First 5 LA has long acknowledged the impact state and federal legislation has on families in Los Angeles County, and for the past few years the organization has developed an annual legislative agenda aligned with its policy goals. Legislation, after all, has the potential to directly change public policies that govern how our health, education and social services systems support families and communities.
As First 5 LA continues to increase its focus on policy and systems change, legislation will remain an important component of the organization’s work as a leading advocate for L.A. County’s children. For example, First 5 LA is again sponsoring legislation —Assembly Bill 1004 authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) — that would codify best practices for developmental screening and improve state oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure children are connected to services that promote healthy child development. This is a re-introduction of legislation sponsored by First 5 LA in 2018 with our partners Children Now and the First 5 Association, and is one of nine state bills supported by First 5 LA in 2019.
Despite the importance of legislation, however, bills are only one way to impact policy change. This is why, for the first time, staff presented a state and federal advocacy agenda at last month’s Program and Planning Committee meeting of First 5 LA’s Board of Commissioners. Rather than simply focusing on legislation, First 5 LA’s advocacy agenda highlights the various ways the organization is influencing state and federal policy in 2019.
Regulations, for example, are a common non-legislative way for government to advance policy change. In 2018, President Trump introduced proposed changes to federal regulations related to the definition of public charge. If enacted, these changes would significantly restrict immigrant families’ access to publicly funded services like housing assistance and preventive health care, and would further deter families from sending their children to child care centers and health clinics. First 5 LA continues to oppose the Trump administration’s proposal, a position reflected in the organization’s advocacy agenda.
Budgets are also important tools for driving policy change, and a core set of First 5 LA’s advocacy priorities in 2019 are focused on shaping the more than $2.7 billion in early childhood-related state spending proposed by Gov. Newsom in his January budget proposal. From more than $100 million to expand maternal and child-focused home visiting programs to $500 million to invest in early care and education infrastructure and $60 million to increase developmental screening rates, the governor’s budget proposal prioritizes the needs of young children, providing an opportunity for First 5 LA and our partners to support, promote and further shape the state’s final budget agreement.
In addition to regulatory and budget proposals, state and federal agencies can take further administrative action to advance child-friendly policies. Executive orders, advisory boards and implementation guidance are just a few ways the president, governor and their appointees can influence child outcomes.
Implementation in particular is an important, and often overlooked, component of policy and systems change. In 2018, for example, First 5 LA successfully advocated for the creation of the CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative, which provided the first-ever state funding for home visiting programs. Now, First 5 LA and our child advocacy partners are focused on the initiative’s implementation, actively engaging in workgroups convened by state agencies and educating state leaders on best practices directly informed by First 5 LA’s work with our county and community-based partners.
Shifting from a legislative agenda to a more comprehensive and integrated advocacy agenda allows First 5 LA to better acknowledge the way these multiple tools — legislation, regulation, budget, administrative action and implementation — can be used to impact policy change. The shift further underscores that the goal of First 5 LA’s engagement in state and federal advocacy is better child outcomes, not the success of a particular bill. With a new governor in Sacramento, strong partnerships with state legislators and growing public awareness of the importance of child development, First 5 LA looks forward to continued progress for L.A.’s children in 2019 and continuing to improve the organization’s capacity to influence policy and systems change in the years to come.