The week of April 10 to 16 was proclaimed The Week of the Young Child in the Town of Parker. Mayor Karen Bonds read the declaration and signed it at the April 6 Town Council meeting. The proclamation recognized the first years of a child’s life are a time of rapid brain development and lay the foundation for all future learning. Quality childcare during these years can better prepare them for school and have better success in life.
Erin Taylor, community outreach coordinator for First Things First of La Paz and Mohave Counties, was on hand for the reading of the proclamation. She said the organization is dedicated to serving the needs of young children ages 0 to 5 years and their families. She said child care in these years is critical to their development in later years, as 90 percent of a child’s brain development takes place in those years.
“The better start they get, the better they’ll be in the long run,” she said.
Taylor said First Things First is a statewide organization with 28 regions around the state. La Paz-Mohave is one of those regions, and the Colorado River Indian Tribes are another region. The La Paz-Mohave Region is the largest by area, but not by population.
First Things First was created in 2007. In November 2006, Arizona voters approved Prop. 203, which created an 80 cents per pack tax on tobacco products to fund early childhood development. It remains the only funding source in Arizona dedicated solely to assisting pre-school children and their families.
Taylor said the areas there are three areas they focus on: health, early learning and family support. They function to provide funding for services. They partner with child care facilities and pre-schools. They also work to raise awareness of early childhood issues with parents.
Each region is overseen by a Regional Council made up of volunteers who live and work in the community.
“They make sure funding is going to the right places,” Taylor said.
The Chairperson of the La Paz-Mohave Regional Council is Jose Garcia, while the Vice Chair is Christy Rail. The Chairperson of the CRIT Regional Council is Elvira Aspa, while the Vice Chair is Norma Ray.
La Paz-Mohave had expenditures of $3.6 million in 2020, including $1.8 million for quality child care and pre-school and $1.12 million for strengthening families. The CRIT Region had expenditures of $335,381 in 2020, including $178,580 for quality child care and pre-school.
Programs funded by the La Paz/Mohave region include Parents as Teachers, Arizona PBS parenting outreach and awareness,
Professional development for early childhood professionals, Program coordination, BA College Scholarship, and Court Team infant-toddler mental health trainings.
Programs funded by the Colorado River Indian Tribes region include Start-up, Expansion, and learning labs strategy (Early Learning Academy), Arizona PBS Transition to Kindergarten program, Nutrition and Physical Activity programs through CRIT Department of Health and Social Services, and Parenting and early literacy outreach through CRIT library.
A major concern for First Things First are “child care deserts.” These are areas around the state where there are not enough facilities and programs to serve the number of children who are there.
Taylor said they will work with those who want to develop child care facilities and programs. She said it’s quite a financial investment to serve children. There are also many licensing requirements and other regulations.
“They have a lot of hoops they have to jump through,” she said.
As an example, Taylor said First Things First assisted with the development of the Early Learning Academy after the Sonshine Center closed. She said the loss of the Sonshine Center left parents with no options.
Taylor said First Things First collaborates with Arizona PBS in providing resources for local communities. In addition to educational television programming aimed at young children, they also provide resource fairs for families and also offer an early childhood workforce and professional development registry. They also offer parent support groups, and workshops on media literacy, early literacy, helping children grow up healthy and preventing and overcoming Adverse Childhood Experiences.
To learn more about Arizona PBS and their early childhood programs and resources, go to http://links.asu.edu/neighborhood or http://links.asu.edu/LaPazMohavePBS. You can also contact Misty Haas at Arizona PBS at 480-869-0183 or email@example.com.
Preventive health care is another concern for First Things First. Taylor said one of the things they focus on is early detection of any problems that could make learning difficult in later years.
“The earlier problems can be detected, the earlier there can be intervention and mitigation,” she said. “The better the long-term effects.”
She added, “This is why the first five years are so important.”
Taylor said the main goal of First Things First was create strong families by giving young children a good start in life. This, in turn, will create strong communities.
“Strong families make strong communities,” she said.
To find out more about First Things First, go to their website, FirstThingsFirst.org