Social Justice for Young Children Conversation Series

Social Justice for Young Children: Introducing FCD’s Conversation Series

The Foundation for Child Development works at the nexus of research, policy, and practice to improve the lives of young children. Over the past 50 years, FCD has focused on reducing child and family poverty, aligning early childhood and K-12 systems, understanding the growing population of young immigrant children, and — most recently — supporting the early care and education workforce.

Currently, we are engaged in what we’re calling A Year of Reflection and Exploration.

We are looking backward at our organization’s rich past, looking outward at today’s social and political context, and looking forward to our future directions. 

We are in year eight of our 10-year commitment to the workforce initiative, and as we chart the next phase of our work, we seek to learn from our past while meeting this current moment. The pandemic and mass protests have shined a bright light on racism, xenophobia, and economic inequality, and we must seize the lessons for the future.

Over the next year, we are hosting a conversation series — in this blog and beyond it — that explores what it means to pursue social justice for young children and their families.

We will welcome advocates, researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and funders to share:

  • their visions for a more just society for children and families,
  • their work in pursuit of that aim, and
  • the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

We will invite voices:

  • from the racial, immigrant, and labor justice movements;
  • from diverse academic disciplines; and
  • from local, state, and national advocacy efforts.

We will ask:

  • what will be required of the research community in collaborating with families and communities;
  • how do we build sturdy relationships between child advocates and movement leaders; and
  • what role can funders play in bridging social justice movements and early childhood research, policy, and practice?

More broadly, the Foundation’s Board and staff will consider the kind of society we want to build for our nation’s children and what FCD’s role should be in working toward that future. We will share what we learn along this journey, and we invite you to share your hopes, knowledge, and experiences.

Meeting This Moment 

Census estimates indicate that the U.S. population will become “majority minority” by 2045. However, we do not need to imagine the future to see what our country will become. We need only look at our child population. They are already majority children of color, fueled in part by immigration from Asia and Latin America and an aging White population.

Our country’s changing demographics are set against a defining social and political moment in its history when the depth and extent of inequality are in sharp focus. 

Our nation is still emerging from a pandemic that made longstanding inequities more visible. News reports covered the lack of basic necessities such as food and health care, as well as the lack of computers and internet access for virtual schooling, for children from low-income families. For a while, people applauded the essential workers — many of them immigrants and people of color — who continued laboring in low-wage, unprotected jobs to stock our grocery stores, deliver food, and care for other people’s children. We watched and read about persistent anti-Black and anti-Asian violence and witnessed the unprecedented White supremacist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in real time. At the same time, Black Lives Matter protests gained traction across the globe. Built on decades of organizing, those demonstrations tipped the scales to bring attention to longstanding injustices and stronger organizing power than seen in a generation.

Now, we are witnessing a profound backlash against racial progress in the U.S., a backlash that is justified as a means of protecting children. School-board protests, purportedly over Critical Race Theory, and the high-profile firing of Alabama’s director of early childhood education for promoting “woke concepts” suggest that children’s issues have become a hotspot for racial politics. This weaponizing of people’s fears over children’s well-being shows no signs of abating in the near future.

Connecting Fields and Movements

Our current social and political moment calls on us to bring the best thinking we have to bear on the challenges and opportunities ahead. This requires us to reach across the traditional boundaries that have organized our work and build stronger bridges across various fields and movements.

Early childhood research, practice, and policy have done much to elevate the challenges and opportunities facing young children. Yet they have sometimes sought to advance children’s well-being to the neglect of their families, or they have applied deficit perspectives to parents of color, assuming parental deficiencies and privileging middle-class White norms and values.

Social justice movements, in contrast, have long histories of equity work but usually focus on the adults, overlooking their role as parents and how their well-being affects their children.

Immigrants whose labor is exploited in low-wage jobs, Black voters who are disenfranchised, and Black and Brown people criminalized by police and courts are also parents. We must not overlook the reality that their well-being has intimate impacts on our nation’s children.

We suspect there is great power in bridging these fields and movements. We hope this conversation series can help us build dynamic connections between the fields of early childhood, child development, and child advocacy on the one hand and immigrant, racial, and economic justice movements on the other. Given how intimately young children’s well-being is tied to that of their parents, children’s advocates might pay greater attention to the racial injustices and economic realities faced by their families. Given that their kids are a motivating force behind parents’ organizing work, power-building might pay more attention to parents’ hopes and aspirations for their children.

Thank you for joining us as we begin this journey. We look forward to engaging with you in the coming months.