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Expert Tells Idaho: All Children are Our Children

March 16, 2011

BOISE, Idaho - "All children are our children." A nationally-recognized leader on children's issues delivered that message to Idaho on Tuesday at the Strengthening Families Training Institute conference.

David Lawrence has successfully spearheaded funding for early childhood programs in Miami for more than 10 years in his role as director of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation in Florida. He says it can be done, even in tough economic times. Lawrence guided the campaign to amend Florida's constitution to make free, quality pre-kindergarten available as a basic right.

"You're not aiming for warehousing and storage of children. You're aiming for them to have high-quality, brain-stimulating experiences that will give them the fullest possible chance to succeed, in school and in life."

He says his research into how Idaho spends its community resources shows the Gem State is not yet making children the highest priority. Those attending the conference are working on a campaign to change that, while highlighting work already being done in communities to reach that goal.

He points to many years of research that map out what has to be done in the best interest of the youngest children - for healthy brain development, as well as for preventing child abuse and neglect. The list is long but achievable, says Lawrence.

"Health insurance for children; screening and treatment for children who might have special needs; fixing the pre-K program so it is of higher quality; high-quality, best-practice mentoring programs; and high-quality, best-practice parent skill-building programs."

He spent time delving into Idaho's legislative issues, too. A proposal to end funding for most public kindergarten programs sparked some of his strongest words.

"Now, what would be absolutely tragic, and beyond egregiously stupid, would be for a state to no longer make kindergarten available. That would be stunningly dumb."

State Rep. Steve Thayn (R-Meridian) has introduced a bill to cut most kindergarten funding.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID