Executive Constantine proposes strategy to put every child in King County on path toward lifelong success
The Executive’s proposed Best Starts for Kids initiative would fund prevention and early intervention strategies based on the latest brain science. It is the first of its kind in the nation to create a unified approach to investment in a child's first five years, followed by interventions as needed on a child's journey to adulthood, along with support for safe, healthy communities.
To learn more, visit the Best Starts for Kids website.
In his annual State of the County address, King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed strategies to help every child in King County get off to a strong start in life and reach adulthood healthy and able to reach his or her full potential.
The proposed six-year levy for the November ballot—called Best Starts for Kids—would fund prevention and early intervention based on the latest brain science being conducted here at the University of Washington.
This approach seeks to break the connection between incomes and outcomes, and reverse demand for high cost, crisis-focused services.
"The crisis of income inequality is not unique to King County, and many of its causes are beyond our local control," said Executive Constantine. "But income inequality puts our future prosperity at risk by denying more of our children the opportunity to fully contribute as part of a well-educated middle class. The ultimate goal of Best Starts for Kids is to sever the link between incomes and outcomes—to create a King County where the circumstance of one's birth no longer defines the course of one's life."
The proposal Executive Constantine presented to the Metropolitan King County Council includes a six-year levy lid increase of 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, which would raise $58 million in the first year. The cost to the average King County homeowner would be about $56 per year, or about a dollar a week.
King County is the first jurisdiction in the nation to bring together a set of proven and promising strategies, driven by science, to ensure all children can develop the cognitive, emotional, and social skills necessary to succeed in life and be able to contribute:
- Invest heavily in a child’s first 5 years, starting with prenatal services.
- Invest at key developmental milestones on a child's journey to adulthood.
- Create healthy communities, in partnership with The Seattle Foundation, that support strong families, reinforce progress, and sustain the gain.
While many jurisdictions provide individual programs such as universal pre-kindergarten, no other metropolitan region in the country has ever created a unified, comprehensive approach.
Severing the link between income and outcomes
Learn more about James Heckman's research on the great gains to be had by investing in early development.
Best Starts for Kids is supported by the research of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, which shows that early investment in a child’s development—starting with prenatal support—delivers the greatest returns.
King County's existing revenues cannot support extensive investments in child development, as about 75 percent of its General Fund must be devoted to the "bad outcomes" of law enforcement, courts, and jails in the criminal justice system.
Best Starts for Kids is designed to confront the region’s growing inequity by providing parents, caregivers, and childcare professionals with tools to ensure every child in King County develops the basic skills necessary to thrive as adults.
Examples of Best Starts for Kids strategies include:
- Universal access to developmental screenings for very young children, when it is proven to be most effective at helping infants and toddlers prepare for school.
- Increase access to mental-health screenings for middle school-age youth.
- Nurse home visitations for first-time mothers—from pregnancy through a child’s first two years—to make sure they get off to a strong, healthy start.
- Flexible funding for families to prevent homelessness. For example, helping a working mother keep her transportation so she can make it to work and not lose her job, decreasing the likelihood that she and her family become homeless.
Science confirms what we already know
The proposal delivers on the pledge made in Executive Constantine’s most recent budget address to define regional investments that will improve the health of residents and communities through prevention and early intervention.
Over the past seven months, the advisory group he convened created the framework for Best Starts for Kids based on the latest available science, including groundbreaking research by the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.
Emerging neuroscience shows that 85 percent of the human brain develops by age three. Many of the basic skills people need to succeed as adults—including the ability to manage incoming information, as well as attention and distraction control—are developed by age five.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, adolescence provides the greatest opportunity to help youth develop impulse control and the ability to plan ahead.
King County has great prosperity and disparity
While King County is one of the most prosperous counties in the state and the nation, with an unemployment rate of less than 4.5 percent and a median household income of $69,000, it also shares some of the greatest disparities:
- Of the 85,000 net new households n King County since 2000, less than four percent are middle-income. The rest are split evenly between those earning $125,000 a year and those earning under $35,000.
- The number of children 5 and younger who live in poverty is as low at 4.7 percent in some areas and as high as 26 percent in others.
- Infant mortality is four times higher in some areas of King County compared to others.
"The sad truth in America today is that a top predictor of a child's success in life is the income of the household in which that child is raised," said Executive Constantine. "Income inequality has forced its way into the public arena, but here in King County we are fortunate to have both the wealth and the willingness to confront it head-on—by investing in our people, by investing in our communities, and by giving all our children the best start in life we can."
- READ: Full text of the 2015 State of the County address
- WATCH: Best Starts for Kids video CLIP
- Download the Best Starts for Kids infographic PDF
- Best Starts for Kids fact sheet PDF
- The Heckman Curve: early childhood development is a smart investment
- Transforming our health and human services system
- King County's Youth Action Plan
- Creating the best-run government in the United States
- High-resolution photo of Executive Constantine (for media use) IMAGE
- WATCH: Full-length State of the County address (24:22) CLIP
- Read the entire State of the County speech ... in tweets
The crisis of income inequality is not unique to King County, and many of its causes are beyond our local control. But income inequality puts our future prosperity at risk by denying more of our children the opportunity to fully contribute as part of a well-educated middle class. The ultimate goal of Best Starts for Kids is to sever that link between income and outcomes—to create a King County where the circumstance of one’s birth no longer defines the course of one’s life.
The sad truth in America today is that a top predictor of a child's success in life is the income of the household in which that child is raised. Income inequality has forced its way into the public arena, but here in King County we are fortunate to have both the wealth and the willingness to confront it head-on—by investing in our people, by investing in our communities, and by giving all our children the best start in life we can.
I am very excited about the possibilities Best Starts for Kids provides for King County and especially for Auburn. The fact that services provided at our local Public Health center would be funded is reason enough to be supportive, but there is so much more than that for our communities. The proactive approach is exactly what we need to have a healthy future.
The Best Starts initiative for kids represents an investment in our future. These well-researched initiatives provide children at an early age the needed developmental skills and the opportunity to maximize their full potential. This investment in our children is essential and a critical step in reducing societal costs in our community.
In light of 13 years serving as an elected official, I cannot think of any other public investment that promises such a powerful, positive, and long-lasting return for our children and our region.
Children’s earliest years provide a critical foundation for all future learning. When babies babble to an attentive caregiver, they are learning important language skills, and when toddlers imitate their caregiver’s actions, they are forming important interpersonal connections. These building blocks prepare them for a lifetime of positive social relationships and learning.
King County has lots of high-paying jobs that have attracted highly educated people from all around the country and the world. To maintain and share that prosperity more widely, the County should invest in its own kids to help them reach their full potential and be full participants in a successful regional economy.
We are experiencing incredible economic growth in our region, yet we know that this prosperity is not shared amongst all of our residents and is creating stark inequities, particularly for our children. Best Starts for Kids is a step towards closing this gap and forging a path for them to lifelong success.
Thousands of children in our community experience sexual assault, abuse, or domestic violence. Families and communities where violence is present are not only unsafe for children and youth, but also contribute to a range of other negative social, emotional, behavioral, and health problems. The Best Starts for Kids levy will allow us to invest in prevention and early intervention programs that are effective in minimizing these negative impacts and preventing future violence.
As registered nurses, we know first-hand the importance of prevention. Early intervention means a bright future for our children and strong return on investment. The Washington State Nurses Association is excited to be part of this exciting effort to preserve and promote important public health and human services in King County.
The research is quite emphatic—eighty-five percent of an individual’s brain growth occurs by age three. That’s a mere 1,100 days to make a significant difference in a child’s development. We must not lose a precious moment.
What high-paying, innovative companies need more than anything else is a healthy, talented, skilled, and motivated workforce—and that’s what Best Starts for Kids will help deliver. By having more youth reach adulthood ready to contribute and reach their full potential, our region will remain competitive in the increasingly global economy.
We have a strong play-based model of teaching staff who care deeply about building positive relationships with children and an engaged parent community. Yet, we have no systematic way to ensure kids who need extra support or developmental screening don’t fall through the cracks. Our teachers are hungry for training and skills that this initiative will help support.
For more information, contact:
Chad Lewis, Executive Office, 206-263-1250