Policymaking With the Whole Family in Mind

Our communities are stronger when supported by policies intentionally crafted to benefit the entire family. Yet while policymakers increasingly recognize the value of holistic solutions, too often this concept is only applied to a narrow definition of family that consists of young children and their parent(s).

Problematically, this restricted view keeps us from recognizing the diversity within our communities, which are full of grandparents looking after grandchildren, grandchildren looking after grandparents, childless couples, single adults, and middle-age children caring for aging parents. While we may talk about the importance of family-friendly policies, when our solutions aren’t reflective of the diversity throughout our state, we miss out on truly comprehensive solutions capable of meeting our state’s most pressing needs.

Governor Polis, as seen in his recent budget proposal, has rightly identified the need to support our early childhood education (ECE) system. We at the Bell also know there are other families — including those within our aging community — struggling to make ends meet. By building upon common struggles, needs, and systems to support all our families, we can do more to create economic opportunity for every Coloradan.

Expanding Our Definition of Family

Advocating for a comprehensive vision of family beyond young children and parents doesn’t discount the important work currently underway to expand access to kindergarten, provide supportive services to parents with young kids, and grow the number of quality and well-trained ECE workers. As the Bell has documented numerous times, these ongoing efforts are important and direct resources to areas in dire need of investment. That said, such a narrow focus on early childhood education and care prevents us from recognizing other, equally important needs, which prevent families of all types from truly achieving economic mobility and opportunity.

When we expand our definition of family, our understanding of issues shifts. We’re better able to identify larger trends, connect issues across age groups and circumstances, and leverage existing resources to develop comprehensive solutions. In practice, we can apply this more expansive lens to the way we consider the following areas.

Workforce needs: Our caring workforce — which includes both ECE and long-term care workers (those who provide direct care to our older adults and people with disabilities) — provides immeasurable benefit to our communities. However, both of these women-dominated professions routinely struggle to retain and recruit enough workers, pay a living wage, offer needed benefits, and ensure opportunities for career advancement.

We do a disservice to our state by trying to separately address the issues surrounding either the early childhood education or long-term care workforce. Currently, there’s a concerted push in Colorado to attract and retain more ECE workers, as seen through efforts to create loan forgiveness initiatives and build stackable credential programs. However, many of these same approaches can just as easily be used to help our long-term care workforce. By recognizing the connection between these two fields, we can build sustainable, comprehensive solutions that support two important and growing workforces that Colorado families depend upon.

Unpaid care: While often rewarding, unpaid care — whether it’s for a child or an older adult — is physically, mentally, and financially challenging. Across the board, we often undervalue this work and overlook the reality that, due to their unpaid responsibilities, many caregivers make employment decisions that impact their long-term financial well-being. As we talk about the value of supporting working parents by allowing flexible schedules and providing benefits like paid family and medical leave, we should recognize these same solutions can be just as beneficial in supporting unpaid caregivers for older adults.

Cost of care: Finding quality and affordable care for loved ones of any age is an essential, often expensive, need for many Colorado families. To alleviate this challenge for families with young children, Colorado has rightly chosen to make new investments in early childhood education, from increased preschool slots to full-day kindergarten. However, a more holistic, family-friendly approach, recognizes the cost challenges for caretakers of young children also extend to those providing for older adults, and that state investment can be a valuable way to alleviate similar financial challenges.

To truly meet the diverse needs of Colorado families, we must make greater investments in the availability of respite and home health care for adults. By addressing these needs in tandem with those related to early childhood education, we’ll be promoting comprehensive benefits for families across our state.

Our policies are only as family friendly as the vision of family they’re intended to serve. Too frequently, this vision is limited to a small subset of Colorado families, and as a result, our policies aren’t as comprehensive as they could be. The current work being done to support young children, their parents, and educators is important. But by expanding who these policies serve, we’ll be able to meet a more holistic set of needs, build upon growing momentum, and leverage existing structures to benefit a wider range of Colorado families.

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