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Early childhood issues rise to top at Arizona Town Hall on strengthening families

Panel discussion at Arizona Town Hall

The Arizona Town Hall recently wrapped its four-month town hall season with a three-day statewide town hall that focused around the topic: Strong Families Thriving Children.

Early childhood supporters may be pleased to know that several early childhood-related issues were named in a final list of nine priority actions identified to create strong families and thriving children in Arizona. These included: coordination of existing services that support families and children; ensuring that affordable, high-quality child care is available to all; and providing paid parental leave to public and private sector employees.

In addition, in a series of 17 community town halls held over the past three months, 14 of the 17 communities prioritized more affordable quality child care and access to early childhood programs as ways to strengthen families.

Other top-priority actions identified at the statewide town hall include: criminal justice reform, address education inequities and focus on improving child welfare, among others.

Each year, the nonprofit organization focuses on engaging people across the state in community forums to learn about critical policy issues and develop solutions together, with a goal that their recommendations will inspire and motivate Arizona’s state leaders to respond to the challenges.

First Things First helped to sponsor community town halls in three communities — Pinal, Yuma and the La Paz/Mohave area. Also, FTF served on a research committee which helped to develop a nearly 100-page background report on the topic. The report, which was prepared by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy in partnership with Arizona universities and the Arizona Town Hall Research Committee, covers a long list of topics related to building strong families and thriving children.

“One of the topics that organically rose up (in the communities and statewide forum) is, ‘What do you mean by family?’ And that family should be given a much broader definition, a description that is inclusive of where families are now and where we want them to be,” said Tara Jackson, Arizona Town Hall president. “How do we address issues that our families are facing?”

Instead of limiting the definition of family to families of origin, participants took a broader view, where families can be multigenerational, blended and include those who make up a support network.

“People kept saying we need quality affordable child care,” Jackson said. But it also came with the acceptance that families are different and unique, she said.

“Most families don’t have the traditional ‘mom stays at home’. That’s just the reality,” Jackson said. “What we have today are women who have to work.”

As a result, having access to high-quality child care and investing in early education becomes the foundation of preventing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) from happening.

Arizona has the highest rate in the nation of children who have experienced two or more ACEs – or traumatic events – that take place in a child’s life before age 18 that harm their body and brain development, according to the Arizona ACE Consortium.

Since the first five years of a child’s life are so critical to later success in life, strengthening the family environment in which young children develop impacts their opportunity to have the positive, nurturing experiences they need to grow, learn and succeed.

The full report of the 112th Arizona Town Hall will include reports from the statewide town hall and the reports from the community town halls. To read the draft final recommendations report, click here.

These reports will continue to move the conversation forward.

“In some cases, it will strengthen the work and knowledge in some communities, but it will also bring knowledge to people who may not have thought about these topics,” Jackson said.

Ofelia Gonzalez is a public information officer at First Things First. You can reach her at ogonzalez@firstthingsfirst.org.​

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