Opinion: Power of parents as true partners
By Anne Mosle
It’s an election year and we’ll hear a lot about “doing well with our families”.
One of the best ways to benefit families long beyond Election Day is to honor their lived experience by valuing their expertise. This message was at the heart of our Parent Power panel at the 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival. Community leaders across the country are recognizing this powerful truth: We can all benefit from engaging parents as partners in designing programs to keep children and families on the path to prosperity.
Parental involvement in decision-making is essential to having policies and programs that support the strengths and needs of families.
Over the past 10 years, Ascend at the Aspen Institute has worked with leaders from all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico – to bring the idea of centering parent voices and lived expertise to exception to the rule.
The next step is for policymakers who want to help children and families embrace these three fundamental ideas:
Honor parental expertise
Ascend creates a public platform for parent leaders like Tameka Henry, Rynn Sango and Amber Angel to share their stories and ideas and show their power. Those in the audience who listened to them had a moment of enlightenment about the power of the voice of parents. Organizations started inviting parents to speak – and now those parents are recognized as the leaders they are – providing an important voice and perspective and realizing their leadership potential that just needed the right platform to be seen and valued.
Amber Angel embodies this concept put into action. She first got involved with Ascend when she was a single mother of two and was studying at the Los Angeles Valley College Family Resource Center, where she later worked. His first opportunity to speak in public was at the first federal conference on two-generation (2Gen) approaches in May 2016, which Ascend hosted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the White House, and seven Cabinet agencies. She is now a nationally recognized parent-student leader, innovator and adjunct teacher. Recently, she became a program officer at the ECMC Foundation, leading a portfolio focused on post-secondary success for single mother learners.
Parent involvement is essential – not an afterthought
Aisha Nyandoro, Executive Director of Springboard to Opportunities and 2018 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow, reached out to parents for insights into their experiences and applied their expertise to transform policy and practice. She launched the revolutionary Magnolia Mother’s Trust guaranteed income program. “Our families told us – a myriad of stories. But every story we heard could be dealt with with money. I put together a round table of moms. me just dreaming about what it could potentially be.”
With parents as partners, we achieve better results and stronger leaders
At Magnolia Mother’s Trust, designing the program with single mothers, not for them, has generated immediate results that will pay off for generations. For Cajania Brown, a mother and Magnolia Mother’s Trust beneficiary, the money helped her pay off debt, boost her credit rating and move into a bigger apartment to accommodate her growing family. Her economic progress will make life more stable for her children, increasing their academic success.
Parents with lived experience become even stronger leaders. They take this deep expertise with them, and it shows in their work. Daria Willis, President of Howard Community College and 2021 Ascend Fellow, epitomizes this. She grew up in a single parent family and was a single mother herself while she worked to finish her college education. She has not forgotten the difficulty of learning as a parent. As a community college leader, she recognized and served previously marginalized students, such as those who juggle caregiving and university courses.
By modernizing higher education through practices such as adjusting class times to accommodate a parent’s life, Dr. Willis was able to ensure that student-parents were seen and able to succeed. on the campus.
We know what parents want, need and deserve. Investing in and supporting their health and economic well-being provides tangible benefits to two generations as well as to communities and our economy. Elected leaders don’t need elections in November to do what’s right and smart. They can start by taking bold steps to improve our country’s early childhood care and learning system. They can take paid family and medical leave.
There is one essential ingredient that gives us a real chance of ending the cycle of poverty forever: parents. As Steelcase Foundation CEO and 2021 Ascend Fellow Daniel Williams said during our Parent Power panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “People don’t need us to empower them, they need us to step aside and that we let them lead.”
Anne Mosle is vice president of the Aspen Institute, executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, and co-chair of the Aspen Institute Forum on Women and Girls.