Photo courtesy of Parent Voices Oakland
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Raising California Together Coalition Spotlight: Clarissa Doutherd, Parent Voices Oakland

We’re pleased to announce the Raising California Together Coalition Partner Spotlight blog series, aimed at shining a light on our array of awesome coalition partners, and showcasing the incredible work they do for parents and kids!

This month we sat down with Clarissa Doutherd, of Parent Voices Oakland, to learn more about the important work they do.

How did Parent Voices get started?

Parent Voices was conceptualized by a group of powerhouse child care leaders, including Patty Siegel the founder and former Executive Director of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, who thought that it was critical to have families that are directly impacted by child care policy represented, particularly in the state budget process.

Parent Voices was created in 1996, around the same time that welfare reform was passed. There were two flagship chapters that started, Oakland and San Francisco, with the support of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

What do you find most frustrating in the battle for child care reform?

It changes day to day! There’s a lack of analysis around race, class, and gender in this field. It’s sometimes difficult to talk about equity, and building a system that really benefits everyone. The child care field can do better at centering the experiences of families most impacted by institutional racism and economic injustice. It is frustrating that people tend to talk around that and not address it head-on. We’ve taken the brain development messaging and ran with it, which is beneficial because it’s real, however we’ve forgotten about the fact that child care is a primary work support for families, and a way that families are able to sustain themselves and maintain employment. We need to continue to talk about child care from a social justice lens, and not allow the history of fighting for economic justice be erased.

Also, child care accessibility, and worker justice as issue areas tend to be in conflict priority wise, even though the same families are affected.

What is the most innovative thing you’ve done as an organization?

We’ve brought parent leadership to places where it’s been missing as part of the policy making process – both historically and recently in Alameda County. We’ve been intentional about strengthening our relationships with service providers, and working across sectors which has resulted in the beginning of a shift in the culture within Alameda County. We’re observing the integration of parent voice and leadership at many different levels within systems. We’ve strengthened the position of parents within our County to have a strong voice and to be able to move local initiatives around early education, and other family-related issues. It’s very exciting.

What would a perfect child care system look like?

Families deserve a system that reflects the true needs of the community that it’s serving. Right now, that is not the reality. Perhaps we have a system that worked in 1996, but today in 2016 the demographics, economic and political conditions across our state and our country have changed, and our communities / families are changing. Child care is complex partly because the needs of families are diverse, and we must continue to honor that. We need to have a child care system that’s responsive to that. I think the perfect child care system is one that doesn’t shut out families living at the margins – whether they are people of color, in deep poverty, un-housed, formally incarcerated, and undocumented.

We have to build a system that isn’t in a silo and supports families holistically. We also need elected officials, agency and department directors to be willing to put their money where their mouth is and make the investment that needs to be made in child care. We can only change so many rules and regulations. We’re not going to legislate our way out of the hole that we’re in. Children deserve a more robust investment in their future, their parents deserve more support, and child care providers deserve to have the liveable wages and working conditions that hold all of these pieces together.

When you were a kid, who was an adult in your life that you looked up to? Why? 

I didn’t know it until now, but I would say my Grandfather. Really, both of my Grandparents. They were primary caregivers for myself and my siblings. My Grandfather served in the Airforce for 35 years, got a college degree, and became a Social Worker for 20 years for Sacramento County. He organized black social workers in his union to fight against discrimination and for equal pay. He talked to me about politics every day growing up, and has always supported everything I’ve done. Also, my Grandparents were licensed-exempt or family/friend/neighbor caregivers for us after they retired, while my mother was going through graduate school.

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