Elevating the voices of parents in Silicon Valley

Parent Voices youth at Stand for Children Day at the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2018
Parent Voices youth at Stand for Children Day at the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2018

The future of the Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose is one focus of the Santa Clara County chapter of Parent Voices. Pollution from the airport caused lead poisoning in children from nearby schools and those who lived in the area. According to Santa Clara County Board Supervisor Cindy Chavez, “This is a public health issue, it’s an environmental justice issue and it’s an equity issue.” East San Jose is home to some of the most marginalized communities in the region.

700 Parent Voices members march to the State Capitol on Stand for Children Day, May 2019700 Parent Voices members march to the State Capitol on Stand for Children Day, May 2019

Parent Voices is a parent-run and parent-led statewide organization that combines leadership development, advocacy and community-organizing to help parents make their voices heard – especially on issues related to children and childcare.

“We really center the wisdom of parents to transform childcare and other systems to be fair and inclusive for all,” said Mary Ignatius, a Parent Voices statewide organizer.

With the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors pursuing the closure of the airport, Pamela Campos, a community-organizer with Parent Voices Santa Clara County, wants to be sure the people who live near the airport have a voice in decisions about the site’s future. One of the most effective ways of making sure they have input is community-organizing.

“This is one of the most marginalized communities in San Jose,” said Campos. “We want to make sure we are putting our voices and comments out there.”

Parent Voices recently received a $100,000 grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation through its Early Childhood Development strategic initiative. Parent Voices will use part of the general operating support grant to help rebuild its Santa Clara County chapter.

A broader strategy

SVCF’s Early Childhood Development strategy, which was announced in April,expands the community foundation’s investment in early care and education and works to advance policies that support the development of young children, all through a racial and social justice lens.

“For many families, the cost of of quality childcare is very challenging,” said Christine Thorsteinson, director of early childhood development for SVCF.“We’re trying to come at the issue from multiple angles. We are committing all the tools in the toolbox of the community foundation: using our advocacy voice, looking at policy, funding research, bringing stakeholders together, connecting to the larger donor community, and using discretionary grantmaking dollars to support organizations in the community working on these issues.”

Hearing Parent Voices

Parent Voices youth present Governor Newsom with a medal at his first state budget signing; PV celebrates their campaign win: establishing 12 months of uninterrupted care in TANF / CalWORKs childcareParent Voices youth present Governor Newsom with a medal at his first state budget signing to celebrate their campaign win

Parent Voices views the issue of childcare as an opportunity to engage families and parents in policy. At the state level, Parent Voices helps parents organize and advocate for legislation that will help families that qualify for subsidized childcare, Ignatius said.

For example, the state used to require workers with variable schedules to redo the paperwork to qualify for subsidized childcare every few months.

“We heard from so many families that they would leave the program because it was a full-time job just to keep the childcare subsidy,” Ignatius said. “What was the purpose of causing this administrative burden? There was this racist, classist undercurrent of ‘We don’t trust you.’”

Parents Voices members successfully advocated for a change that would allow families to get a minimum of 12 months of continuous services. For four years, Parent Voices volunteers advocated for subsidized childcare by sharing their struggles and solutions at budget meetings and with legislative offices, from the local level all the way up through the Governor's office. Parent volunteers also raised awareness through print and social media.

Local goals

In addition to the Reid-Hillview Airport closure, the newly re-formed Santa Clara County chapter of Parent Voices is also pursuing the following:

  • Advocating for childcare in key housing and development projects.

“There are housing and development projects in the community that aren’t paying attention to the need for more childcare in our county,” said Rodrigo Sotelo, a member of the chapter.

  • Advocating for all caregivers.

While Sotelo was raising his children, he had to work to pay the rent, so he left his children in the care of a neighbor. In many underserved communities, families often reply on informal networks of relatives and friends for childcare.

“At our last meeting, we started working on a plan to connect with school districts, local churches, and community organizations to form alliances with those who can help us support this informal care,” Sotelo said.

  • Bringing parents to the table.

When local governments and other organizations are making decisions that affect families, they need to hear from a wide range of families – not just those who speak English or who are tech-savvy enough to use Zoom for a meeting, Campos said.

  • Making sure new state initiatives work for children and families.

The state recently created several programs to help children, including free school lunches and transitional kindergarten (TK) for all.

“We want to make sure there will be healthy, nutritious food – quality meals that will provide our children with the energy they need,” Campos said. Likewise, they want to ensure that if the TK program is only part-time, working families have childcare options that provide full-day care.

As the Santa Clara County chapter of Parent Voices grows, organizers hope to expand its reach beyond East San Jose. They are planning outreach in south county communities such as Gilroy and Morgan Hill, and will target the northern part of the county later next year.

Additional Early Childhood Development Resources