Skip to Content

Amplifying Community Voices for Healthy ECE in Pennsylvania

Discover how The Food Trust has formed and empowered a community of advocates to promote change in early care and education policy.


The Food Trust is an organization that knows what community means. For 27 years, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit has worked alongside community leaders and residents across Pennsylvania to increase access to healthy, fresh foods through policy change, research and community-based programs. As a longstanding partner in with the Voices for Healthy Kids initiative, The Food Trust has pushed for policy campaigns to take an equity-focused, community-driven approach.

When leaders at The Food Trust envisioned an early care and education (ECE) policy campaign, they knew they couldn’t do it alone. From the very beginning, they brought on two critical partners to help them connect with the communities most affected by ECE policy: families with young children and ECE providers. The Black Child Development Institute of Philadelphia (BDCI) has a long track record of partnering with families to promote positive early life experiences through policies and practices that are “culturally-relevant, culturally responsive, trauma sensitive and evidence-based.” First Up works with ECE centers and family child care providers in the Delaware Valley to promote high-quality ECE through training, support and advocacy. Together, the three organizations launched a campaign to strengthen nutrition, active play and screen time standards in Keystone STARS, Pennsylvania’s ECE quality rating and improvement system.

Community voice isn’t an afterthought in this campaign—it’s the central focus. While campaign leaders have joined statewide coalitions and met with decision makers in Harrisburg, the most important work they’ve done so far has been in churches, classrooms of partner organizations and meeting rooms of community-based organizations.  At these trainings, BCDI, First Up and The Food Trust are clearing the way for the experts—families and ECE providers—to lead this campaign.

Between March and June 2019, BCDI and First Up brought families and ECE providers together for six trainings that:

  1. Introduced parents and providers to the campaign goals;
  2. Shared information about the benefits of physical activity, nutrition and limited screen time for young children;
  3. Created a supportive and safe environment for providers and parents to learn and talk about how these issues affect families; and
  4. Built their skill and confidence as community advocates.

Moreover, the family and provider trainings created a welcoming space for peer-to-peer discussion.

As The Food Trust’s Jordan Muse puts it, “Parents rarely have the opportunity to [discuss] health practices with their peers. When they are able to do so in a judgment-free space, they can be honest about their challenges and also be receptive to learning best practices and new concepts as they support each other in their roles. That energy can be powerfully directed and organized to focus on specific issues.”

After wrapping up their final training in June, The Food Trust and their partners will continue to call upon families and providers as champions for policy change. In meetings with state leaders and other forums where they share their stories, the new advocates can practice the skills they’ve learned and continue to build their confidence as change-makers. And even more importantly, the campaign will call on advocates to spread the word to friends, colleagues and neighbors.

Whether Pennsylvania’s ECE standards change this year or not, the state’s ECE community has already won a huge victory. It now has a community of advocates who have found their voices and recognized their power to demand change. And those voices won’t go quiet until every child has what they need to grow up happy, healthy and ready to change the world.