Wicks seeks to restore Healthy Start to connect students and families with services

Friday, February 22, 2019

Richmond, Calif. — Flanked by leaders of the United Ways of California, the Children’s Defense Fund of California, and Richmond’s RYSE Youth Center, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) announced her bill, AB 875, to reestablish California’s Healthy Start program to connect children and families with critical services to improve health and academic outcomes and remedy trauma and violence.

“I view government as having a role to help people and I want our taxpayer money going to help the people who need it most because it impacts all of us,” said Wicks. “Healthy Start resources would go to working with community organizations, counties, the Department of Education, and a whole consortium of folks to make sure kids get the resources they need.”

California has a significant population of families and children who are living in poverty and not having their needs met. When cost of living is accounted for, California has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the U.S., with 46 percent of children living at or near poverty level. On any given day, 1 in 5 California children may go hungry; and an estimated 75 percent of children on Medi-Cal don’t receive the mental healthcare they need. Economically underprivileged children and children from communities of color also continue to underperform their peers on California’s standardized math and reading tests.

California’s original Healthy Start program passed with bipartisan support in 1991 to tackle these needs head-on. Administered by the California Department of Education, Healthy Start provided grants to local education agencies to develop coordinated, comprehensive services and activities, many of them on site at schools, to improve the health and wellness of children and families. Services included health, dental, and vision care; mental health and substance use disorder counseling; family support and parenting education; academic support; health and safety education; domestic violence intervention and prevention; youth development; employment preparation; and more.

Healthy Start boasted a strong track record of success with markedly higher test scores, decreased hunger and health problems, and improved student behavior. Unfortunately, the program’s funding was cut as a result on the 2001 recession, and the program was discontinued when its funds ran out in 2007.

Wicks’ AB 875 would reestablish California’s Healthy Start program with $60 million dollars over four years. Dubbed Healthy Start 2.0, the program would seek to provide the same range of services as the original program, with additional emphasis on addressing trauma and preventing violence. Healthy Start 2.0 will also feature increased focus on data collection and evidence-based interventions. Wicks’ bill has attracted support from both the California Children’s Defense Fund and the United Ways of California.

“We know coordinating care for children in schools and communities works, and AB 875 will modernize Healthy Start with an emphasis on trauma-informed care,” said Janis Lambert Connallon with Children’s Defense Fund–California. “With the original Healthy Start, drug use went down and immunization rates, graduation rates, and math and reading scores went up—Healthy Start 2.0 will do that again.”

“For over 15 years Healthy Start was a proven program,” said Peter Manzo, President & CEO, United Ways of California. “We’re thrilled Assemblymember Wicks is authoring AB 875, and we look forward to working with her and our fellow champions for children, youth, and families to launch a renewed Healthy Start.”

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Assemblymember Buffy Wicks represents California’s 15th Assembly District, which includes all or portions of the cities of Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Pinole, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, and Piedmont. You can learn more about Asm. Wicks at a15.asmdc.org