Re-appointment to Four More Years on the First Five Commission

Governor Jerry Brown has just re-appointed me to serve for four more years on the First Five Commission for Children and Families for the State of California. I have been honored to Chair that Commission for the past four years, and I love the work that the Commission does and is doing.

Thank you, Governor Brown.

The people of California created First Five more than a decade ago to help the youngest children and families in California and the voters set up a permanent flow of cash to the Commission that is based on taxing the sale of cigarettes.

That cigarette tax raises about $500 million each year to help kids.

That money is used in very California like ways. More than 75 percent of the money goes to the counties — with each county having its own locally appointed Commission to govern use of the money.

The counties go through very locally focused efforts to help local families and children — and have done some truly creative things that are becoming models for early development efforts and thinking across the country.

Twenty percent of the money stays with the state commission — and we decide how to use it to help kids through an annual budgeting and planning process. We developed a five year plan, two years ago, to give our annual spending a compass — and we re examine that long-range plan regularly to be sure it is on track. We will have a Commission retreat early in the year to update the entire plan.

Our annual report is available on the First Five website — and I welcome you to go there to see all of the things we do to help kids.

Some of the money is used to run radio and television ads, with the goal of the current multi-year campaign to teach parents they can strengthen their child’s brain by exercising it in the first couple of years of life. Two of the current television ads are linked to this blog.

The radio ads run in multiple languages — and we usually have the radio announcers read them in each language to help enhance the credibility of the message, and to educate the announcers themselves about that extremely important fact of life for each child.

We also advise the legislature on issues that relate to very young children, and we offered information about more than 40 bills during the last legislative session.

The First Five Commissioners are wise and dedicated people — and they are a pleasure to work with. Two commissioners are named by the leader of the senate, two are named by the leader of the house, and three, including the Chair, are named by the Governor. It is a good group.

The First Five staff is actually spectacular — deeply committed people who really want to help children. Camille Maben, an icon of education support and development, is our executive director. Her Deputy, Diane Levin, is not only an administrative adept — she has been a key architect of the ads. Erin Gabel, our policy chief, has been a star performer and she gets better at her job every year.

The entire staff has good people at every position. Camille is gifted team builder and she has built a lovely team.

All of the key leaders for the Commission love collaboration — and so First Five has been catalytic in a number of areas with both the education community and the health care delivery community.

Both Superintendent of Schools, Tom Torlekson and California Secretary of Health Diana Dooley, have agreed to work with us in important ways — and both of those dedicated leaders have helped us in key and extremely enlightened ways. We have been working with each of them, and with key members of their teams to create a better future together for California children. Secretary Dooley is also an ex-officio member of the commission.

We also work with Renee Frazer and her team at her ad agency on the ads and the promotional campaigns — and that team has done excellent work that has won several awards.

The University of Chicago studied our television ads a year ago, and the researchers there said the ads had more than a 50 percent recognition number with our targeted audience, and that more than 70 percent of the targeted parents who saw and remembered the ads actually changed parenting behavior in some way as a result of the ads. That research is available from First Five.

The researchers at the University of Chicago were experts in public health campaigns — and they said both the recognition numbers and the change of behavior numbers exceeded anything they had ever seen in a public health campaign.

The ads are good — but those results are so high because all mothers love their children and because those ads helped parents show that love for their children in a beneficial and useful way. We had parental love on our side to create those results.

You can read about some of those results and the basic child brain development science that underpins it from, Three Key Years, a book available from this website.

So the Commission is doing some good work. I love Chairing the group — and I have become fond of the process that literally requires me to get public comment on every report and action item for the Commission. Many people come to the meetings to offer advice — and we have made better decisions and been better informed because of that process. I miss in now in other meeting settings.

It has been good work to do. I am delighted to have been re-appointed to serve on the commission. I do not believe there is anything more important for this country to do right now than to save our children.

We have huge learning gaps today in far too many of our schools. Because of the functional biological processes and realities of brain science, we now know that even best and most sincere efforts in our schools and communities can’t close those gaps at 15 years. We need to close them at 15 months.

That is our goal at First Five. We focus on the first weeks, months, and years to help make a difference when the difference has maximum positive impact. We need learning gaps to go away. We are working to prevent those gaps rather than just close them.

We know what needs to be done to keep those gaps from happening. It needs to be a public health campaign that supports parents and kids — and we need key folks to support that campaign to help every child.

We are using a combination of trusted messengers and surround sound messaging to get the right information to all new parents in California.

We have made some progress. But we have a long way to go.

The Governor signed a parental leave bill this year that is the best bill of its type in the country. The photo with this George Halvorson & Gov. Brownblog was taken at the press conference to announce the signing. I was privileged to be one of a dozen people who were standing in support behind him as he signed the bill. (The camera angle doesn’t show the full set of us.)

One very interesting thing about that bill passing people might like to know, is that in addition to signing that bill and creating the new parental leave benefit for California parents, the Governor’s team has taken the enrollment form people now use to sign up for parental leave, and turned it into an education link for new parents. There is now aparagraph half-way down the enrollment page that says, roughly, if you want to help your child be happier, smarter and healthier, go to the First Five website for information about what you can do in the first weeks and months of life to help your child.

It is our job now at First Five to make sure people who go to our website get the help they need to help their kids. The website is also award winning, and it remains in a state of continuous improvement — because we need to be more than good — we need to get continuously better.

That is the path we are on.

That is a lovely team effort.

This is a fun team to be on. I am looking forward to where we go from here. I am delighted to be serving as a member of that great commission.

Be well,

George

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This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding