In late July, the Metropolitan King County Council in Washington voted 8-1 to put investments in prevention and early childhood development on the November ballot. This groundbreaking initiative, called Best Starts for Kids, would fund prevention strategies to raise healthier kids in healthier communities.
This vision of a healthier King County exemplifies bold leadership to improve health—by asking voters to invest in community strategies proven to support health and prevent illness and injury in the first place, with an emphasis on children ages 0-5.
Currently, more than 70% of the county’s general fund goes to the criminal justice system, King County executive Dow Constantine has noted. The moral argument for investing in kids is always easy—but the fiscal case is compelling, too, he said in a statement last week:
“The challenge we face today is that by the time we respond to negative outcomes –mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and incarceration— we don't have sufficient funds to provide enough of these resources to meet the existing demand. Too many of our children suffer lifelong conditions that could be prevented with early intervention.”
Prevention Institute’s Larry Cohen and The California Endowment’s Tony Iton have outlined the essential elements of sustainable funding mechanisms for prevention in a recent paper published by the Institute of Medicine. When prevention efforts do save money, substantial portions of those funds get reinvested in prevention, thus “closing the loop,” they wrote in the paper. King County is on the leading edge in figuring out how to create these more sustainable investments for prevention.
We applaud King County’s vision, and think this ballot initiative deserves close attention as a national model for putting much needed resources toward community prevention and health equity.