out so that families know about them. One of the strengths of early education and care is that there are other adults who are observing and participating in the child's interactions.

Eve Gilmore (19:38):

And as a result, they can help families see where assistance is needed or where a consultation might be needed to help get a child back on track or help a parent understand how to respond more actively to the communication the child is conveying because they're trying to make a connection that's being missed at some level. Because we have these rich resources. We need to be sure that early education and care is here to be able to get those resources out to families and for children to be able to have in classroom services, if that’s needed. We find so many children absolutely blossom when they have conversations at so many different levels with people who ask questions every day about what they think and who they are and how they play, and why are they doing that? And as children talk and learn how to communicate with adults and other children, the richness of their brains begins to blossom and the strength of their capacity to become a citizen in our community is strengthened overall. And that is a fantastic kind of

Joshua Croke (20:46):

And that is a fantastic kind of transition or segway into the local perspective here, you know, resources, the business community, the philanthropic community, the different roles that members of the community play in this space. So I like to talk about some of those players in these conversations and roles, and let's start with municipal government, right. What role in power does our local government have in the early education space?

Eve Gilmore (21:17):

Well, it's a role that they have to choose to adopt. Fortunately, we are in a community where the early childhood community is well thought of and our leadership in the city, through the mayor and the city manager are highly focused on how do we bring families successfully to live within this new Renaissance of a city structure that we've created. And as a result, one of the most significant changes that's taken place is that the city has taken what was previously previously known as the Governance Council for Youth Violence Prevention and they have expanded it into the Governance Council for Children, Youth, and Families. And as a priority that governance council is looking at data, that's talking about what are the experiences and where are the gaps for our families living in the city successfully? So the local government can take a leadership role, particularly in advocacy to bring dollars to the city in a whole realm of ways, be it mental health, physical health, early education K to 12 system. There are so many different ways they can take a leadership role to help our local state legislature think about what needs to happen to make families lives richer here in Worcester. So we are fortunate that our local delegation to the state and to the federal government are strong supporters of early education and care and early childhood. They are quick to speak on of the needs of these communities and therefore are able to have a significant impact in influencing the agenda at the state and national level.

Joshua Croke (23:01):

Fantastic. Thank you. And we are flying through time. So we have about three minutes left and I'd love for our listeners to better understand how they can participate and become better advocates for the early childhood space.

Eve Gilmore (23:15):

 Well, thank you so much for asking that critical question. Yeah. Cause it's timely. There's a small group in the Greater Central Mass area called Common Start. Edwards Street is one of the founding members of the local chapter. It has a statewide existence and the focus of this particular group is to introduce and we have introduced to the legislature at the state level legislation, which would provide universal early education and care at an affordable level to all families in Massachusetts. We are hoping that that legislation will gain traction this year at the state house. And upcoming this month, there's going to be a rally to support our endorsement of that legislation go going forward. But families can tune in through the internet, on the website for commonstart.org. There is also work being done by each of the individual early childhood providers who are affiliated with an association called the Mass Association for Daycare Providers, which is headquartered here in Worcester. And as a result, we can have an opportunity for families to get their input and have their help their early childhood providers have their voices heard about why this is so critically important to do this right now.

Joshua Croke (24:37):

Fantastic. Well, we will include links to all of these resources that you're mentioning in the show notes for listeners. So if you are interested and we encourage you to become interested and dive into this work and advocate and support important legislation to expand resources and access for families and our kids in the Commonwealth. Thank you Eve for coming on the show. It's so great to chat with you and appreciate this whole series on early childhood, any parting words for our listeners.

Eve Gilmore (25:12):

Oh, thank you, Josh, for the opportunity to do this. And I just want parents to remember that each child has a future and they're part of it. And we want them to feel successful and supported in that work. So high quality early education and care has got their backs and hopefully will be available to them at an affordable rate in the future.

Joshua Croke (25:33):

Thank you for listening to Public Hearing our podcast and radio show that airs Wednesdays at 6:00 PM on WICN 90.5 FM Worcester's only NPR affiliate station and can be heard wherever you listen to podcasts. I'm your host, Joshua Croke. If you have ideas for the show or would like to become a supporter, reach out to our team @publichearing.co. Our audio producer is, Giuliano D’Orazio who also made our show music also special thanks to Molly Gammon and Shaun Chung, who also support the development and production of this show. Public Hearing is created and produced by Action! by Design a social innovation change agency, helping people imagine and materialize equitable and just futures. We believe the strongest ideas to solve problems in our communities come from within the communities that are most impacted by them. Learn more about our work @actionbydesign.co that's dot co and not.com and as always, thanks for listening.