On Monday, Jan. 24, Albuquerque residents taking part in the early childhood development initiative "Strong Starts for Children" will join with legislators and early childhood advocates from around the state at the La Fonda Hotel to discuss policy recommendations for improving the lives of New Mexico's youngest children.

The Strong Starts for Children Policy Forum is taking place during "Celebrating New Mexico's Children and Youth Days" (formerly Children's Cabinet days), a three-day event at the statehouse designed to give early childhood and education advocates the opportunity to lobby legislators. The focus of Strong Starts policy forum will provide legislators, advocates and Albuquerque residents the opportunity to deepen their conversation and, together, wrestle with the tough issues affecting our children's chance at success.

The following organizations are a part of the Strong Starts for Children initiative and will be joining the policy forum with their dialogue participants:
• Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Inc., on behalf of the All Indian Pueblo Council

• Cuidando los Niños, on behalf of the New Mexico Campaign to End Child Homelessness

• Native American Professional Parent Resources

• University of New Mexico Family Development Program (in collaboration with Decade of the Child, a statewide early childhood advocacy coalition)

• Youth Development, Inc., on behalf of the Pajarito Mesa Strong Starts for Children planning initiative
UNM's Family Development Program worked with other statewide leaders to request that New Mexico's Governor proclaim 2010 - 2020 as the Decade of the Child. This proclamation honors all the efforts throughout our state that place children at the heart of our civic agenda.

"If our youngest children are kept in the center of every personal, community and policy decision made for the next 10 years…. imagine what would be possible in New Mexico!" said Lois Vermilya, director of the UNM Family Development Program.

The Strong Starts for Children Policy Forum builds on the work of the five organizations in the greater Albuquerque area to bring people together in dialogues, exploring ways to help kids thrive. The fall dialogues covered issues such as school readiness, linked systems for health and education, childhood homelessness, access for families to development and training for employment, financial literacy and educational opportunities. Following the dialogues, the five groups hosted "action forums" creating a platform for dialogue participants to share ideas for creating brighter futures for kids.

"People in government and organizations from across New Mexico have been talking about how to help our youngest children thrive," says Martha McCoy, executive director at Everyday Democracy, the Connecticut-based organization sponsoring the Strong Starts for Children initiative. "Now the conversation is happening in local communities, giving everyday people the chance to weigh in. The forum provides the chance for these people and legislators to talk about the hard tradeoffs that need to happen for the sake of our kids."

In small-group discussions, participants in the Strong Starts for Children Policy Forum will explore policy ideas around helping low-income families, providing local communities with resources and support to carry out plans for their young children, and investing in more childcare programs and pre-school. The conversations will also give everyone the chance to grapple with the budget implications of such ideas.

"It will be an important forum that gets everyday citizens involved in helping New Mexico to think creatively about its priorities for the future," said Vermilya. "We know that when an engaged community – a community of parents, educators, health providers, business leaders – comes together with shared dreams for our youngest children, there is a force that pulls everyone forward to create the kind of future for New Mexico where all children thrive."

Agenda for Strong Starts for Children Policy Forum
4-4:15 p.m. – Registration

4:15-5 p.m. – Dinner

4:40-4:50 p.m. – Welcome from Everyday Democracy's Martha L. McCoy

4:50-5:30 p.m. – Strong Starts for Children groups report out on their communities' action ideas

5:30-7:30 p.m. – Small-group discussions exploring policy options to make progress on early childhood development issues

7:30-8 p.m. – Report outs from small-group discussions and closing

Media contact: Steve Carr (505) 277-1821; e-mail: scarr@unm.edu