ACS Wins Silver!

Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC takes Silver in coveted Stevie® Awards International Business Award for Company of the Year 

Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC (ACS) was selected out of more than 3,700 nominations to receive a Silver award for Company of the Year in the Small Business or Professional Services category.

ACS, an Ohio-based minority and women-owned firm that has been in business for almost 20 years, received the award for its work in helping non-profit organizations, government agencies, philanthropic organizations and for-profit companies advocate for policy change and communicate effectively with audiences that have the power to effect change. ACS previously won the Bronze Company of the Year Stevie® Women in Business Award in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

One judge commented, “Highly impressive submission clearly and concisely articulating the inspiration and impact of this regional powerhouse gaining national recognition.”

The International Business Awards are the world’s premier business awards program. All individuals and organizations worldwide – public and private, for-profit and non-profit, large and small – are eligible to submit nominations. The 2021 IBAs received entries from organizations in 63 nations and territories.

ACS is one of four US small businesses honored with the award; other winners are located in Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Cyprus and Canada. It is an honor for ACS to be acknowledged among such a large field of impressive companies from around the world. The winners were announced by the Stevie® Awards on Monday, August 16 as part of the 18th annual International Business Awards®.

Driving Implementation of State Paid Leave Programs: The Role of Philanthropy in Ensuring Access to Paid Family and Medical Leave

In the report Driving Implementation of State Paid Leave Programs: The Role of Philanthropy in Ensuring Access to Paid Family and Medical Leave, ACS client, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) examines the role that philanthropy can play in expanding access to paid leave. This report was published in June of 2021, during a time when discussion of paid family leave is being framed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The United States does not have a federal paid family and medical leave policy, despite its importance in advancing economic, gender, and racial equity. Employers are required to provide unpaid leave to some qualifying employees, but many workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave. Some states have passed their own policies providing paid family and medical leave, but many barriers still exist―even in states with these policies.

The RWJF report distinguishes philanthropy’s role into four main categories:

  • State administration
  • Outreach and communications
  • Culture change
  • Policy development

In terms of state administration, RWJF suggests that philanthropy intervenes to improve state systems that allow workers to claim benefits. Often, these systems are difficult to navigate and therefore limit access to paid leave in states where it is available. Philanthropists can fund advocates to help states address any issues workers elevate with enrolling or claiming benefits. Advocates can engage in user testing, provide feedback to states, and help states implement best practices in accessibility and human-centered design.

Another barrier to accessing paid leave is misinformation or lack of information. RWJF recommends that philanthropy empower messengers that employers trust to communicate important information about paid leave laws, and support efforts to align the communication with the state’s messaging. Funders can also invest in advocates that enact tailored, culturally and linguistically relevant information campaigns—specifically aiming to reach workers of color and low-income workers.

Workers with access to paid leave will also avoid taking advantage of it due to workplace cultures. Low-wage workers especially fear that taking leave will reflect poorly on their performance and cost them opportunities for advancement. Management may perpetuate this culture by telling employees how challenging it would be for the employee to take leave, complaining to an employee about another employee taking leave, or outright telling employees to not take leave. In response, funders should consider supporting corporate accountability campaigns, finance the development of training content for employers and employees specifically designed to shift workplace culture around taking paid leave, and support advocates to change the narrative of taking paid leave and caregiving more broadly.

Lastly, philanthropy can support ongoing advocacy efforts related to a paid leave policy’s provisions can help ensure states pass a paid leave law that is more responsive to workers’ needs. Philanthropic support can also help create regulations that enhance rather than diminish the effectiveness of a paid leave policy.

Using Evidence to Mitigate the Effects of the Covid-19 Crisis on Young Children and Early Care and Education Programs

In June of 2021, sixteen academics from top Universities and policy research organizations authored the report, Historic Crisis, Historic Opportunity: Using Evidence to Mitigate the Effects of the Covid-19 Crisis on Young Children and Early Care and Education Programs. This report compiled the findings of 76

high-quality studies, spanning 16 national studies, 45 studies from 31 states, and 15 local studies on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on young children’s educational experiences and learning outcomes.  In the short term, the report aims to help policymakers make evidence-informed choices about how to leverage new resources. Ultimately, it aims to support efforts to build a stronger early childhood education (ECE) system.

The report provides findings on young children’s learning experiences and outcomes, on early care and educational programs, on the care and education programs themselves, and then offers solutions.

Findings on the effects of the pandemic on young children’s learning experiences and outcomes:

  • Some of the necessary changes that were made to young children’s in-person learning environments to enhance safety were not conducive to learning and social skill development.
  • Remote/hybrid learning was challenging for children, families, and teachers and resulted in significantly less learning time and lower-quality instruction.
  • Young children’s learning and development suffered setbacks during the crisis.
  • Effects of the crisis have not been born equally. Children of color, DLLs, and children from families with low incomes appear to have been more negatively affected. Young children with special needs may not have been identified and may not have gotten the services they needed to thrive.

Findings on the effects of the pandemic on early care and education programs:

  • The public health emergency highlighted pre-existing inequalities across early childhood program types. Child care centers and family child care homes ( providers care for small groups of children in a residential building) experienced serious financial challenges. In contrast, public schools and Head Start programs experienced more stable funding and were not as affected.
  • Early stabilization efforts left substantial unmet needs, particularly in child care centers and in family child care homes. Pandemic recovery continues to be uneven, with tremendous need for new funding.
  • The pandemic increased the complexity and stress of early educators’ jobs across all program types, in ways that negatively impacted teachers’ mental health. Teachers reported high levels of stress and depressive symptoms, as well as concerns that these challenges would affect their ability to provide high-quality experiences for young children.
  • More challenging working conditions, financial concerns, and mental health struggles may have contributed to programs’ challenges recruiting and retaining teachers. Data from fall 2020 and spring 2021 suggest that teachers’ commitment to both their jobs and the field of ECE has decreased, and programs are struggling to hire qualified teachers.

Evidence-backed and equity-centered solutions:

  • Act on the best science of teaching and learning for young children. For example, eliminating wasted time on activities common in early learning and early elementary classrooms like calendar activities and inefficient transitions would also allow more time on the highly effective play-based instructional practices that accelerate young children’s learning.
  • Make the most of summer by offering summer learning opportunities that abide by best practices (program length, small class sizes, cultural relevance, etc.)
  • Offer tutoring as early as kindergarten.
  • Hire assistance teachers. New federal funding can support additional assistant teachers in the classroom, increasing the amount of time students spend in small groups and as well as the time teachers spend differentiating instruction to meet students where they are.
  • Place extra weight on socioemotional development and consider trauma-informed approaches.
  • Prohibit harsh discipline as children return to ECE settings. Children have had an unusually wide array of experiences during the pandemic, and their behavior may also vary widely during reentry into group settings.
  • Continue virtual options to connect with families.
  • Consider free, technology-based learning supports.
  • Ensure public investments are sufficient to pay all ECE workers a living wage and close the pay gap between K-12 educators with matching qualifications
  • Offer additional healthcare subsidies for ECE workers.
  • If vaccine boosters are necessary, prioritize ECE educators.
  • Expand publicly funded ECE options.
  • Consider public supports to stabilize child care providers in the short and long term.
  • Anticipate and stave off cuts to Head Start and public schools.
  • Invest in data systems and analytic capacity. Better data on ECE settings can only drive improved outcomes if there are analysts to synthesize data and put findings in context for policy and practice.

ACS Alum Rebecca Cohen Helps Unveil Landmark Early Childhood Study at Ford School

ACS Alum Rebecca Cohen Helps Unveil Landmark Early Childhood Study at Ford School

A major new meta-analysis of research on how the pandemic has affected early childhood education (ECE) is out this month from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. You may recognize a former Advocacy & Communication Solutions (ACS) name involved in the strategic advocacy and communication of that groundbreaking effort: Rebecca Cohen. ACS bid fond farewell to Rebecca a mere 18 months ago, as she began her new work as Senior Communications and Public Relations Specialist at the Ford School. June postings from the former ACS Senior Strategist and Vice President unveil the Ford School’s Education Policy Initiative report that synthesizes hundreds of research studies from across the country to understand how the pandemic has affected young children’s educational experiences and learning outcomes, ECE programs, and the ECE workforce. Learn more about “Historic Crisis, Historic Opportunity: Using evidence to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on young children and early care and education programs.”

How ACS Helped One Foundation Find Its Vision and Voice

Place-based foundations have a unique capacity to bring people together, address systemic inequities, and improve quality of life for residents. But to continue building that capacity in response to evolving community needs, foundations must be truly and deeply of and for the communities they serve.

When The Arras Foundation in Lancaster, South Carolina, (formally J. Marion Sims Foundation) wanted to transform its grantmaking based on community input and engagement, it partnered with ACS to hone its vision and identity. Today, Arras is a recognized force in the community and the eighth-largest philanthropic funder in the state.

ACS knew from long experience in advocacy, communication, strategy development, and capacity-building that establishing and developing a community-based vision on a solid footing of trust would be paramount for taking the Arras Foundation in the direction it wanted to go.

Over time, this deep, close work resulted in changes to the way the foundation does business externally and internally — touching everything from how Arras is staffed to the process for evaluating grant requests to how it collaborates with other organizations in the community.

Learn how Arras has redefined its place-based philanthropy in our latest case study.

The Debate About School Safety Is No Longer Relevant

The Debate About School Safety Is No Longer Relevant: The Atlantic offers a thought-provoking article about reopening schools within a pandemic and the specific, often ignored, and almost insurmountable challenge of staffing challenges that were tough before the pandemic began. The most salient take away might be the following:

The staffing shortages should, to be blunt, change the entire conversation. The issue should lead off every opinion piece on schools and every school-board meeting, be part of every vaccination discussion. Parents have to grasp how rapidly the shortages can and will disrupt their expectations of where and how their children are educated. Those who support in-person instruction—including many Republican leaders—must understand that relief dollars are a prerequisite. There is no in-person school without staff. Until we reckon with that simple, vital truth, the rest of the schooling debate is but sound and fury, signifying nothing and helping no one.”

ACS has been working on K-12 policy issues for over 20 years and in 2021  will include State budget advocacy, strategic planning, monitoring of Federal policy and media relations for clients like The Ohio 8 Coalition and the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio. The topic of staffing will no doubt remain on the radar.

School and early childhood education are both equally important

School and early childhood education are both equally important, fostering brain development and a foundation for life-long learning.  This Opinion piece in The New York Times argues that our country’s education systems should give them equal weight. Several cities around the US have helped parents of elementary school students with the lack of childcare when their school districts went remote by placing children in open-air, supervised environments. Yet, many childcare providers never shut down and were forced to figure out how to keep their doors open while keeping everyone safe. “The dichotomy we’ve set up between the two doesn’t serve anyone now, but it didn’t work under normal circumstances, either. Separating child care from the larger K-12 educational system forces many of us to live with an expensive, patchwork, private system for children up to age 5,” the columnist Bryce Covert says. Private child care should be considered as essential as public school. Several of ACS’ clients – PRE4CLE, Idaho AEYC, and the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children – work tirelessly to ensure all families have access to affordable, high-quality preschool so that children enter Kindergarten ready to learn.

Congrats! Cleveland Schools Graduate Rate Increases Nearly 30%

Congrats! Cleveland Schools Graduate Rate Increases Nearly 30%

The number of students graduating from Cleveland Metropolitan School District has increased 27.9% since the 2010-2011 school year when the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools was launched. That means CMSD’s 4-year graduation rate has reached 80.1% — among the fastest growing in the state. School District CEO Eric Gordon has called the graduation rate the truest measure of a school district’s performance and how well it is preparing students for college and career. Read more about this remarkable achievement.

ACS Wins Again!

ACS Wins Again!

Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC takes Bronze in coveted Stevie® Awards International Business Award for Company of the Year

Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC (ACS) was selected out of more than 3,800 nominations to receive bronze for Company of the Year.

ACS, an Ohio-based minority and women-owned firm that has been in business more than 15 years, received the award for its work in helping non-profit organizations, government agencies, philanthropic organizations and for-profit companies advocate for policy change and communicate effectively with audiences who have the power to effect change. ACS previously won the Bronze Company of the Year Stevie® Women in Business Award in 2018.

One judge commented, “Being able to provide end-to-end consulting, from policy to communication to implementation, ACS provides convenience of both doing business as well as competitive costs to its customers (by reducing overheads required to get various consultants on the same page about the client’s journey – something that is not necessary with a single consultant). The company’s recent growth is also remarkable. ACS has indeed found its niche! The company is poised for great success in the future.”

The International Business Awards (IBA’s) are the world’s premier business awards program. All individuals and organizations worldwide – public and private, for-profit and non-profit, large and small – are eligible to submit nominations. The 2020 IBAs received entries from organizations in 63 nations and territories.

ACS is one of three US small businesses honored with the award; other winners are located in Australia, Italy and Canada. It is an honor for ACS to be acknowledged among such a large field of impressive companies from around the world. The winners were announced by the Stevie® Awards on Thursday, September 10th as part of the 17th annual International Business Awards®.

Cradle Cincinnati and Queens Village

Queens Village

In 2011, Hamilton County, Ohio (Cincinnati), had the second-highest infant mortality rate in the United States. Throughout the 2000s, about 125 infants died per year; 71, on average, were Black. Black mothers said they didn’t feel seen, valued or heard, which they thought contributed to their infants’ outlying mortality rates. In response, Cradle Cincinnati was born. It found the greatest risk factors with extreme preterm births — which are a big contributor to the infant mortality rate — were unexpected pregnancies, stress during pregnancy and implicit bias in prenatal care. In 2018, Cradle Cincinnati launched a $25-million plan to combat infant mortality and learn how racism can lead to extreme preterm birth and infant deaths. One outcome is “sacred spaces” — meetings and events for Black women to be seen, heard and valued that came to be known as Queens Village. Hamilton County saw 14 fewer Black infant deaths in 2019—a 24% decrease in Black infant mortality compared to the previous 5 years. This new milestone comes as a community of partners are focused squarely on improving the longstanding racial disparity in birth outcomes caused by the historical injustices the Black community has faced. ACS partners with Cradle Cincinnati and other infant mortality prevention collaboratives throughout the state through its work with First Year Cleveland. Learn more in this recent news article.