Child Advocacy, Public Policy Leaders Sought

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The health and education of young children in the Rim Country will get a boost when Gila County gets to spend its share of Arizona's tobacco tax.

Under the umbrella of First Things First (FTF), early childhood development programs that serve children from birth to age five will reap the benefits.

The money could be used for free-to-the-child physicals, vision and, hearing tests.

Community leaders will get to decide what programs to implement or enhance to best meet the needs of children.

"This is a unique opportunity for the local community to help identify how public funds can be spent to help children develop in their areas," said Elliott Hibbs, Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board, executive director.

Leaders must apply to become part of the 11-member First Things First regional partnership council by Feb. 8.

"If you are thinking, why do I want to get involved in another council, please realize, this council is backed with money and money is always a problem to find in Gila County," said Jean Oliver, Time Out education coordinator.

Hibbs projects the state will allocate $160 to $170 million dollars per year from the tax to the 23 regional councils, including Gila County.

Additional goals of First Things First include:

  • Parent and family support and education concerning early childhood literacy
  • Professional training and development for early childhood development and health care
  • Increased access to existing programs

"Research proves when young children receive high quality health and education services, they lead more stable lives," Hibbs said.

"We need a broad spectrum of people to serve, so, eight of the slots require a certain background ... because the entire community benefits from children who are prepared for success in school and success in life," Hibbs said.

Each regional council must include:

  • A parent of a child aged five or younger
  • One childcare or preschool provider
  • One health services provider
  • One public school administrator
  • One early childhood educator providing professional development instruction
  • One member of the business community
  • One representative of the faith community
  • One representative of a philanthropic organization
  • Public officials or employees of Tribal nations located in the region or three at large members.

Regional board members will serve for either two-or-four-year terms.

FTF fact sheets and applications are available online at www.azecdh.gov.

They may also be submitted by fax to (602) 274-7040, or mailed to: Arizona Early Childhood Develop-ment and Health Board, Regional Partnership Council Application, 4000 N. Central Ave., Suite 800, Phoenix, AZ 85012.

The application deadline is Feb. 8.

Allocation formula

State law allows only 10 percent of the funds to be spent on administration. Nine percent of the funds will be used statewide while 81 percent of the funds are split between the regions.

The formula used to break down that 81 percent, considers how many children birth to age five are in the region, how many of those children meet poverty guidelines and a portion that is "undesignated."

The regional councils will make recommendations to the state level FTF board for the use of the "undesignated" funds.

Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed the state board. The Senate confirmed its members. Nadine Mathis Basha chairs FTF.

The regional councils will know the money they have to plan with in September 2008.

Fund disbursement will happen in July 2009.

"To me, this is a program that ought to remain in place as long as there are children," Hibbs said.

"The child abuse prevention councils throughout Arizona are the organizations that have really gotten First Things First going in each county," Oliver said.

Oliver, Christy Walton, program director of Gila County Family Advocacy Center, Lynne Winans, site manager of Head Start, pre-school teacher Terri Legassie and, Rim Country Literacy director Su Connell are spearheading the effort to encourage community leaders to apply to sit on the Regional Council.

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