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Child advocate Margaret Blood, MPA 1987, knew she could take a huge step forward in the welfare of Massachusetts' children when she uncovered surprising voter attitudes toward public financing of child-care. Voters are more receptive to public financing, notes Blood, when child-care is framed as "early childhood education" for 3, 4 and 5-year-olds.
Her challenge then was to convince the state leadership. Despite the fact that 80% of mothers with small children work and a record number of children are being cared for outside the home, many opinion leaders had a negative view about universal child-care. The state doesn't mandate education for children until age 6 and Blood knew that a critical opportunity was being missed. Too many children, she says, are unprepared for school and scientific evidence shows that, by age 5, a child's brain is 85% formed.
So Blood founded the non-profit, Strategies for Children and developed the Early Education for All Campaign. She and her team reached some four thousand people through thirty-two community forums in libraries, police stations and community centers. A key strategy is the coalition of powerful lobbies that Blood has brought together: teachers unions, parent groups, early childhood specialists, business and religious leaders along with community activists. And this past December the Campaign submitted a bill at the State House that seeks universally accessible early education for all 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds.
Blood's interest in helping children began at age fourteen in New Jersey where she tutored inner city children through her church. Later in Boston, she became a community organizer in the Mission Hill section of the city. "I was appalled to see how we allow children to live, particularly in the shadows of Harvard Medical School. It radicalized me." Blood was shocked when she was running a summer day camp where a young girl in the program explained she had cotton in her ears to keep the cockroaches at bay at night.
Galvanized, Blood turned to legislative politics to effect change. She worked for a local state representative as a legislative aide and learned about politics. "I learned how policy works -- or mostly doesn't work for children," she said. She co-founded the Massachusetts Legislative Children's Caucus. She went on to direct Community Programs for the Department of Pediatrics at Boston City Hospital and Boston University School of Medicine. She led the United Way's successful "Success by 6 Initiative", to make health insurance universally available to children as well as initiating the "Invest in Children" license plate program to fund improvements in child care programs.
There is great need says Blood, noting that, "we pay entry-level child- care workers $7 an hour, half of what the average dog-groomer makes. Children don't have many effective lobbyists. Powerless children need powerful friends."
Photo courtesy of Strategies for Children