First Five: Early childhood care is key to lifelong success

IN THE PLAZA VIEW ROOM Wendy Rowan addresses the Rotary Club of Arcata Sunrise. Arcata Sunrise Rotary photo

Michael Pazeian
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – One recent Friday morning, Wendy Rowan of First Five Humboldt made a presentation to the Arcata Sunrise Rotary. Her organization’s key message for us is, “For those with an interest in nurturing the next generation, investing in early childhood is the most strategic contribution that can be made.”

 First 5 Humboldt works on behalf of all children prenatal through age 5 and their families in Humboldt County. Last year First 5 invested over $1.2 million in services and systems improvement for over 6,000 children, their parents and grandparents and 400 childcare providers throughout the county

 “Early childhood programs pay dividends for life. We see savings as early as kindergarten, reduced burdens on the schools. We see savings in the teenage years. We see a direct link to higher adult productivity and self-sufficiency.”

Wendy says, “Nobel Laureate and economics professor James Heckman has spent decades researching and quantifying the benefits of early childhood programs and supports. We are talking about benefits for the individual, such as improved lifetime earnings and better adult health, and benefits for society, such as youth who are better prepared for careers and reduced costs to society for things like criminal justice.”

 A group of retirees which includes one former county supervisor, three early childhood educators, one social worker, one public health nurse, and Wendy have been meeting for about a year now planning how to provide community education about the importance of investing in early childhood. 

They call their group “First 5 Futures” and they been focused on how to get all of Humboldt engaged in growing young brains, and how to sustain the essential work of First 5 Humboldt. 

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They are starting their efforts by speaking with service clubs, and are inviting each of us and local organizations, who can become champions for young children in the community.

The science has shown how each of us become who we are – 90 percent of crucial brain development happens in the first 5 years of life. It happens prenatally, it happens in infancy, toddlerhood, and at preschool age.

Economists have quantified investment in prenatal and early childhood programs and these yield clear returns. Communities and individuals make investments in early childhood — parents make decisions every day about resources of time, interpersonal connections and education for their children. Our policymakers make decisions allocating resources for families with young children.

Time and money spent enhancing the child’s future health, cognitive ability, and productive social behavior are real investments in our community’s future. A nurturing family life, available healthcare, quality childcare, and education opportunities foster healthy brain development and the future success of young children who will eventually contribute to the health of our communities.

First 5 Humboldt focused on developing programs that respond to local needs. They asked parents of young children, “What would be helpful in raising your children?” Outreach to parents and what we learned.) Local professionals working with young children were also consulted. The development of playgroups in the county is an example of how the Commission provided a program that was responsive to what parents of young children said they needed. Presently, there are 20 playgroups throughout the county. They are hugely popular. They consistently show good results.





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