BERKELEY: Launches ‘Womb To School’ Initiative
Berkeley city, school district and The University of California-Berkeley yesterday launched the Prenatal Through Preschool Healthy Child Initiative, "a sweeping effort to provide every child ... with the health care, intellectual stimulation and guidance" needed for early childhood development. "We're going to see kids coming to school who are healthy, well-fed and ready to learn," said Berkeley School Board President Ted Schultz (Squatriglia Contra Costa Times, 5/12). U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) said, "I'm here to say that prenatal to preschool is where it's going be at in this next century and Berkeley is leading the way."
Room To Grow
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the initiative is "divided into 13 broad areas, ranging from prenatal nutrition and birth-weight programs to voluntary home assessments by city nurses, various classes for parents and 'universally available preschool programs.'" The Chronicle notes that "[t]he problem is acute in Berkeley, which ranks second in the nation for low birth weight among African-American babies," and "ranks first in the state per capita for lead-contaminated houses" (Burress, 5/12). The Contra Costa Times reports that a "key component" of the program is "comprehensive prenatal and health care programs to ensure babies are born healthy and remain that way" (5/12). The Alameda Times-Star reports that other components would include "well baby and pediatric exams, and parenting and early childhood development classes." The initiative is "headed by Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl and Berkeley Schools Superintendent Jack McLaughlin" (Burt, 5/11).
The Contra Costa Times notes the leaders still "have to figure out how to pay" for the program and "how to make it work" because they do not have any "revenue sources" or "specific plans." Boxer "promised to fight for federal funding for the project, and Dean said the city will pursue grants and corporate support." The mayor said, "We realize the big problem is money. But it's cost-effective, and we're going to make that case. We're going to Washington and we're going to Sacramento and keep hammering away on this point." Those behind the initiative's creation say for "every $3 investment in keeping kids on the right track," $6 can be saved "in child welfare services, special education classes and other social programs." The initiators also cited numerous studies that say "a child's future is largely determined by age 5, and that investing in that critical period avoids the high social costs incurred when kids go astray" (5/12).