This blog post is part of the On Your Mind series featuring local leaders and early childhood champions across the country. NLC’s Early Childhood Success team supports members so every city, town, and village has healthy babies and happy families, and all children are thriving by 3, ready at 5, and on their way by 8, So All Children Thrive. Contact the team at ECteam@nlc.org and sign up for the quarterly newsletter.
NLC: What is one thing keeping you up at night when you think about the young children and families in your community?
Mayor Kim Norton: I’m reminded of the African saying or greeting…And, how are the children? This really hits on how I would prefer to think about our community! It also speaks to my training in early intervention and early childhood development which is always a part of who I am and part of how I process community development and design.
As a Mayor, I have to worry about the immediate crisis and needs facing our city and its residents, and I’d prefer to be spending more time taking the larger view about our future and how we prepare our city, our community for that future. So the questions I worry over: Are our children and their families safe? Are they well/healthy and properly fed? Is their housing providing an environment for their best chance in school and in life (social determinants of health)? Is every young child’s time during the day spent with a caring adult who can help them develop into their best selves and protect them against the stresses they will undoubtedly encounter (ACES). Is quality, affordable childcare accessible to every family? Are our schools providing a quality education for every child and is the City providing the environment and opportunities that enhance their lives (safety, parks, afterschool centers and programming, etc)? Are we doing enough? Can/Should we do more? Our community-driven learnings from NLC and our work locally with Cradle to Career (C2C) helps us focus our shared strategies in the areas of our City we know are experiencing the most impact of these challenges.
NLC: How as a municipal leader are you keeping the early childhood community, young children and their families at the center of local governance?
KN: Being vocal about city offerings, such as a Parks Referendum and other projects, that provide opportunities throughout the entire city for our children and families. I speak often about creating “Cosmopolitan Canopies” (to steal a phrase from Elisha Anderson) throughout our city where every single person feels welcomed! ) Utilizing 8 to 80 thinking and Universal Design when we develop or re-develop parts of our community – like our recent downtown redevelopment areas. I’ve joined the City Council supporting sliding scale or inexpensive offerings across the city, particularly during the pandemic. Advocating for more access for all income levels to taxpayer funded buildings, parks and other facilities (Rochester Recreation Center open hours for the public, Rochester Public School gymnasium use. I’ve also sought supports, such as the NLC CIE which focused on our early childhood/childcare crisis so that we might better understand the local barriers to care and the challenges to our employers/workforce – which are many! Specifically, assuring culturally appropriate and desired care for our large and growing immigrant community, as well as other diverse groups.
NLC: What is one thing you and your city are doing to be part of the solution to improve early childhood outcomes?
KN: The NLC CIE funds have allowed us to do the research and community Co-Design work necessary to better understand the choices being made by our residents for FFN care especially for our youngest babies. The desire for culturally specific and values based care influences our immigrant families decisions. I want to assure that both affordable quality care and fairly compensated providers is a reality in our community. Partnering with other organizations is key, as is listening to the voices of those most affected by the dynamics mentioned is vital. The city plays a key role in transportation and housing and we can look internally to support our own organization of 1000 employees through more of a family-centered approach to support the implementation of the recommended strategies. Our cities commitment to using the Co-Design model is key and I hope we can continue to train and support the use of this method of authentic community engagement which brings marginalized folks and those that don’t typically have a voice, to the table.