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Let’s Build Better Language

While Washington figures out how to make the Build Back Better (BBB) Act a winnable piece of legislation, here’s what you should know about this once-in-a-generation opportunity and what we can do to address root causes of a disjointed early childhood system.

First things first if we win here’s, what we get:

  • Child care costs capped at 7% of family household income.
  • Free high-quality universal preschool for all 3 and 4 year-old children in the setting of choice.
  • Incentives and funding for states to (finally!) increase provider compensation and support family child care homes and child care centers.

Build Back Better needs our attention now more than ever as it hangs in limbo. While only some of us are lucky enough to have the ear of lawmakers to make the case to support BBB, all of us can contribute by talking to our friends, family, colleagues and neighbors. There are some great advocacy tools that can help us guide these conversations. Storytelling is one of the most compelling and important tools that will consistently be found in these toolkits.

However, we must caution that when reviewing suggested messaging and storytelling guidance, you will likely observe the common use of labels or deficit language like “low-income” to describe individuals, communities, and even babies as if it’s an inherent characteristic, even though the reference is more connected to the household’s economic conditions for eligibility of programs and services.

Instead of casually passing over the language, take a moment to think about what comes to your mind about individuals labeled “low income” — Whether you think of them as vulnerable, victimized, or people who haven’t figured out how to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, you may be locating the onus of change and blame on the individuals and subconsciously dehumanizing them. Instead, we encourage you to critically analyze the system that produces inequities and gross disparities that contribute to systemic barriers and structural racism.

The BBB is necessary because of our existing fragmented and unnecessarily complicated system that is in dire need of overhaul to afford and protect the entitlements that all families should have access to—high quality care and education.  As we engage in storytelling and educating individuals regarding what this act will correct, let’s avoid using deficit language. This will encourage folks to begin thinking about the root causes of flaws within the system and the solutions that can disrupt inequities. For example, instead of saying,

“low income children/families/communities,”

Consider saying,

“children / family / communities with limited access to financial resources.”

This framing puts the onus on the system instead of the individuals because the system affords access by contributing to the conditions and circumstances for all families to thrive.

Why does that matter? It might make a difference for policy makers in helping them recognize the long-term structural problem that they have authority to fix.

Let’s work on building better language to address root causes that leads to improved structural change and have the impact we desire.

We invite you to have this conversation with us in our workshop entitled Decolonizing Data and Language: Advance Racial Equity and Systemic Solutions.

Listen for more on Build Better Language with Penny Smith and Cristina Pacione-Zayas

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