Occasionally people will hear me talk about the importance of building a strong support system for children and youth in the San Diego region from birth to adulthood and promptly ask about my own children. While I don’t have kids of my own, what I usually tell people is that I believe all children should matter to all people. I want to focus on children and youth because I see the value to our society as a whole.
Our children really are our future. What I mean is that our economy only grows if we have talented people who are ready to work, innovate, and start businesses – not to mention purchase things. We can’t have new buildings if no one knows how to read a tape measure or sees the value of really hard work.
But there is a deeper reason I have given so much of my life to helping young people and it is not just that I grew up in San Diego’s foster care system. If we are serious as a society about the fundamental Democratic principle that we are all equal, wrapping our collective arms around every child is the best way to ensure that equality. We must start early, because as Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman notes, that’s where the biggest bang for the buck happens (a 13% return on investment). To have true equality, we must not simply throw our hands up and accept that not all kids have the same initial chance to thrive. We can move to change that with more strategic and targeted support.
While I don’t think a real policy plan can fit in a single blog post, I do think this framework would be a great start:
- Pre-natal to 5: Every child in our region should get great medical attention, a parent or guardian who speaks and reads to them, and high quality early learning and care.
- School-age support: We have a school system of course, but as a region we must also foster a healthy and safe environment outside of school, enriching experiences after school and on weekends, with academic and mental health support for all children.
- Teen attention: The transition from child to teen is stressful, and providing special attention and opportunity outside school will support growth.
- Pathway to college or career: Every job or entrepreneurship opportunity requires training after high school. There are thousands of paths to success and our system must help make these choices clear and attainable.
It will take the committed work of parents, guardians, educators, the business community, government and, of course, the voices of young people, to build the system we want. But every community in San Diego will be stronger for it.