First 5 at 20: Two Decades Helping Give Kids the Best Start in Life

November 20th, 2018

On November 8, 2018, the wise voters of California approved Proposition 10, launching an unprecedented long-term investment in the lives and well being of the state’s youngest children and their families. The resulting Children and Families Act established that this investment, levied as 50 cent tobacco tax – would be distributed among all 58 counties who would work within their local communities with local stakeholders to make local decisions on how best to address the health, learning, and family needs of children 0 to 5. And so, 58 First 5 organizations were born – including here in San Luis Obispo County. The deep dedication and foresight of the founding team of staff and Commissioners set the course for a new and impactful era of enhanced support for our county’s youngest and most vulnerable residents. We stand on their shoulders and continue to stand in solidarity for kids as we carry their legacy forward – new generations of Commissioners, staff, funded partners, community collaborators and families themselves. Our children are our community’s future, and its highest priority.

The voters knew it in 1998, and we know it now – investing in early childhood is smart, no matter how you look at it. Scientifically – 90% of a child’s brain is developed before she hits kindergarten. Economically – a dollar spent on quality early childhood supports saves up to $13 dollars down the road. Ethically – our worth as a society is measured by how we treat our children.

Twenty years into the story, and First 5 San Luis Obispo County has so much to be proud of as an active partner investing in and advocating for young children. Over $32 million in funds have gone directly into the community to support a variety of programs, ranging from oral health to preschools, from breastfeeding to early literacy, from vision screening to family advocacy, from early intervention to parent education. We have put a local spin on state-level First 5 programs, notably the Talk.Read.Sing. campaign and distribution of Kits for New Parents to area hospitals, clinics and home visiting programs. First 5 has been a leader in launching key initiatives throughout the county, including school readiness neighborhoods in Paso Robles and Oceano, the Children’s Health Initiative, Martha’s Place, the Children’s Oral Health Coalition, the Children’s Bill of Rights, and Help Me Grow.

While celebrating First 5’s many accomplishments over the years, we also know that this work is never done. And we know – you all know -- that First 5 is but one partner, one voice, in the ongoing and permanent work of ensuring that our young children get the best possible start in life. Tobacco tax revenue was never enough to fully address the needs of young children and families. It was always meant as a catalyst to activate shared investment in this critical life stage. First 5 and the children we give voice to NEED all of us to prioritize them. They need government and philanthropy to invest in prevention and early education. They need employers to invest in their parents. They need all of us, whether we have our own children or not, to recognize their value in all of our lives. First 5 is here to help continue inspiring these commitments with all of you, over the next twenty years and beyond.

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