As a person who has always aspired to be a voice for children, being invited to the White House felt like a dream. Before I knew what the field of social work was, I decided at 11 years old that I would go to law school so that I could speak up for children. My passion is deeply personal as I have navigated the kinship foster care system myself and witnessed overwhelmed social workers first hand and at times, blatant racism that ran rampant in the child welfare system. Just before enrolling into law school, I was introduced to the field of social work and learned that there was a pathway for me to pursue my policy dreams with a concentration in macro social work.
My role as Policy and Programs Director at Voices for Virginia’s Children has afforded me many opportunities to change the very systems I that impacted me as a child. In 2018, I gave birth to my son, Perry, and becoming a mother again shifted how I viewed child welfare and deepened my understanding of how economics and mental stress can impact a person’s ability to parent.
My invitation to the White House happened quickly, I received a call on Wednesday and was there the following Tuesday. One of our national partners quickly submitted my name when the opportunity presented for families and advocates to meet with Secretary Beccera on pushing Build Back Better. As one of a few Black policy experts in child welfare, I have worked in conjunction with many national groups over the past six years. When the White House called (everyone wants to know if it was a private number but it wasn’t!), I was delighted to learn that they wanted me to bring my 4 year old son, Perry, with me when I attended the panel conversation. On a personal level, my partner and I have navigated obtaining an IEP for my son and in that process realized how difficult this would be for parents who do not have as much insider knowledge as I do. Even after my son started receiving services, I noted that for many working parents they would not be able to take the time off to get their children to therapies and could as a result have child protective services called for not complying with an IEP.
On the day of the event, my son and I made the trip to Washington DC using the Amtrak, which was the highlight of the experience for my son! The question I have been asked most is, “how did we arrive at the White House?” or “did they send us a personal car?” As simple as it sounds, we took a ride share from Union Station straight to the security check point in front of the White House. A wonderful staffer escorted us through a very thorough security process with the secret service and then we were inside! They took us straight to the room the roundtable discussion would be held in and I quickly noticed there were only yoga mats on the floor for the children. As a now mom of two young children, I pulled out my giant blanket and offered to lay it on the floor for my son and the other three children who had attended. I had also brought a bin of toys for my son to play with on the train and I dumped it out on the floor as well.
The White House roundtable was hosted by members of the Biden-Harris Administration: Secretary Xavier Becerra, Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein, and Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Mobility, Carmel Martin. Meeting the Secretary of Health and Human Services and other key officials felt easy in comparison to being a mom that day. I was more nervous that my son would scream or shout than what I would say during the roundtable. But to my delight, Secretary Becerra was incredibly personable, especially to our children. I will never forget my son saying, “I’m ready to go home now”, just as the camera was going live! I offered him a Reeses peanut butter cup as a reward for waiting a little bit longer.
When the roundtable started, I was asked about affordability for child care. The reality is that for me and many other families, child care is more than my mortgage, a lot more. There are two truths in affordable early childhood education—parents can’t afford to pay any more and educators can’t afford to earn any less. The math doesn’t work unless one side has to make up the difference. This is why a public investment in our system is so important, support needs to be provided for care to be affordable to parents and to attract a high quality workforce.
This trip was incredibly special to me, mainly because I got to share the experience with my son. I do not know if he will remember this trip, or if he will only remember being on a “choo choo train”, but I am already smiling thinking about the memories I will get to share with him as he gets older. My son’s life has made a profound difference in the way I do my work. While some may doubt the positive impact motherhood has on employment, I know that being a mom has improved my work efficiency and my compassion. It is my greatest hope that one day my son and daughter will look at the pictures below and know their mom was a part of making historic investments to improve the lives of children and their families.