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We’ve heard it said time and again, “Children are our future.” But historically we don’t invest in children, especially young children.

Did you know that 85 percent of the brain is developed by age 3, and 90 percent by age 5? Children’s brain development may be negatively affected by significant stress experienced by the child or family.

In turn, these children are likely to experience difficulties with learning, socializing with peers, and their physical and mental health. As adults, these individuals may have significant challenges with chronic health and mental health issues, staying employed, and contributing positively to their community.

All children – no matter what family they are born into, where or when they are born – deserve a chance to grow into healthy, educated, happy and successful people. It stands to reason that our tax dollars should support all our youngest residents, and finally, that logic has been understood by a California governor.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is clearly committed to improving the lives of our young kids. He has proposed investing $1.8 billion dollars for expanding early childhood initiatives. He appointed the first ever “Surgeon General” for California, Nadine Burke-Harris.

Dr. Burke-Harris, one of my heroes, is a leader in pediatric medicine and has spent her career studying the link between childhood adversity, toxic stress and the effect both have on future health outcomes. She understands what it means to practice medicine through a “trauma-informed lens,” which means asking patients “What happened to you?” rather than “What is wrong with you?”

The governor also appointed Kris Perry – a national leader in early childhood policy and former executive director of First 5 Years Fund – to the post of Deputy Secretary of California Health and Human Services Agency for Early Childhood Development.

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It’s tough for families to live in California and in Napa County. Our state, in fact, has the highest child poverty rate in the nation. One in five children in Napa County is food insecure, meaning their parents struggle to put food on the table daily, and 40 percent of families with children live below the “self-sufficiency standard,” which means they cannot make ends meet each month.

Children are a product of both genetics and experience, the two intertwined in ways we are just coming to understand. In order to flourish, they need safety, security, and nurturing; not just in their homes, but in their schools and their communities.

We look forward to working with Gov. Newsom and our local officials to make good on the promise of prioritizing children in California. It is not just what is best for kids and families, but it is what is best for our community health, our workforce, and our economy. The success of Napa County, and the state of California, depends on it.

Joelle Gallagher

Executive Director

First 5 Napa County Children and Families Commission

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