It was hardly a typical day at work for California Gov. Gavin Newsom. He built a Lego block tower, pet a hamster and solicited feedback at a tea party with some of his youngest constituents, just 3 and 4 years old.
Newsom was touring the innovative health and educational model employed at Hope Street Margolis Family Center, in downtown Los Angeles, and underscoring his commitment to early childhood initiatives. In the current state budget that he recently signed, a historic $2.8 billion is slated to fund the start of a comprehensive approach to early children development, including $105 million for developmental and trauma screenings, more than $135 million for home visiting programs, $195 million for early learning provider workforce development, $300 million for full-day kindergarten infrastructure and $273 million for child care and pre-school facility expansion and improvements, to name just a few.
“I think this is profoundly important,” Newsom said of supporting parents and young children so they can lead better quality lives.
The Hope Street Margolis Family Center, which serves more than 5,000 people a year and is part of Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center, has become a model for early childhood services through its holistic, two-generation approach. It provides high-quality early education and home visiting, developmental screenings, support for parents and older children (through programs such as an-after school youth center with homework assistance), health care and mental health services, parenting workshops and recreation, fitness and literacy classes.
“This is a remarkable epicenter of the early childhood movement,” Newsom said, adding that more centers like Hope Street are needed to help solve and prevent many of society’s ills, including gun violence, homelessness and economic disparity. “The answers are right here,” he said, gesturing at the building.
Newsom was accompanied on the tour by California’s Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Senior Policy Advisor for Early Childhood Giannina Perez and Deputy Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency for Early Childhood Development and Senior Advisor to the Governor on Implementation of Early Childhood Development Initiatives Kris Perry. Gov. Newsom was joined by Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, both of whom have been important champions for early childhood programs.
“Early learning supports early brain development that sets up children for lifelong health,” Burke Harris said. “Safe, stable and nurturing relationships at centers like Hope Street help counteract the effects of adverse childhood experiences” such as violence, mental illness and substance abuse in the home.
Kim Belshé, executive director of First 5 LA, an early childhood funder and advocacy organization, welcomed the governor to Los Angeles’s early childhood terrain and emphasized that “the new funding for early childhood initiatives will go a long way to help build a comprehensive approach that recognizes the importance of health, education and well-being together. This will strengthen families, while also helping them overcome and prevent stressors such as poverty and abuse.”
“We are proud to share with Governor Newsom one of L.A.’s home-grown models for how to ensure that children from all walks of life have an opportunity for a fair start,” said Kim Pattillo Brownson, vice president of policy & strategy for First 5 LA. “We applaud the governor and legislature’s leadership in the state budget, committing unprecedented resources to young children. This first budget gives California a historic opportunity to build the future our kids deserve.”
On hand to meet the governor were four volunteer leaders with First 5 LA’s Best Start, a community engagement program that operates in 14 underserved areas across Greater Los Angeles, and shared stories about the needs — and the assets — of their communities. As part of First 5 LA’s mission to strengthen families, the Best Start leaders run local support groups for parents, connecting them with information and public resources, many of which were expanded in the recent state budget.
“We empower families,” said Teresa Vega of Best Start South El Monte/El Monte. “We direct them to places where they can get free diapers, parenting workshops, programs for young mothers, domestic violence support groups, a lot of things.”
The leaders said Best Start has helped them personally, as well. Gisela Brigido, who has been with Best Start East Los Angeles for four years, said that Best Start workshops improved her parenting skills by teaching her how to understand children. “I didn’t know how important this was,” she said. “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
Supporting parents is essential to laying a strong foundation that allows children to thrive, said Sen. Mitchell. “Kids don’t get do-overs,” she noted.
Newsom said that a key prong of his two-generation strategy is creation of a statewide master plan for early childhood education, similar to that for higher education. “We’re going to map out, in a very sober way, how to finance early childhood education,” he said. “It’s without precedent in the state. On the state level, there hasn’t been the type of long-term investments that are needed. Let us commit ourselves to the long haul.”