Opinion

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.

 


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