Update as of February 2017: Since this post was published, the Department of Education has removed the website for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). LJ is keeping the original post as is, in case IDEA is reinstated.
A rainy day didn’t prevent attendees from joining a session on Improving Federal and State Policy to Support Family Engagement in Libraries on Saturday, January 21, where they learned how to cultivate relationships with local and state government agencies.
“We need to develop and sustain strategic relationships to increase our visibility, our credibility, and our capacity,” says Larra Clark, Deputy Director for ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy. “By credibility, I mean that sometimes people don’t believe that we can do what we do.”
Specifically, Clark encourages public libraries to inform ALA of their successes. In turn, ALA will share these stories with federal agencies and Congress. There are partisan divides, Clark admits, but literacy and early learning have some bipartisan agreement—and public libraries are at the forefront of both.
At the federal level, Clark advocates via briefing papers targeting a federal policy audience (see left and below). “Every change in a presidential administration is an uncertain time, and this may be even more true in the coming years.” Public libraries should make sure they are not an afterthought at the local or state level.
The conversation also included government agencies and legislation that public librarians should be aware of, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Passed in 1975, the Act contains four sections, although Part B and Part C are most commonly cited. Margaret Caspe Klein, Senior Research Analyst with the Harvard Family Research Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke about Part B, which provides service to individuals ages three through 21. Scott Allen, Deputy Director for the Public Library Association, gave an overview of Part C, which caters to newborns up until age three.
As part of IDEA, each state has a coordinator and a local office tasked with serving infants and toddlers with development disabilities. When Allen asked how many in the audience knew their Plan C contact, only a few people raised their hands. The challenge for children, parents, and healthcare providers is that each state administers IDEA differently, and government offices sometimes have silos and fragmentation. Another difficulty is that each state has different criteria for enrolling children in IDEA’s services. (For example, some states require a child to be more than 50 percent delayed.)
Maintaining contacts with the Department of Education (DOE) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at the state level can help libraries connect with their IDEA contact, and work with both agencies to promote literacy and learning.
“Be at the table with health care providers and community advocates,” says Allen. “If they don’t know what libraries do, they probably won’t be able to incorporate libraries into their recommendations.”
Allen also recommends being aware of Title I, a section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) that provides funding to school districts with disadvantaged students. He advises connecting with your local school district to help develop policy that promotes library programs and services.
“Affecting policy at the state and community level isn’t always about talking to elected leaders,” says Allen. “It can be as simple as creating a new form or process that connects you to a community service provider and makes things work better … We can also be educating other professionals about what the library does. You can make that education part of your professional development.”
Johanna Pringle, Title V Senior Manager for Georgia’s Department of Public Health, spoke about the challenges of retaining family engagement. Launched in 1935, Title V was created by the Social Security Administration to improve the health and well-being of women (particularly mothers) and children. Now it is under the oversight of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
Pringle suggests reaching out to Title V leaders in your state, asking, “What can you do when you go home to affect policy in your state?” Find your local Department of Education. Find your regional Department of Health and Human Services. And be sure to tell ALA about your successes.