With more than a half dozen new Commissioners and alternates joining First 5 LA’s Board since the beginning of the year, we conclude our series of brief Q&A sessions 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?
Genie Chough: Being a Commission Alternate is exciting for me on both personal and professional levels. Over the past several years, I've worked for First 5 LA, Commission Chair Sheila Kuehl, as well as the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Under the Chairwoman's leadership, the partnership between First 5 LA and the County has truly grown, and it's gratifying to help connect the dots and be a part of collaborative opportunities – particularly with colleagues from my previous jobs!
Dr. Manalo: I feel like I have come full circle. In the early 1990s, I worked as a children’s social worker for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. My biggest frustration in my work was my inability to address poverty, the most important factor that significantly affected these families. I went on to earn a Ph.D. in Social Work from USC, where I studied child welfare with the late Bill Meezan and Jacquelyn McCroskey, and my dissertation studied Federal Family Support Programs in Los Angeles County. My journey then led me to seek election to the Artesia City Council, so that I could contribute to changing the environmental and community conditions in my city, so that the quality of life could improve for all. Now, I come to the First 5 LA Commission with my research experience, my social work experience and my political experience, and I am excited to contribute to furthering the mission of First 5 LA.
What are your greatest areas of concern among children prenatal to 5 and their parents in Los Angeles County? Why?
Genie Chough: It's not easy being a mom or dad in 2017. When you layer the challenges of poverty on top of the demands of parenting a young child, families face a lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, mental health or domestic violence issues. It's on us — First 5 LA and our partners — to make sure parents have the support and resources they need to be the best parents they can be.
Dr. Manalo: My greatest concern is the lack of civic engagement of parents on behalf of their children. I will be the first to say that it takes time, patience and interest to be civically engaged, and that many parents with young children do not have much time, patience nor interest to attend a city council meeting; however, that does not make civic engagement any less important. Local governments control resources and conditions that every family needs to thrive: parks, recreational and after-school activities; public schools; bike-able, walk-able, and safe streets and sidewalks; public transportation; affordable housing; availability of fresh food; access to jobs; and the list goes on and on. Parents and families are the most underused resource in our communities, because if parents organized and engaged with their local government, over time, their neighborhoods and communities would have safer neighborhoods, nicer parks, more recreational activities, access to fresh food, and quality, affordable housing.
What are your priorities and aspirations this year for First 5 LA?
Genie Chough: I'm super excited about the child maltreatment prevention efforts that First 5 LA Executive Vice President John Wagner is leading in partnership with Judge Mike Nash, Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey and many others. For the Department of Children and Family Services, our youngest kids are often the most vulnerable to abuse and neglect. With leadership representing the Board of Supervisors, and the Departments of Public Health, Mental Health, Office of Education and Children and Families, First 5 LA is uniquely positioned to lead a collaborative effort around prevention. Even within First 5 LA, this offers such a great opportunity to bring together many of First 5 LA's key initiatives, such as Best Start, Welcome Baby/Select Home Visitation, and Policy and Advocacy.
Dr. Manalo: My priority for my first year is to learn as much as I can about how I can be of service to First 5 LA and to the Commission and, as an Alternate Commissioner, to be ready and prepared to step up when needed.