On Sunday, Katie Zobell will load her 23-month-old daughter Paige onto an airplane and fly across the country to speak to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Zobell, her daughter and husband are one of 50 families – one from each state – addressing lawmakers on Tuesday. She will be highlighting challenges new parents face in the hope of influencing federal legislation around early childhood development funding.
“If we as parents aren’t doing our part to make these issues known, then they will be put on the back burner,” she said.
Zobell will meet with Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Zobell applied for the trip and was selected by the organization Zero to Three, a nonprofit focused on early childhood education and support.
The event, called Strolling Thunder, is part of the broader campaign Think Babies.
“I think that babies are a bipartisan issue,” said Patricia Cole, the senior director of federal policy for Zero to Three.
“I don’t think they’ve ever seen 100 or so babies in strollers cruising around the capital,” she added.
Zobell’s story focuses primarily on the difficulty and cost of finding quality day care.
When Zobell moved to Spokane with her husband, her daughter was 3 months old. The family lives off her part-time job at Gonzaga while her husband attends school at Spokane Falls Community College. Because they didn’t know anyone in Spokane they had to find child care almost immediately.
“It was hard to find a place where I felt comfortable leaving her,” she said.
The best places were too expensive. That could have put the family into a problematic cycle, Zobell said.
“If we couldn’t find child care then I wouldn’t be able to work, and I’d have to rely on government assistance to be able to survive,” Zobell said.
That’s why lawmakers should provide more support to early childhood education programs, whether in the form of federal subsidies or grants, she said.
“Everybody needs to be working together so families don’t have to get caught in this loop,” Zobell said.
Zobell and her husband ended up finding child,care at Spokane Falls Community College’s Early Learning Center. She said she was lucky to get a spot there as there is a normally a waiting list.
However, Zobell is pregnant and expecting another child this summer. How the family will adapt to that has yet to be seen.
“That changes things as well,” she said. “My husband is graduating the same week my baby is due.”
Early childhood education should be a primary concern of lawmakers because it directly impacts the future of the country, Cole said. According to a report published by HighScope Educational Research Foundation, investing in early childhood education leads to better jobs, health and relationship outcomes for those children.
“We know that is really the key to some of their (lawmakers) long-term goals, like a stronger economy and a really productive workforce,” Cole said.
Cole advocates on a daily basis for policies and legislation that support early childhood development. She focuses on three main areas: supporting parents, early childhood programs and early childhood mental health.
The Strolling Thunder event is designed to humanize the issues for lawmakers. Cole hopes that by meeting families, legislatures can better understand why federal support is necessary.
“Hopefully that will make my job easier,” she said.
The families participating in the event will meet with lawmakers on Tuesday. At noon they will gather across the street from the capital and march down Constitution Avenue.
Later in the evening there will be a reception where Sen. Patty Murray is scheduled to speak.
Each family had to apply for the spot. Zero to Three and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are paying for all of Zobell’s travel expenses.
“They (lawmakers) need to keep in mind why it’s important,” Zobell said of early childhood funding.
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