Ohio Kids First: Nonpartisan Advocate for Youth and Families

Ohio has a child care crisis that robs the state of $3.9 billion a year in lost earnings, revenue, and productivity, according to Ohio Kids First, a relatively new nonprofit that aims to improve conditions for children and families statewide.

But first – so to speak – Ohio Kids First wants parents to know its mission, its goals, and how it’s going about affecting change, and it welcomes people who want to help.

Ohio Kids First is the political action arm of Groundwork Ohio, which works “to ensure that every pregnant mom, baby, toddler and young child in Ohio has the resources and opportunities for a strong state,” according to Groundwork’s website.

“Ohio Kids First is a nonpartisan group for children to give them a political voice in Ohio,” said Rachel Selby, Ohio Kids First executive director. “Education and advocacy on the issues is vital, but it alone is not moving the needle fast enough. We want to be in the political arena, involved in the issues and when necessary to hold elected officials accountable when they are failing, and to support those who are putting Ohio kids first.”

She added, “We engage in issue advocacy, direct lobbying, and campaigns with the goal of fulfilling our vision of an Ohio where every young child has a strong start to life and every Ohioan has the opportunity to thrive. We focus on mission, not political party. We’re about policy, not partisanship. We will elevate those who elevate the policies that work for children. We are issue-specific.”

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Child care is at the forefront of Ohio Kids First’s efforts because “it affects everyone, the business community, families across all incomes,” Selby said. Good child care is “unaffordable and inaccessible,” she said. “It’s dragging primarily women and people of color out of the workforce. Many can’t work as much as they need to or want to because of this.”

To help solve this crisis, Ohio Kids First is determined to have the state “invest in child care and policies to support them,” she said. Other states have policies more child-care friendly. “We don’t want Ohio to fail,” she said.

For example, she said Ohio is near the bottom in the nation in the level of eligibility for state child care help. To qualify for child care assistance, an Ohio resident must have an income of 145 percent of the federal poverty level. “We want to see that up to 200 percent of the poverty level,” Selby said. “That would put us more in the middle in the nation. Some states put that level at 400 percent.”

Another possible solution would be Tri-Share – where the cost of child care is divided equally among the state, the family, and the employer, she explained.

The main point is that parents cannot solve this alone, this problem requires state and public investment to be sustainable, Selby said.

“There’s not just one thing that would fix this, but multiple things,” she said of child care. “Eligibility sits at the bottom, so we have to work on that first.”

Selby said Ohio fails to adequately invest in child care. “There were proposals in the budget as of last cycle that would’ve made a huge difference,” she said, but after going through the legislative process, “the budget killed it. Child care needs to be viewed as important as water and roads.”

Selby speaks with some authority, both professionally and personally.

“In my previous roles at Dayton Children’s Hospital and the Youth and Family Ombudsman Office of Ohio, I have learned just how urgent the issues affecting children are,” she said. “While I’ve chosen careers that have afforded me the opportunity to help kids, my most important job has been as a foster parent and now adoptive mother. When I talk about how Ohio is failing kids and families, I say that from both lived experience and community involvement.”

Selby has six adopted children, ranging in age from five years to 18 years, all who have been in the foster care system. “I understand the challenge as a single mother working fulltime,” she said.

As part of its nonpartisan mission, Ohio Kids First is surveying candidates for political offices in the upcoming general election to see where they stand on child care issues. The results will be made public, she said.

In addition, “we’re looking to get people involved all across Ohio,” she said. “We need volunteers, people who want to learn more about us. Advocacy alone can only go so far. All kids deserve to have someone fighting in this arena for them, because they cannot do it for themselves. They need us to step up on their behalf. Ohio is desperate for child champions.”

Further information and volunteer registration are available at ohiokidsfirst.org, or through X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, and Facebook.