Lindsay Dunckel: Governor Newsom’s budget reflects science of early childhood | TheUnion.com

Lindsay Dunckel: Governor Newsom’s budget reflects science of early childhood

Lindsay Dunckel
Other Voices

Our children are our future: and the very architecture of their brains is being built each day of their young lives. Ninety percent of lifetime brain development takes place by a child's sixth birthday — so early investments pay off.

Gov. Newsom has embraced the science of early childhood development in his proposed budget, which includes $2.4 billion in early childhood investments, including significant funding for health care, home visiting programs, early developmental screening, high-quality early learning and paid family leave.

California has the highest child poverty rate in the nation. You read that right. The great state of California, sixth largest economy in the world, home of Silicon Valley and 144 billionaires, has a larger percentage of children living below the federal poverty level than any other state, more than 1 in 5 children (23 percent). And though children in Nevada County fare better, with about 15 percent living below the federal poverty level, a decade ago that number was 9 percent. For context, the federal poverty level for a family of four was $25,100 in 2018 which is about one-third of the self-sufficiency standard for a family of four in Nevada County. Additionally, about 1 in 4 Nevada County children live in food-insecure households, where they cannot count on having enough to eat. Poverty and food insecurity take a toll on child development and compromise our future.

Nevada County is home to about 4,500 children birth through age five and each one of them is a local treasure! Birth rates are declining; here in Nevada County, we have the oldest average citizens of any of the 58 counties in California. Here, only about 23 percent of households have children, compared with 37 percent of households in California overall. Today's children are tomorrow's workforce, volunteers, civic leaders, home buyers. With Gov. Newsom's proposed investment, we can begin to make sure that each one of them is equipped to contribute to making Nevada County a wonderful place to live in the future.

California has the highest child poverty rate in the nation. You read that right.

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We now know that babies' and toddlers' brains are creating a million new neural connections a second, forming the basic architecture of the brain; early experiences impact the foundation of that architecture, determining whether it is a sturdy or fragile base upon which all later learning, behavior and health will be built. Later in toddlerhood and preschool years, a process called pruning refines those connections, strengthening the ones used most often to create more efficient pathways. All of this — the formation of the connections and the pruning for efficiency — is highly dependent on a child's experiences, and particularly on their interactions with adult caregivers.

And we know that it is far more effective to insure that a child is well-supported by caring adults in the early years, positively influencing developing brain architecture, than it is to try to rewire adult brain circuitry that has become more specialized. Investing public dollars in early childhood makes good financial and public policy sense. Studies show a return of six to nine dollars for every dollar invested in the first five years.

All that is to say that what happens in the first few years has lifelong implications. We know that children do not grow up in isolation, but in families — and supporting families in being strong, resilient, and resourceful is the best way we know to support young children in becoming strong, resilient adults — your future neighbors, doctors, firefighters and politicians. All parents want the best start for their children; over the last 20 years, First 5 has been demonstrating that helping parents achieve that means a brighter future for all of us. And so we are thrilled to see a proposed budget that embraces the idea of investing up front in our future. Thanks, Gov. Newsom!

Lindsay Dunckel, PhD, is the executive director of First 5 Nevada County.

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