At Para Los Niños, a holistic approach to family wellness has been part of our mission for over 40 years. We have long advocated for more funding for mental health services, more resources for teachers across schools, and more resources for our after-school programs. PLN’s role in supporting families goes beyond ensuring learning is happening, to addressing stressors that impact the classroom environment. The range of resources provided during the peak of the pandemic brought relief to many families across Los Angeles County – but can we imagine if these resources were ongoing? We would be working towards closing long-standing inequities, for multiple generations.
For over 15 years, Carla Lopez-Valdes has been a social justice advocate in the nonprofit sector, championing immigrant rights, healthcare access, economic security, and education equity. She currently serves as the Associate Director of Government and Community Relations for PLN.
“I believe that it is a pivotal time to be in policy and advocacy – to help inform the government and other entities on how best to fund necessary services and resources. So we can begin to close gaps that have resulted from ongoing inequities and were exacerbated by the pandemic. I hope to inform policy that is grounded in practice and families we serve.”
The impact of the pandemic remains visible across the communities PLN serves. Pandemic-related trauma and disruption—including job loss, learning stagnation, food insecurity, social isolation, and COVID-19 infection and death—among BIPOC communities have contributed to poor mental health and presented challenges managing grief and loss for students, families, and staff members.
Through her work as Director of Family and Community Engagement at the Center for Powerful Public Schools, and Associate Director at Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), Lopez-Valdes has long participated in effective, culturally appropriate programs for low-income children, youth, and families. In her continued efforts to make systemic changes that ensure investments are long-term, she views PLN’s position as valuable to advocate for policies that are responsive to the needs of our families.
“PLN is unique in the Los Angeles nonprofit space – where it provides direct services and oversees schools. This positions PLN to bring a different lens to policy and advocacy where it can inform from a space of practice to inform a larger systemic conversation… Additionally, our work is grounded in a holistic approach that is available to all. We have the opportunity to engage families in our early education centers through middle school, and most recently in our youth source centers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on the need for a coordinated and integrated system that continues to be responsive to the communities we serve. To ensure funding, resources, and services are long-term, PLN needed to create a space for policy and advocacy on our team. Through this lens, PLN is building a plan that identifies partnerships across various spaces, with the aim for collaboration to lead the community to collective wins. Additionally, PLN recognizes that strong partnerships with students, families, and staff are critical to understanding what is working and what needs to improve fully. Building those relationships will be central to our work moving forward.
The plan is to develop a policy and advocacy agenda that is informed and guided by youth, families, and staff that is timely and responsive. To do this well, a series of listening sessions will be developed that will inform a framework that will not only be used to inform the policy and advocacy agenda but also to understand where the groups see themselves in advocacy efforts. Similarly, the agenda will support the process of joining additional coalitions and identify our voice in various causes.
PLN is working to identify where our knowledge and practice can inform policy solutions. As a result of our expertise in the early education and childcare space, we were invited to join the Dual Language Learners Masterplan Coalition. The goal of the coalition is to uplift promising practices and research that informs a roadmap for building a comprehensive and equitable early learning and care system. Lopez-Valdes will helm PLN’s ongoing efforts.
“My ultimate goal is to have youth and parents participate in different discussions at the state, regional, or local levels, where they are informing and influencing decision-makers on solutions grounded in their lived experiences.”