By Omar Passons
Growing up in Clairemont, I eagerly embraced the education Encanto Elementary and the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Southeastern San Diego made available.
As a product of the community’s foster care system, I know firsthand what can happen when we support children early. Our county can and must make systemic changes to prioritize our region’s children and ensure every child’s right to a strong start.
Our campaign’s StrongStarts4All Plan outlines several ways we can make a difference.
These priorities include high quality, affordable early child care so parents — especially women — can be in the workforce if they choose rather than losing out on lifetime earnings. We must expand access to nutrition and mental health supports (which the county already receives money to provide) so our young people are best prepared to learn and handle life’s pressures.
To provide context, it’s important to understand a few basics:
- There is a 13 percent return on investment for every public dollar spent at birth and the return diminishes sharply from there. That ROI is better than the stock market!
- A child’s brain reaches 90 percent of its adult size by age 5 — underscoring the critical need for early nutrition, social/emotional well being, and learning.
- Employers need young people with social/soft skills who understand what work is. Paid work experience, mentorship and guidance are essential, and the county has the ability through the workforce system to help.
- If young people can’t get to school, work or training opportunities, they won’t go. Accessible transportation is essential to changing this.
This plan is not about adding or scaling programs in one county agency. StrongStarts4All is a call for a systemic shift across county departments.
Clearly, the Health and Human Services Agency has a critical role in many supports for our children and youth and we know that children who receive early learning are as much as 70 percent less likely to ever be arrested in their lifetime.
Cutting edge research on exposure to violence in children shows us how toxic this stress is on future outcomes for children. These are compelling reasons to involve the preventive aspects of the county’s Public Safety Group.
Similarly, we know that how easy or difficult we make things like zoning and project processing impacts the supply — and cost — of the quality childcare facilities our families need. We desperately need leadership with a background and experience in land use to support involving the county’s Land Use & Environmental Group in placing children and their families on top of our priority list.
Our plan centers on fostering an environment in which every child can thrive, every young person has access to nutritious food and after-school support including for trauma and academic needs, and every young adult has an opportunity for work experience and to achieve a future that is right for them.
A few examples include:
- Home visits for expectant parents to learn key parenting skills.
- Increased pay for early childhood educators.
- Paid family leave for county employees to lead our region and help parents forge strong, early bonds.
- Expanded academic, mental health and nutrition support in our library systems after school and in the summer.
- Expanded paid summer internships and pre-apprenticeships to get youth work ready.
- Free bus and trolley transportation for youths ages 14 to 21 so that getting to a job/opportunity is not a barrier.
By integrating the concepts from my Housing4All plan, these and other key shifts called for in our StrongStarts4All plan will have a major impact on our region: We will finally have a solutions to tackle homelessness that focuses on root causes, not merely on symptoms.
Government spends a great deal of time, money and energy focused on how to address the current crisis with emergency measures and short-term options. StrongStarts4All is an acknowledgement that unless we significantly reduce the supply of people who ever become homeless we will never get a meaningful handle on this issue.
StrongStartsForAll is not short-term, reactionary thinking. It is planning for the long-term based on what research and lived experience teaches us will make a difference.
Finally, our plan sets San Diego up to be more economically competitive by increasing the supply of well-trained workers and entrepreneurs.
Children who arrive at kindergarten ready to achieve are far more likely than their peers to complete the post-secondary education our changing economy demands.
Parents whose children are supported are more able to power our region’s economic engines. Communities with supported children and youth have less crime and are more attractive to business and entrepreneurship.
We must find paradise not merely in temperate climates, palm trees and beaches, but in a community where every parent knows their child has the support and opportunity to thrive and achieve her full potential.
Omar Passons is a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in District 4.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: