Kids First! Be a #KidVoter

According to a recent article published in The Atlantic, educators and parents need to focus on exposing children to more words, especially underserved children in low-income communities. The article highlights several initiatives backed by the federal government and points out the importance of fostering informed and empowered parents in order to strengthen a child's educational and economic future.

Scientists continue to research the harsh reality of unequal access to learning opportunities among young children. While the research continues, those of us on the front lines working with at-risk and special needs children witness firsthand the undeniable benefits of early intervention and education. On the other hand, we also witness the consequences when our children are not exposed to critical learning opportunities -- a reality our society should not accept and one that we can overcome.

We know that early education creates a foundation. We know exposure to words, language and literacy provides a ladder to boost children with extra challenges to the starting line in kindergarten. We know that closing the word gap can improve performance in school which in turn can result in greater life-long opportunities and decrease the risk of juvenile justice involvement.

While scientists debate "how" brain building affects children, let all of us who care about our children's future put the focus on "who" can make a difference. I challenge parents, family members, child care providers, pediatricians and teachers to have a watchful eye for the children who could use an extra boost. Together, we can have a positive impact -- one child at a time. We can also learn from the impressive leadership of one young lady who is already making a difference, California's Kid Governor.

Eight-year-old Celeste Elena Umaña is asking voters to take her #KidVoter pledge. She is calling on California's leaders to put a children's agenda first in Sacramento. She is asking for a united, yet diverse, voice to tackle issues related to child advocacy. I join her in asking, "If we don't put our children first, how can we care about our future?"

Despite the staggering statistic that one in four children live in poverty in California, $1 billion was chopped from early education during the Great Recession. While the most recent state budget finally turned the corner from cuts to restoration and expansion of several child-serving initiatives, we need more than baby steps.

Real investment and transformation of our battered child care system is needed to support the child care providers who do the critical brain building for our youngest learners. At the same time, family child care providers are struggling against poverty as they're stuck in a broken system, with no recognized voice to advocate for improvements in a system critical to our economy and our future.

It's for these reasons that my nonprofit, Special Needs Network, is a part of Raising California Together and why I'm proud to join leaders like Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and social justice advocate, as well as SEIU International's president Mary Kay Henry to become an official California #KidVoter.

So I ask, "Will you join me?"

Special Needs Network has been at the forefront of issues related to improving the lives of kids with special needs and autism for years. We're proud to add the California #KidVoter initiative to our range of advocacy campaigns. We are committed to closing the disparity gap. We know that early intervention is the key. Providing early childhood educators with the training and skills they need to identify the early warning signs of autism and other developmental delays are game changers for special needs and typically developing kids.

Parents, child care providers, employers and everyone who benefits from quality child care need to rise up and send a clear message to Sacramento that California must put kids first. California Kid Voters support candidates and policies that invest in early education that builds pathways out of poverty for children, parents and child care providers.

Join me to take the California Kid Voter pledge.

Let's close the word gap, eliminate economic inequality, and put our kids first!