Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen is a District early learning policy leader working hard to amplify and center the voices of early educators on our community’s path toward realizing the full implementation of the District’s Birth-to-Three law. As DC Action’s Director of Early Childhood and leader of the Under 3 DC Coalition, Ruqiyyah is a thoughtful and conscientious leader. Knowledgeable beyond her years, she has created a strong track record of successful coalition-building and developing policy solutions. Her skill at connecting with and influencing policymakers to move the slow-to-churn policy needle in favor of early learning and family strengthening programs has made her a trusted community leader.
Ruqiyyah’s career began in Texas as an AmeriCorps Youth Coach. She worked primarily with Black and brown high school students to inform them about college and help them with applications. Although her students were brilliant and wonderful, she learned that the barriers to college many were facing were structural–and started long before they entered her classroom. This realization piqued her interest in children’s earliest years, enabling her to see an opportunity to build equitable, loving systems that get every child what they need to meet their full potential.
After AmeriCorps, she worked on research about the impact of child support systems on children’s relationships with their parents, supported the evaluation of Texas’ federally funded home visiting program, and spent some time at the CDC before finding her way to the District.
In thinking about why she connects to the purpose of Under 3 DC, Ruqiyyah said, “For the earliest years of my life, my family depended on public support to get by. In our community of Arab immigrants, we didn’t benefit from community knowledge about what kind of support was available and where to go to get it. Many of our families didn’t feel like they were ‘entitled’ to additional support. That’s the lens I bring to the work on Birth-to-Three. Not only do we need to build robust systems, but they need to be equitable and family-centered. The services families need have to be impossible for them to miss.”
Ruqiyyah is taking on direction of the coalition just as the budget season is beginning, and I asked her for thoughts on what steps the community should take, beyond our budget asks, to move us closer to our ultimate goal of realizing Birth-to-Three. Here’s what she said, “It’s been a rough year, but there are so many opportunities at our fingertips right now to make it more possible for every infant and toddler in the District to have positive foundational experiences in their earliest years. We can build a stronger community of families, educators, and advocates who know the importance of a child’s earliest years. The time to work together to build a better and more just DC for infants and toddlers and their families is here! I am so honored to work with our community and partners to build power and deepen Under 3 DC’s work in the next year.”
Additional thoughts from Ruqiyyah:
- Stabilize early learning programs after a year of financial and emotional distress by urgently and equitably distributing federal child care relief funds to early learning programs to help them cover the difference between higher costs and lower revenues due to COVID. Maximize all federal funding, including CCRSA and American Rescue Plan child care relief funds and FEMA PPE reimbursements to support early learning programs.
- Take advantage of ALL federal Child Care, and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) opportunities to make long-term improvements to our early learning system: Use American Rescue Plan CCDBG funds and the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) state planning process to lay the foundation for a stronger early learning system that gives more children high-quality early learning opportunities, fairly pays early educators for their essential and skilled work, pay early learning programs for the actual cost of delivering high-quality care and education, and does away with outdated and damaging payment practices.
- Meet families where they are to address the impact of COVID-19 on young children’s social and emotional development and further their healthy growth. Many Birth-to-Three for All DC programs do this, whether in the family’s home (home visiting), the pediatrician’s office (Healthy Steps), on the phone (Help Me Grow), or their early learning program (Healthy Futures). There is no one size fits all approach, and we need multiple strategies to best support the District’s diverse families.
The DC Action team knows Ruqiyyah as a proud Ward 5 resident and plant parent deeply committed to her community and our children. We think she’s brilliant, and we know others in the early learning community will enjoy working with her. In ending our chat, Ruqiyyah said, “I’m so grateful for the support this community has given me over the years, giving me the opportunities and tools to play a role in building a better DC for young children and their families.”