King County Executive Dow Constantine proposes a six-year, $65 million levy for children and families in his state of the county address. He wants to fund early interventions to prevent crime, mental illness and homelessness.
To help more children succeed, King County Executive Dow Constantine on Monday proposed a six-year, $65 million levy to fund early health investments and intervention strategies for youngsters, their families and communities.
The levy, which Constantine is calling “Best Starts for Kids,” emphasizes prevention and support in early childhood and at key developmental stages through age 24 in an effort to reverse the county’s heavy spending on the criminal-justice system, as well as high rates of homelessness and a lack of mental-health and drug-treatment options for youth.
In his annual “State of the County” address Monday at the Federal Way Community Center, Constantine argued that investing early in a child’s life is more effective and less expensive than responding only when more serious problems emerge in adolescence or young adulthood.
He said growing income inequality in the county means that a child’s ZIP code can determine the odds of dropping out of school or becoming involved in the criminal-justice system.
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“The goal of Best Starts For Kids is to sever the link between income and outcomes — to create a King County where the circumstance of one’s birth no longer defines the course of one’s life,” Constantine said.
The proposal will go next week to the Metropolitan King County Council for deliberation. It must be approved by July to appear on the November ballot.
The levy proposal would cost about $56 per year for the owner of a $400,000 home. It would bring in an average $65 million per year over six years.
A levy advisory group would provide ongoing oversight of spending and recommended programs.
Constantine said the county would rely on emerging neuroscience that shows the first five years in a child’s life are particularly critical for brain development. The levy proposes to fund home visits for new mothers to ensure healthy babies, mental-health and developmental screenings for all youth in King County, and flexible funding for families and youth to prevent homelessness.
“We see a strong thread of prevention throughout this approach,” said Sara Levin, vice president of community services for United Way of King County, which worked with county officials to craft the levy proposal. “Catching kids early, helping kids and families who didn’t have that help get back on track, is more effective than trying to help them later when more serious problems emerge.”
The levy would expand some existing county programs offered through public-health clinics, including the Nurse Family Partnership, which provides home visits to new, low-income mothers, maternal support services and family planning.
But other initiatives to be funded by the levy have yet to be determined. A briefing paper says that after the levy passes, the county will organize a community planning process to identify programs and approaches, and how to judge outcomes.
And while in some cases, programs will have proven, scientifically verified track records of success, in others the county will fund promising strategies and pay for their evaluation.
“I like the idea of moving things forward in prevention,” Councilmember Kathy Lambert said. “Hopefully, in six years, we will be able to reinvest some of the cost savings.”
Other goals of the levy include walkable communities and better access to healthful food in an effort to address childhood obesity and the costly medical complications that can follow a child through life.
Councilmember Jane Hague said many of the initiatives grow out of the County Council’s development of a Youth Action Plan and the County’s Health and Human Services Transformation Plan.
“We will have a robust discussion over the next couple of months about what kind of outcomes we expect so the public feels confident about how we’re going to spend the money and that it’s a wise investment. I’ve been very clear I want very transparent, definable outcomes,” she said.