(February 7, 2022, Grand Rapids, MI)–As we all long to get back to normal, one group led by First Steps Kent, KConnect and Well Design, wants to bring attention to the local data that shows “normal was never enough” for all children and families in West Michigan.

In Kent County and across the state and country, there are significant disparities in all measures of child wellbeing. Household economic security, good health and school readiness are all important factors in a child’s long-term success, but data show young Black and Brown children face significant disadvantages compared to all children countywide.

“Brain research tells us young children need to feel safe and loved; be in a nurturing environment; and have opportunities to learn, play, and develop their natural skills,” said Annemarie Valdez, president of First Steps Kent. “All of that is more difficult if families face economic insecurity, homelessness, or lack of access to quality child care or health care.”

The “Normal was Never Enough” campaign is bringing attention to the disparities, work being done in our community to eliminate them, and what policy changes are needed. The workgroup behind this campaign includes early childhood and systems-level partners.

The hope is that people will want to get informed and get involved in policy change so that “Together we can build a community where children are happy, healthy, and living their best childhoods.”

“The underlying structural issues such as disproportionate poverty, unemployment, education, and lack of health insurance are responsible for the poor environment and health outcomes for Black and Latinx people in our communities” explained Salvador Lopez, KConnect President. “These issues have been normalized for decades and there needs to be a shift in the distribution of resources and opportunities if we hope to achieve equitable outcomes for all children and families”

Focus areas covered so far include:

  • Family Wealth and Income: A fast-growing population. A strong economy. A booming housing market. The Grand Rapids area has become a highly desirable destination for many people, recognized for its economic opportunities and quality of life. However, the opportunities – and the prosperity they offer – are not evenly or equitably available. Read more here.
  • Early Care and Education: All young children need loving relationships, a nurturing environment, quality health care, and stimulating learning experiences. Evidence-based services and supports are proven to help parents be the best parents they can be and help children arrive at school healthy, developmentally on track, and ready to learn. Read more here.
  • Healthy Births: By almost every measure, Black women and babies fare worse through pregnancy and infancy than mothers and babies of other races or ethnicities. Read more here.

Over the next several months, “Normal was Never Enough” along with participating partners will share stories that provide a better understanding of the underlying causes of disparities, local strategies that are effectively attacking racial inequities, and policies that could create lasting and meaningful change.

“Kent County recognizes investing in our youngest children is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” Valdez said. “We have made great progress in developing a coordinated system of early childhood resources and programs. Collectively, we need to continue our work to address the conditions that lead to disparate outcomes and push for policies that strengthen and empower families and allow all children to thrive.”


About First Steps Kent: First Steps Kent is an independent nonprofit that works to strengthen and coordinate the system of early childhood services through research and innovation. First Steps is leading a community-wide effort to develop a system of support for children ages 0-5 (and their families) that ensures every young child in Kent County will enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life.