Within the first six months of the year, First 5 LA has welcomed more than half a dozen new Commissioners and alternates to its Board. In this and upcoming issues of the Early Childhood Matters newsletter, we present a brief Q &A session with these new members about the significance of joining the Board of First 5 LA, their priorities for the agency and their greatest concerns for young children in Los Angeles County.
What does the opportunity to become a First 5 LA Commissioner mean to you?
Yvette Martinez: I’m filled with pride to be on the Commission. I sat at my first board meeting recently and couldn’t believe where I was sitting. I am a single mom who lived with getting my children in high quality preschool and have seen the results myself. I consider myself a poster child for empowering parents with knowledge about ECE issues.
Dr. Sherin: It’s an honor to have a role in driving policy regarding prevention initiatives.
Dr. Ferrer: I am grateful for the opportunity to work with phenomenal leaders in L.A. County who are dedicated to ensuring optimal outcomes for all children 0 to 5. I look forward to advancing my understanding around how to best support families and communities and how to align opportunities and resources that support thriving children. Public health is really about prevention and examining the root causes of why people are sick. When we look at the factors that influence health, we quickly can see the need to prioritize child well-being.
What are your greatest areas of concern among children 0-5 and their parents in Los Angeles County? Why?
Yvette Martinez: I know there has been a lot of concern about federal funding for early learners. Also, the damaging factors in child development when it comes to trauma and how persistent poverty, violence, homelessness and substance abuse plays into a child’s success. And the fear of deportation and how that plays out in our communities. I’m the daughter of an immigrant. We don’t know how that fear is going to affect our early learners.
Dr. Sherin: Trauma of every sort due to physical/emotional abuse, deprivation, poverty and/or inadequate supervision.
Dr. Ferrer: My four areas of greatest concern are:
1) The gap in birth outcomes. Black, Native American, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander babies are 2-3 times more likely to die in their first year of life when compared to White babies in L.A. County. This is heartbreaking and there can be no greater priority than ensuring that at birth, every baby in L.A. County has an equal chance to live.
2) Exposure to high rates of poverty. It is very hard for limited income families in L.A. County to secure what they need for their children. Without a guaranteed living wage, meaningful work, affordable housing and access to healthy, affordable food, parents struggle to maintain an environment where their children thrive.
3) The educational system. From the earliest days when young children enter child care and school, we need to ensure that children are receiving high quality care from skilled caregivers and teachers who are appropriately valued, trained and compensated for their critically important work.
4) The impact of racism and trauma. I think the impact of racism (which continues to have a tremendous impact on our institutions, systems, policies and practices) on children and families is devastating and traumatic. As we work to dismantle a belief in a hierarchy of value based on skin color, we need to acknowledge the impact of racism on young children and their families; this often means creating trauma-sensitive environments for our youngest children.
What are your priorities and aspirations this year for First 5 LA?
Yvette Martinez: My priority is to quickly get up to speed on all the programs that First 5 LA offers. With my experience with the federal government and policy, I can be a practical voice in that regard. Sometimes we have lofty policy goals. But in reality, especially in the new administration, we are not sure how they will play out. I also look for the opportunity to cultivate leaders in our community that may not have been at the table. Another one of my priorities is to go out in the community and see high quality ECE centers and shine a light on the great programs that are in our region where our Commission can make an impact, like Best Start. I love the Best Start model which is empowering people to be leaders in their communities and be advocates.
Dr. Sherin: To connect policy with the effects of trauma on the developing brain of children.
Dr. Ferrer: I hope to be a vibrant member on a very active and bold Commission that moves forward the most determined agenda for very young children and their families. At the end of the day, we need to work together and ensure that the resources we have and those we leverage with our partners will improve outcomes.