Leading Leaders: A New Partnership Promoting Equity In Minnesota’s Early Childhood Sector

In recent years, amid a renewed public conversation about racism, bias, and exclusion, early childhood educators and leaders are finding new ways to promote racial justice in the classroom. Across all of Greater Twin Cities United Way's work in early childhood, we support these efforts with an eye toward "systems change" — transforming our institutions and public systems to ensure that all young learners get a great start. As one of our key initiatives in the early childhood space, 80x3: Resilient from the Start reflects this ethos as we champion holistic well-being and create new healing opportunities for children and families.

In the realm of early education in Minnesota, researchers and advocates have used data to paint a clear picture of our state's glaring opportunity gaps and disparities. Yet, without formal opportunities for collaboration and relationship-building among early childhood leaders, progress remained stagnant, stuck in the realm of transactions rather than transformation. Enter the disruptor: The Leadership Residency, a groundbreaking collaboration between 80x3 and Embracing Equity, rises to the challenge. This innovative initiative is not just another program; it's a force, a game-changer in the early childhood sector, boldly moving people from well-intentioned to well-equipped when it comes to addressing racism within trauma-informed practices. The Leadership Residency isn't just aiming for change—it's igniting a revolution, sparking seismic shifts in the landscape of early childhood education through personal, organizational, and systems-level shifts. We work with 11 organizations across Minnesota:

Organizations participating in the Leadership Residency program work through a 12-month process with Embracing Equity, undertaking a comprehensive equity audit, tailored coaching, virtual Communities of Practice, and a multi-day summer retreat guided by expert facilitators. 

Embracing Equity’s framework focuses on individual development, creates cultures of belonging, and transforms systems and structures. "We have this network of people across all of Minnesota... building a shared language and a shared culture around social change," said Carly Riley, Senior Director of Learning at Embracing Equity. The program encourages participants to identify central problems of practice and set goals aligned with individual learning, organizational culture, and systemic change.

“At the core of trauma-sensitive care is anti-racism and racial justice, so there's a lot of ways in which you can be trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed. The backbone we really believe in at Embracing Equity is an anti-racist and intersectional lens because we have to understand how racialized trauma has impacted all of us in a country where racism exists,” Carly explains.

Think Small, a network of caregivers, educators, policymakers, & families first connected with Embracing Equity through the Leadership Residency program as they sought strategic approaches to embedding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in their work. “We did our first organization-wide equity audit, and then they provided the support and helped us to think through what goals we wanted to work on that year,” recalls Candace Yates,  Vice President of Equity & Early Childhood Programs at Think Small. 

The power of the Leadership Residency partnership with Embracing Equity was evident to Candace from the beginning. “We impact and touch a lot of the same child care programs, a lot of the same families. We work in the same communities. So it makes sense for us to align and to do this work together,” she said. “Ultimately we have the same goal, right? We want healthy communities and families to have access to high-quality child care so that all children can be socially, emotionally, and academically ready for their futures.”

As she sees the work of Embracing Equity playing out in Think Small’s setting, Candace emphasizes how important it is for everyone in the space to have a shared language and commitment to shifting how we do our work. “As we talk and engage with your families and child care educators, we risk causing harm and reopening wounds of trauma that they and others have worked so hard to heal if our organizations are not equipped to take an anti-racist approach to everything we do. That is the bridge between programs and 80x3 and why they exist and why we have the Leadership Residency in the first place.”

This groundbreaking Leadership Residency partnership forged between 80x3 and Embracing Equity isn't just about taking a step forward; it's about charging headfirst into the heart of racial inequities, disrupting the status quo with a laser focus on trauma-sensitive and healing-centered care practices. Brace yourselves: this group of leaders is paving the way for truly inclusive environments where every child,  family, and staff feels supported and valued.
Stay tuned for opportunities to work with the Leadership Residency. Embracing Equity also offers a free 30-minute call to introduce your organization to the work and discuss your options. Click here to schedule a consultation today.

Expanding Access to High-Quality Child Care: A Beacon of Hope for Minnesota Communities

Starting July 1, 2024, the Minnesota Department of Education will be broadening its Early Learning Scholarships Program to offer additional support to children dealing with traumatic circumstances. Alongside continuing to prioritize children who are children of teen parents, in foster care, involved with child protective services, or have experienced homelessness in the last 24 months, the program will now extend priority to children whose parents are incarcerated, undergoing substance use treatment, receiving mental health treatment, or have experienced domestic violence. This expansion reflects a compassionate approach, aiming to ensure that all children have access to vital early childhood education and care opportunities.

Kendrea Dickson, Director at the Center of Excellence in Minneapolis, knows firsthand the impact these updates to the pathways scholarships will have on the families in their community. "The updates will help us reach more families and children," she explains. "We take pride in providing quality, healing-centered care for our community."

The Center of Excellence has served families and children in Minneapolis for the past decade. Established as an extension of the child care services at People Serving People, the Center is dedicated to providing trauma-sensitive and healing-centered support care to its community.

Why are the priority scholarship updates so crucial? Kendrea points to the needs of families, especially those in priority populations such as those affected by domestic violence, incarceration, mental health issues, substance abuse, and teen parenthood, who are in dire need of additional resources. "Children did not ask to be born into these circumstances and deserve quality care," she says. "Families need a village to provide care while they navigate these challenges."

Access to high-quality child care programs using scholarships is essential not only for families but also for the staff.

The Center of Excellence's collaboration with 80x3: Resilient from the Start enhanced the Center of Excellence's ability to provide trauma-informed and culturally responsive care in classrooms. "80x3 has provided the necessary training and conversation starters that help educators understand the children and families they are working with," says Kendrea. "It also helps teachers to be sensitive, as opposed to judgmental, of the struggles that families endure."

However, challenges remain in implementing trauma-informed and culturally responsive practices in early childhood settings. While scholarships provide more access for families, educators require additional support in the classroom to provide the best quality care possible for every child that comes through their doors.

Looking towards the future of early childhood education in Minnesota, Kendrea envisions continued advocacy efforts focusing on providing more support within the classroom. Despite these challenges, success stories abound at the Center of Excellence, where families have found respite and support through scholarships and professional development opportunities.

"We have many success stories from families who have been in a shelter with no village," Kendrea shares. "Being able to take self-care time and mental health breaks away from the stressors of parenthood because they qualify for scholarships."

The collaboration between the Center of Excellence and 80x3 highlights the importance of community support and partnership in addressing the diverse needs of families and children. By expanding access to high-quality child care programs through scholarships, the state of Minnesota is not just investing in the well-being of individual children but also fostering stronger, more resilient communities. Together, 80x3 and our community partners can continue to advocate for equitable access to early childhood education and ensure that every child receives the care and support they need to thrive.