First 5: Helping children succeed

Children on bikes during a July 4 parade in Pacific Palisades. (Photo: Joseph Sohm)

In the past 20 years, a lot has happened in California to give young children a better start in life.  Since voters made their voices heard and passed Proposition 10, the tobacco tax that created First 5 commissions in every county, great things have happened.

First 5s have funded preschool opportunities; helped create a dental program for young children that become a model for the state; and they have supported scores of state and federal bills to improve equity and well-being for children, from prenatal care through age five.

Kids who receive high-quality care and early learning do better in school, are more likely to attend college, and are better prepared for the workforce.

More recently, First 5s have pushed for policy in Sacramento, yielding new statewide investments in early childhood. And with its allies, First 5s have amplified the power of county partnerships, helping to craft and advance child abuse prevention plans by expanding home visiting for thousands of new mothers. It has also built broad support for early childhood by promoting collaboration across sectors, from business to education to public health.

I’m proud of the way First 5 has evolved to meet the needs of our young kids and families throughout the state. But there is more work to be done. Despite having the fifth largest economy in the world, California has the highest child poverty rate in the country. One in seven of our kids is reported for abuse or neglect before age five. And three out of four aren’t properly screened for developmental delays.

Science has shown us that how a child’s brain develops in the early years has a profound effect on their path in life.  Kids who receive high-quality care and early learning do better in school, are more likely to attend college, and are better prepared for the workforce. Yet almost 90% of our babies and toddlers don’t even have access to a licensed early learning opportunity.

Support the young children in your life by encouraging their development: talk to them, read to them, sing to them.

In the past 20 years, First 5 has learned and grown in ways that many of its architects — including me — never imagined.  And I’m confident First 5 will continue to blaze a path of innovation for the next 20 years. But it can’t be done alone. No one organization can single-handedly ensure our kids are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life. The responsibility belongs to all of us.

Even if you don’t have kids, remember kids grow up. And the cost of not caring for them now will result in higher taxes for prisons, police protection, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy. If you want a safer, more secure society, kids are the best investment you can make.

Today’s toddlers are tomorrow’s nurses, farmers, teachers, computer scientists, and artists. They are our future workforce, and a healthy start will insure that California will continue to fuel innovation and compete in a global economy.

I’m calling on mayors, city councils, county supervisors and our new governor to make the critical investments in quality preschool, quality childcare, and access to healthcare.

And for citizens, here’s how you can help. Support the young children in your life by encouraging their development: talk to them, read to them, sing to them. Volunteer to read to little kids at the library or a preschool.

If you work, encourage your employer to adopt family-friendly policies, like paid family leave and flexible work schedules. Pay attention to local, state, and federal legislation that could affect services for children, and be an advocate.

If our children succeed, we all succeed.

Editor’s Note: Rob Reiner chaired the successful campaign to approve Proposition 10 of 1998, which created the First 5 network in California, dedicated to advocating for children prenatal to age 5. He served as the first chairman of First 5 California from 1999 to 2006.


  • David Dooley

    Mr. Reiner,

    Consider supporting Advancing Parenting. We are a small Camarillo based nonprofit pioneering an innovative and powerful kind of child abuse prevention/parenting education that reaches everyone, everywhere, all the time. One of our activities is supplying bumper stickers with parenting tips on them! Parenting tips on vehicles will be read 1000s of times by 1000s of people of all ages for years to come! The tips are parenting behaviors and practices generally recognized as supporting the healthy development of children. They address character, mental health, and intellect, and are worded as descriptive parenting norms. Individuals, doctors’ offices, schools, businesses, organizations, and agencies can place them on their vehicles. They can also place sets of the fifty-one bumper stickers on counters and tables so employees, customers, patients, and clients can help themselves. Instead of a few human parenting educators in a community teaching poorly attended classes, every vehicle becomes a parenting educator doing its job day in and day out 365 days a year! We call this proactive, participatory, public, parenting education and we hope it will be a game changer for the primary prevention of aces (adverse childhood experiences). Visit advancingparenting.org to see examples and the list of the fifty-one parenting tips bumper stickers. Reach us at 661-477-1513 or ddooley@advancingparenting.org for more information or if you would like to order one sticker or multiple sets of the fifty-one bumper stickers.

    Parenting tips bumper stickers aren’t our only activity. Visit our website to read about our big plans for the future.

    Here’s why we need help. We have over $30,000 in requests for our stickers. They come from all across the U.S. and Canada and they are collecting dust on my desk because we haven’t the funds to print and ship them!! Proactive, participatory, passive, public parenting education could be such a powerful tool for good. Won’t you help?

Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: