“2014 will be my fourth time as chairman of First 5, and it is great to be a part of this Commission once again, in its 15th year! As many of you know, I was the very first chairman of this organization back in 1999. This commission remains the only commission I’ve ever been on that opened its doors with $200 million in the bank. I never had more new “best friends” than I did back then!
I often say that the County is the ultimate safety net for the most vulnerable children in our communities. Frankly, the role of government in the lives of families is generally limited to helping them get through crises. Government will always have that role. But if we really want to help all children thrive, we need to look towards achieving things that will improve children’s lives and prevent them from falling into the safety net in the first place. That’s where First 5 comes in. The birth to age 5 timeframe is so crucial in a child’s life, both from a health standpoint and an educational standpoint. Here at First 5 Los Angeles, we will continue to make significant and positive impacts in those areas.
2014 will be a pivotal year. Our work is cut out for us. My main goal as Chairman is to lay the groundwork to sustain the good work of this agency over the long term. But, as with all things worthwhile, it will not be easy. The Commission’s primary source of revenue – tobacco taxes – has been steadily decreasing and all indicators are showing that downward trend will continue. This reality – which is something I pointed out on my first, second and third tours of duty as chairman – must factor into every decision we make, large or small, from this point forward.
I do not want us to be in a position of paying for programs we cannot afford to sustain over time. That will require some tough financial decisions and some new ways of doing business. To that end, I asked staff to develop a draft of what we are calling “Governance Guidelines” for the Commission’s consideration. The bottom line is that we need to have a strong, consistent and transparent process for decision making. Our job demands it, and I am hopeful that we will have a final version for the Commission to vote on in March. At the end of the day, the level of discipline we have will benefit the children and families we are all so concerned about and allow First 5 Los Angeles to continue its work well into the future.
None of that means we will remain immobile. We have important work to do. This Commission needs to finish what it started! The Welcome Baby program is ready for launch. Thousands of families will have the benefit of a nurse visiting them in the early months of their infants’ lives. That is significant. We have to work with our friends at LAUP on finding a sustainable source of funding for the incredible preschools that have given thousands of four year-olds a rich, high quality learning environment. We will finally be hitting the “play button” on the Best Start initiative by moving forward with groundbreaking work that engages families in their communities. We will also continue to make an impact by providing health insurance, dental care and vision care for kids 0-5 as well as continuing to target services for high-risk infants.
I would like to share one final thought. This past weekend, I looked through the results of the Listening, Learning and Leading survey that was undertaken last year. While there is no question that the relevancy and importance of First 5 is felt across the County, it is clear that there are other perceptions of us that I think we need to address. That First 5 has a “lack of focus;” that we lack “clarity” and “consensus;” that we have a “scattershot approach.” I really want to turn that around this year. While I think the initiatives I mentioned that are finally coming online will go a long way to assure our critics, we must look to the future. That is why I also want to complete and vote on our 5-year strategic plan this year. Doing so will set us on a clear, focused path so future Commissions have clear guidelines and, to quote our Executive Director, clear “guardrails” to structure their work.
This all sounds pretty easy – right?
In conclusion, I’d like to thank you all for your dedication and passion for serving children and families. I am looking forward to working with this – shall we say – “dynamic” group over the next twelve months.