Normal was Never Enough

When will things finally be normal again? It’s a question just about everyone is asking, and understandably so. At a deeper level, though, there is a follow-up question: “Do we really want to get back to normal?”

First Steps Kent has been looking critically at what constitutes normal for Kent County’s youngest children.

Normal, though, has never been comfortable for thousands of children and families in our community. A rush back to normal is a return to longstanding and persistent inequities that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and further exposed by the nation’s increased focus on racial justice.

In our community, it’s normal that one-third of all families – and nearly two-thirds of all Black families – struggle to pay for basic needs. It’s normal that one in 46 children is homeless, including one in seven Black children. It’s normal that we don’t have enough high-quality child care for all families that need it, and what is available is too expensive for many families to afford. It’s normal that women of color have more complications in pregnancy and childbirth than all women in the community.

“The underlying structural issues such as disproportionate poverty, unemployment, education, and lack of health insurance are responsible for the poor environment and health outcomes for Black and Latinx people in our communities” explained Salvador Lopez, KConnect President. “These issues have been normalized for decades and there needs to be a shift in the distribution of resources and opportunities if we hope to achieve equitable outcomes for all children and families”

“Brain research tells us young children need to feel safe and loved; be in a nurturing environment; and have opportunities to learn, play, and develop their natural skills,” said Annemarie Valdez, CEO of First Steps Kent. “All of that is more difficult if families face economic insecurity, homelessness, or lack of access to quality child care or health care.”

“Normal Was Never Enough” is an awareness campaign that looks at the community we have compared to the community we want and what we need to do differently to close the gap between the two. In Kent County, stakeholders in our Early Childhood System have envisioned a community in which:

  • Babies are born healthy;
  • Young children are healthy, thriving, and developmentally on track; and
  • Children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.

Household economic security, good health, and school readiness are all important factors in a child’s long-term success, but data show young Black and Brown children face significant disadvantages compared to all children countywide.

Over the next several months, First Steps Kent, KConnect, and our community partners will share stories that provide a better understanding of the underlying causes of disparities, local strategies that are effectively attacking racial inequities, and policies that could create lasting and meaningful change.

“Kent County recognizes investing in our youngest children is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” Valdez said. “We have made great progress in developing a coordinated system of early childhood resources and programs. Collectively, we need to continue our work to address the conditions that lead to disparate outcomes and push for policies that strengthen and empower families and allow all children to thrive.”

Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count Project Director with the Michigan League for Public Policy and a member of the First Steps Kent Board of Commissioners, says that is the legacy of policies – many, especially historically, are intentionally racist and some unintentionally so – therefore created barriers for people of color.

“If you look at our nation’s history, you would expect to see disparities," said Perdue. "Our kids are not starting from the same place. A level playing field does not exist. That is rooted in the reality that all families don’t have access to the same opportunities, the same resources, and the same strong institutions.”

“Normal Was Never Enough” is intended to provide a better understanding of the underlying causes behind the disparities, local strategies that are effectively attacking racial injustice, and policies that could create lasting and meaningful change.

Together we can build a community where children are happy, healthy, and living their best childhoods. Learn how at

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