Influencers Opinion

Gavin Newsom said he’d be a champion for families. His first year in office shows it

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Going from talking about an issue on the campaign trail to taking action in the horseshoe is no easy feat. But in his first year in office, Gov. Gavin Newsom has clearly demonstrated he has made young children a top priority.

His actions in the budget, legislation and executive appointments show he understands the imperative to create a lasting continuum of support for all children, from prenatal to kindergarten, so they have increased opportunity to succeed in life and to do it now.

Children entering kindergarten without the benefit of early learning are already behind socially and academically and – tend to stay behind throughout their lives. They are disproportionately low income, of color and dual-language learners. This dynamic has consequences that affect not just children as individuals, but society as a whole in key issues like job readiness and economic strength.


Changing this dynamic necessitates a multi-pronged approach to early childhood development with programs such as home visiting, developmental interventions and early learning. Quality programs for disadvantaged children prenatal to age 5 deliver a 13 percent return on investment, higher than at any other time in life. The governor’s actions to promote early childhood development are a vital investment in California’s future.

Newsom’s efforts have laid the groundwork for a comprehensive plan to benefit all children’s well-being in a state where between 400,000 and 500,000 babies are born annually. He has achieved this by forming partnerships with legislative leaders, early childhood experts and advocates like First 5, parents, and the community.

One of the biggest boosts for California’s youngest, most vulnerable residents is the 2019-20 state budget, which allocates more than $2 billion to young children and families. This is a historic commitment level that demonstrates a profound shift toward recognizing the importance of starting off California’s children strong.

Kim Belshé

The budget includes funds to create more than 30,000 additional early learning and child-care opportunities for low-income children, plus $273 million to support additional child-care facilities. Both are desperately needed in a state that has one of the highest number of children living in poverty in the nation.

The budget also includes health and family strengthening investments to increase paid family leave from six to eight weeks, support developmental-delay screening, increase home visiting programs with parent coaching and prenatal counseling, exempt diapers from sales tax and improve identification of early childhood trauma.

In partnership with the Legislature, the governor has enacted groundbreaking laws to promote child development. Assembly Bill 1004, which First 5 LA was proud to sponsor, will help providers put families on a path to getting the early services they may need after developmental screenings by medical professionals.

Assembly Bill 378 will allow an estimated 40,000 child care workers to collectively bargain to move beyond subsistence wages, and Senate Bill 464 will require implicit bias training for medical staff caring for pregnant women to reduce black maternal mortality.

The governor has also appointed champions of early childhood development to key posts, from his chief of staff to top Health and Human Services Agency executives, to an early childhood senior policy advisor.

All these moves reflect Newsom’s understanding that the life chances of many California families are defined by disparate government systems, and success hinges upon these systems working cohesively to better serve children.

First 5 commissions throughout California have pioneered and advocated for these innovations for 20 years. It’s exciting and gratifying to witness the shift from discussion to implementation.

Moreover, the governor has signaled he’s just getting started, telling parents and community members, “I want to make a commitment to every one of you. We’re here for the long haul.”

We’re keenly awaiting his next step: The Master Plan for Early Learning and Care.

By moving from talk to action in building brighter futures for our children, Newsom has shown he is born for this.

Kim Belshé is Executive Director of First 5 LA. She is also an Education influencer for McClatchy’s California Influencer series.
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