Peter Chen, Staff Attorney of the Advocates for the Children of New Jersey (acnj.org), spoke at the “Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey” conference about the partnership that makes up Right From the Start New Jersey, its statewide campaign, and long term goals.
The “Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey” conference was held November 29, 2017 at Pines Manor in Edison, New Jersey. The conference brought together key organizations and speakers in order to affect changes that will surround kids and families in every community across New Jersey with the opportunities to make healthy choices. Peter spoke about the work of the ACNJ, the Right From the Start NJ campaign, and the urgent need for public awareness of the crucial first years of a child’s life.
The ACNJ is New Jersey’s largest multi-issue child advocacy organization, and a partnering organization of Right From the Start NJ. They cover a wide range of issues, and lobby to improve outcomes for children on both the state and federal levels. While early childhood issues have been a priority for ACNJ for many years , recent research pointing to the critical importance of the very first years in a child’s life has led to an increased focus on children ages birth to three. As Peter explained, brain development happens early, even earlier than previously believed, which leads to patterns, both positive and negative, that can have lifelong results. Moving the focus earlier than preschool can help ensure that all children have the opportunity for success.
Focusing on high quality supports for families with young children can aid a child’s long term success. While educational reform and the needs of school age children has traditionally been the primary focus in New Jersey, what happens before a child enters school can affect their educational careers long before they step into a classroom. Child care is not just about helping parents get back to work; what a child experiences in that environment can impact their lifelong learning and growth. The achievement gap, Peter explained, truly starts in the cradle, not in the classroom. “If we want our other investments to pay off, we need to focus on the early years,” he said.
The Right from the Start NJ campaign believes that all children need: (1) high quality early care and education; (2) strong families; and, (3) access to high quality healthcare. The key is getting all of these systems to work together as a “second womb” around a child to ensure a strong foundation for future health and wellness.
The Right From The Start NJ campaign intends to raise public awareness as to the importance of the early years so that every child, birth to 3, has the opportunity for the early relationships, environments and experiences they need to support their healthy growth and development. Next steps for the Right From the Start NJ campaign include focus groups with parents and bringing those stories to the attention of legislators; a forum on the book Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality; and, short videos to be produced by the Caucus Educational Corporation to promote awareness, which will be featured on rightfromthestartnj.org.