February 2, 2024

Mission Moment – ECEAP Parent Advocacy

The Role of Parents in ECEAP

ECEAP (pronounced e-cap) stands for Early Childhood Education Assistant Program. YWCA Spokane’s ECEAP teaches important life skills and wraps the entire family in holistic care. We know that supporting parents, caregivers, and the entire family helps create an environment that sets children up for success in kindergarten and beyond. Parent involvement in the classroom is part of what makes this model successful.

Helping Parents Understand the Power of Their Voice

A component of ECEAP is expanding parents’ understanding of how to advocate for themselves and their kids, whether that’s at school or at the state level. The first opportunity to engage in this way is through the ECEAP Policy Council, which occurs once a month with free dinner and childcare provided for the families. The Policy Council brings together parents from all five of our classrooms to discuss business matters, such as field trips and budgets, and learn about resources and skill building.

Coaching parents on how to articulate their thoughts, questions, and requests are useful tools for life. It empowers parents to use their voice and speak their truth. Parents gain confidence and the ability to enter spaces knowing they have a right to be present and be heard.

“Parent empowerment is advocacy for yourself and for your kids,” states Kassa Brock, Family Support Staff member. These skills are applicable in a range of scenarios from speaking with a member of congress about a legislative proposal to talking with a supervisor about an accommodation or raise. It enables parents to navigate educational systems, access resources and services, advocate for their child’s needs, and advocate for themselves. By equipping parents with advocacy skills, they gain the confidence and ability to become effective advocates for their families, both within and beyond ECEAP.

Advocating at the Individual Level

Before Kassa was a YWCA employee, she was an ECEAP parent and part of the Policy Council for four years as a parent representative. She shared firsthand that she learned about how grants, budgets, and resources work, gaining tools for navigating different systems.

Most importantly, Kassa said the Policy Council taught her how to speak up. “I learned that my voice mattered,” Kassa says.

She learned how to share her opinion and explain why it matters. Through her involvement in ECEAP’s Policy Council, Kassa became an active voice in the conversation around state funding for education. The Policy Council teaches our parents how to use their voice. Spaces that previously seemed closed are now more open when you know how to access them.

Advocating at the Local Level

Parents have a rich understanding of their children and their needs. When navigating the school system, parents should feel empowered to share their perspective. For instance, if a child needs an individualized education plan (IEP) in kindergarten or beyond, Family Support Staff guide parents through that process so they feel supported and prepared for these types of situations on their own. Ryan Simmons, Family Support Staff Manager, agreed with Kassa how helpful a mock interview structure is with their families. It helps them organize their thoughts and practice what they want to share. “It’s really teaching them how to have their voice and be heard when they go to the school,” says Ryan. Families often default to whatever opinion the school has and may not understand how powerful their input is as the parent.

Advocating at the State Level

The Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP (commonly referred to as WSA) organizes Advocacy Day each year. It is an opportunity for parents, caregivers, and educators to meet with their elected officials and urge for legislative changes. This year, WSA Advocacy Day is on February 15 in Olympia.

“It’s an opportunity for parents to strengthen their community and to create a powerful voice for children and families,” shares Ryan.

Ahead of meeting with officials and rallying on the capitol steps, attendees can participate in an immersive training on legislative advocacy. The entire event is full of energy and passion. Kassa, who has attended Advocacy Day 6 times, calls it the best day ever and commented on how powerful it is to witness caregivers from all over Washington speak up and ask their government to improve the lives of their children.

ECEAP parents who want to take their advocacy training to the next level are encouraged to apply for WSA’s Parent Ambassador Program. Learn more about this program from a former ECEAP employee and parent!

The Legislative Priorities

Each year, there are particular legislative priorities WSA and advocates put forward. Two of the big requests this year is to increase funding for ECEAP and ensure families receiving Basic Food Assistance are eligible for ECEAP.

  • Increased Funding for ECEAP: Funding comes from the state level to cover the costs of supporting each child and their family. With overall rising costs, ECEAP needs more funding to support the current number of families. Without additional funding, the program cannot add slots for more students, hire additional staff, or provide robust resources. Learn more about House Bill 1945.
  • SNAP Families are ECEAP Eligible: This adjustment would mean families that receive Basic Food Assistance or SNAP from the Department of Social Health Services would automatically qualify for ECEAP. Currently, a family could be receiving SNAP but be ineligible for ECEAP due to current income requirements. Learn more about House Bill 2124.

Learn More

By: Jemma Riedel-Johnson

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