Republican and Democratic Arkansas lawmakers formed a new legislative caucus focusing on early childhood well-being. The caucus will work with early childhood advocates to create an agenda for the 2021 Arkansas General Assembly.
The Arkansas Early Childhood Well-Being Caucus will be chaired by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, and Rep. Denise Garner, D-Fayetteville. Bipartisan members from the Senate and the House have joined the caucus.
“During my career as a nurse practitioner and advocate for behavioral sciences and education, I’ve learned the importance of early intervention to insure the best outcome,” Rep. Garner said. “As around 80% of a child’s brain is developed by age 3 and 90% by age 5, it’s imperative to make certain our children are receiving everything they need to thrive and that we have policies in place to help make that happen.”
“As a son of a kindergarten teacher, I saw firsthand the importance of early childhood development,” Sen. Garner said. “I’m excited to be part of this group of bipartisan legislators who are working together to move Arkansas in a new and better direction for our children.”
There are more than 190,000 children in Arkansas under age 5.
The new caucus will spend the next several months hearing from experts on brain development, nurturing environments, and the impacts of social determinants of health outcomes.
The caucus held its first meeting Thursday (Jan. 16) with 16 legislators in attendance. The meeting featured a presentation on Brain Development by Dr. Nikki Edge, Professor in the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine at UAMS and a presentation on Prenatal to Age 3 by Jamie Morrison Ward, President of the Arkansas Association for Infant Mental Health.
“We are thrilled with the opportunity to raise awareness and educate Arkansans on the critical developmental period of prenatal to age 3,” said Ward. “The formation of the Early Childhood Well-Being caucus is a testament to the importance of the early years, and we are very fortunate to have a legislature that is interested in learning how to positively impact the health and education of our state’s youngest citizens and their families.”
The caucus plans to meet every month or every-other month.
In addition to Garner and Garner, members of the caucus include: State Senators Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia; Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville; Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis; Will Bond, D-Little Rock; State Representatives Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock; David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville; Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith; Don Glover, D-Dermott; LeAnne Burch, D-Monticello; Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock; Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville; Chris Richey, D-West Helena; DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio; Cindy Crawford, R-Fort Smith; Jeff Wardlaw, R-Warren; and Jon Eubanks, R-Paris.