Building Political Will, Neighbor-to-Neighbor

Source: All In For Kids team

Imagine if families affected by policies or laws had the opportunity to set the policy agenda and define success. 

To make this possible, All In For Kids grantee partners are leading the way in promoting constructive and long-lasting engagement between lawmakers and families. They have shown that civic engagement goes beyond voting. When families are more involved and connected to the civic process, they are more likely to thrive, as are their communities. 

These authentic connections help lawmakers be the advocates and representatives they were elected to be, leading to impactful policy changes and tangible improvements for young children and families.  

All In For Kids grantees are seeing real policy wins, like acquiring funding for early childhood programs and changing how California approaches child protection. What are the results?

New Outcomes Need New Mindsets

Safe & Sound knows that policy changes that benefit low-income children must be accompanied by changes to the child welfare system. For this to happen successfully, they first need to change the story. Their work has been pivotal in shifting the conversation to the need for community support rather than mandatory reporting. 

Over the last decade, Safe & Sound has focused on improving and strengthening the capacity of Family Resource Centers, ensuring that the community’s ideas and needs inform the work and what is offered. They also partnered with pediatric health providers in the community health centers and set up a parent advisory board to see these changes through. They organized and mobilized, telling a new story about how community support could prevent intergenerational trauma. 

Moving Together with Agency and Authority 

First Five Monterey and La Luz help parents see the relationship between themselves and their neighbors and how working together can also be a powerful political tool. 

“All of a sudden, neighbor-to-neighbor conversations are more than simply learning about each other. They’re opportunities to mobilize and ensure that lawmakers, system leaders and residents all see themselves in community together,” said Nina Alcaraz, Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Communications at First 5 Monterey County.

Civic engagement can give community members a sense of belonging and help them contribute solutions and creative ideas. “Then you begin to move things together with agency and authority,” said Rocio Monter, Parents LEAD Program Manager.

The Vital Role of the Connector  

Early childhood is not simply a precious time for enrichment and kindergarten readiness. It’s a time when brain development builds the foundation for positive impacts on health, learning, and behavior throughout life.

Children Now understands this and knows they have a unique role in helping legislators understand it, too. They played a crucial role in seeing that California’s Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI) included programming for children from birth to age three, advocating for policymakers to recognize the importance of mental health in this age group.

To do this, Children Now leveraged their role as a connector, helping elected leaders hear from and stay connected to impacted people in their communities. They helped legislators get information on community needs and the wide range of programs supporting infant and early childhood mental health. 

“These programs existed; we just had to find a way for the legislators to support them,” said Lishaun Francis, Senior Director, Behavioral Health.

Advocating as Experts

Young Women’s Freedom Center knows that to end youth incarceration and increase access to childcare and meaningful economic opportunities for young moms, legislators need to hear from the youth themselves. 

Each year, they bring together hundreds of young people from across California to Sacramento, creating new ways for them to advocate and drive change as experts. 

“We approach all our work with a love of our communities. When we activate young parents as leaders, we create the right channels so policymakers can actually serve their communities,” said Julia Arroyo, Oakland’s Executive Director.

This work in Sacramento has led the group to co-sponsor several bills that promote restorative justice for healing and accountability, including  AB 1186: REPAIR Act.

Ingredients for a Good Life

Many of our political institutions are set up so that feedback loops are by invitation or through highly structured opportunities with specific rules of engagement, such as town hall meetings. While these are important tools, they can also lead to transactional interactions that are not sustained. 

First Five Monterey and La Luz look at relationship building between communities and their political leaders as the center of political transformation. “Part of what’s needed to build political will is developing real, transformative and sustainable relationships—and, most importantly, opportunities to collaborate—between families of young children and social and political leaders,” said Nina Alcaraz.

“We’re building real relationships,” said Rocio Monter.”For young children. For their families. For their communities. And—for the lawmakers, too. These are the ingredients for a good life.”