Engaging, impactful legislative symposium hosted by the Huerfano and Las Animas Counties Early Childhood Council
Congratulations to our partners at the Huerfano and Las Animas Counties (HuLA) Early Childhood Council on their informative and inspiring legislative symposium at the end of October. Hosted in partnership with the Prenatal, Infant, Toddler Coalition and Think Babies, the HuLA Early Childhood Council Legislative Symposium educated dozens of elected officials, candidates for public office, community leaders, and parents about the importance of the earliest years of a child’s life and the impact that they can have on their future development and success.
The event opened with a performance by South Central Council of Governments Early Learning Center students who sang spirited renditions of Itsy Bitsy Spider and other childhood classics. Sarah Davidon, research director of Mental Health Colorado, then shared the latest research on the rapid brain development that occurs in the first years of life, the negative impacts of toxic stress, and the mitigating effects of supportive programs and responsive caregivers. Prenatal, Infant, Toddler Coalition co-conveners Christina Walker and I covered background information about the Coalition, opportunities to engage in advocacy for young children, and early childhood issues that the Colorado legislature may consider during the 2019 session. Jennifer Sanchez McDonald provided an overview of local data on child wellbeing from the KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report and highlighted the activities and accomplishments of the HuLA Early Childhood Council. At the end of the program, candidates for county commissioner and county clerk shared their thoughts on the importance of early childhood development and the role of the HuLA Early Childhood Council in ensuring all children in Huerfano and Las Animas Counties are valued, healthy, and thriving. Overall, the legislative symposium helped to ensure that early childhood issues are a priority for existing and future elected officials and to maintain the HuLA Early Childhood Council as a trusted leader for young children and their families.
Special thanks goes to Jennifer Sanchez McDonald who helped to host a community forum with the Prenatal, Infant, Toddler Coalition the day before the legislative symposium. With participation from the county health department, local library, prevention programs, and early childhood leaders, the community forum revealed some similar strengths and challenges as other communities we have visited, as well as some differences. Strengths of Huerfano and Las Animas Counties include a high level of collaboration to meet the needs of local residents, the willingness of extended families to help one another, and a sense that decisions can be made more efficiently because a smaller community means that decision-makers are at the table. Challenges include a recent sharp reduction in the number of child care spaces available, a limited workforce, stigma around mental health services and accessing public assistance, a lack of affordable housing, and limited transportation options. We’re thankful to all who participated in the community forum for helping us to better understand the opportunities and challenges facing expecting families, pregnant people, infants and toddlers across Colorado.