Case Study: Centering Families of Color in Disability Policy Agendas

Explore how a Rhode Island coalition of advocacy organizations designed an effective, family-centered approach to policy – and secured the state’s first EI Medicaid rate increase in 20 years.

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The Challenge:

As leaders in the RIght from the Start Campaign, a legislative and budget campaign to advance state policies for young children and their families in Rhode Island, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT (RIKC) and Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) worked together to center families of color as leaders in the coalition. They believed that integrating the priorities of families of children with disabilities and developmental delays into the coalition’s policy agenda was essential to improving access and equity for young children of color in the state’s Early Intervention (EI) and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) programs. These highly effective, busy teams sought a framework of support to move their integrated work forward.

Start Early helped us strengthen our partnership and co-develop and implement strategies to move the work forward. Our work together helped us stay on track, learn from work in other states, bring new ideas to the table, and respond to opportunities. We know that parents who have been engaged feel like they are making a difference for their own families...

Ramona Santos Torres, Co-founder & Executive Director, Parents Leading for Education Equity & Leanne Barrett, Senior Policy Analyst, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT
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The Results:

Start Early Consulting worked closely with coalition leadership to establish and facilitate regular early childhood IDEA meetings that authentically include families of color – aligning member expectations, preparing participants for equitable engagement, and balancing power dynamics with neutral facilitation. Start Early then assisted the team’s translation of family needs into policy priorities.

This supported partnership launch set the RIKC and PLEE team up for several important outcomes:

  1. Funding: RIght from the Start successfully secured a 45% Medicaid rate increase for EI in Rhode Island after 20 years of frozen rates. This increase also triggered equivalent rate increases from commercial health insurance providers to improve children’s access to Early Intervention statewide.
  2. An Effective, Family-Centered Approach to Policy: RIght from the Start continues to center families in its coalition meetings and development of policy priorities. Its current EI/ECSE advocacy agenda reflects family priorities such as a bilingual workforce, multi-lingual supports for families, improved access to child care for children with disabilities and delays and more flexible strategies to deliver early childhood IDEA services in community-based settings that respond to the needs of families. A new early childhood IDEA task force for system leaders, families, and advocates is also a priority.