Leadership Matters: Improving the Lives of Young Children & Families

By: GEEARS for Saporta Report

In neighborhoods throughout the United States including Georgia, children cannot drink from a faucet or make mudpies outside without risk of lead poisoning. In some homes across Georgia, children are exposed to dust from chipping, peeling, and flaking lead-based paint that results in elevated blood lead levels.  

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, one in 20 children in the state has elevated lead levels. Moreover, there is a lead risk in just under 10% of Georgia’s housing stock. There are disproportionate rates of environmental poisoning in Black and Brown communities.

Lead exposure irreparably damages the structure and function of children’s developing brains. Lead poisoning leads to poorer academic performance, behavioral health problems, and other lifelong challenges. 

Thankfully, new prevention efforts in Georgia are progressing that will begin to address the dangers of childhood lead exposure.  Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill 1355 which, if enacted, will align Georgia with CDC guidelines on elevated blood lead levels, interventions, and abatement.  This bill will now move to the Georgia Senate for consideration. In addition, the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning have announced a new partnership, the Clean Water for Georgia Kids program, which provides free testing for water in schools and child care programs and shares recommendations for taking action to eliminate lead in water.  

Our national consciousness on the dangers of environmental toxins such as lead was sparked because of the dedication and determination of a pediatrician turned activist, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha who ensured that the water crisis in Flint garnered national attention. In Georgia, Representative Katie Dempsey has been a champion of early childhood health and has ensured that issues such as childhood lead poisoning are understood and addressed. On April 12thGEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students will host a luncheon honoring the leadership of both inspiring women.

As our keynote speaker, Dr. Mona will share her story of how she used research and activism to expose and mitigate the effects of the Flint water crisis. An unwavering advocate even in the face of backlash, Dr. Mona has testified four times before the United States Congress and was awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America. She was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and recognized as one of USA Today’s Women of the Century for her role in uncovering the Flint water crisis and leading recovery efforts. Her book, What the Eyes Don’t See, was an official selection of The New York Times Book Review for 100 Notable Books of 2018. 

We will honor Representative Katie Dempsey with our inaugural Early Childhood Champion Award in recognition of her outstanding leadership that has improved the lives of young children across the state. As the chair of recent house study committees on childhood lead exposure and on infant and toddler social and emotional health, Representative Katie Dempsey has led the way in ensuring that Georgia can better support the healthy development of its youngest children. 

Both Dr. Mona and Representative Dempsey are shining examples of leadership and commitment to the health and well-being of young children. Join these honored guests and us to hear their leadership stories and be inspired to use your voice to lift the needs of children and families in your community.

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