We’re pleased to announce the second installation of 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 Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Law Center on Law and Poverty, to learn more about the important work they do.

How did Western Center on Law & Poverty get started?

Western Center was formed 50 years ago, in 1967, by a passionate group of attorneys and legal scholars from USC, UCLA and Loyola law schools who were driven by the belief that low-income Californians deserve the finest possible legal representation before every institution that shapes their lives. In 1972, we opened our Sacramento office, establishing the first capital legislative office in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to the interests of the poor. More about our history can be found here.

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

I’ve always been frustrated how easily divided the various factions of the child care advocacy community could be – that is why I jumped at the chance to be one of the founding members of Raising California Together.

We set out with the simple task of getting to know each other and unifying people around the goal of a stronger child care system. And, we have done just that. Parents, providers, child care centers, union and anti-poverty advocates are all working together now better than we ever did before and we are starting to see the results of that come through in broad support for investments in child care.

I’ve also really been frustrated that we don’t spend enough time studying and talking about what happens to children when we don’t have a strong child care system. We know that support in early learning has long-term positive outcomes – but we don’t spend enough time talking about the danger children face when their parents can’t afford child care and they can’t afford not to go to work. Instead, too many times, we blame the parents when children are left unattended, rather than a failed child care system.

One of my proudest moments as a Raising California Together leader was when we published an open letter condemning the criminalization of parents whose children were left unattended while they went to work.

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

Western Center played an essential role in implementing the Affordable Care Act in California. This would have to be one of the most innovative victories we have had in recent history. But Western Center has also won several important supreme court victories protecting the rights of indigenous Californians.

What would a perfect child care system look like?

The perfect child care system would ensure safe and fun early learning environments for all children whose parents are seeking it. The care would be affordable and available in every community at all the time slots needed by parents in those communities.

Child care workers from diverse communities could be ensured a living wage, the right to collectively bargain, subsidized and affordable worker training and opportunities for professional growth and advancement.

This system wouldn’t be subject to cuts during recessionary times, but rather supported by a steady funding source that was not subject to dramatic variations. Finally, this system would ensure that children with disabilities were no more difficult to place than children that do not have them.

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

Dolly Parton, she grew up poor like me and made a living doing something she really seemed to love. Plus I loved all of her songs and the movie Working 9-to-5 was a favorite of mine as a child. Her non-profit, Imagination Library, promotes early childhood literacy by giving free age-appropriate books to children from birth to age 5. I always thought Raising California should find a way to coordinate with her.

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