Rep. Katie Dempsey will convene on Thursday the first of several meetings examining how – and why – the state can encourage better models for early childhood development.

The Rome Republican chairs the House Study Committee on Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health. She said the inaugural session will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta.

Dempsey said she chose one of the larger rooms due to the amount of interest the subject is generating. The proceedings will be livestreamed on the Georgia General Assembly website.

“It’s a very thought-provoking topic: To live a successful adult life, how much earlier we need to start looking at emotional and social well-being,” she said. “The years from zero to 3 are very important.”

When babies are raised in homes lacking stability – due to poverty, mental illness, drug abuse or other stressors – it can warp their emerging relationship and coping skills, Dempsey said. Addressing problems at the outset can enhance their potential quality of life, she said, and save the state money in the long run.

Among the scheduled speakers is Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker. She’ll talk about how early intervention in cases of “social-emotional health challenges” can affect the criminal justice system.

The agenda includes experts in a variety of fields.

Jamie Colvard, a senior technical assistance specialist with the Zero to Three Policy Center, will lead off with information about the nonprofit’s early childhood support systems for kids and their families.

Erica Fener-Sitkoff, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children, will talk about the current state of behavior health services for children and several pediatricians will explain how toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences affect brain development.

A panel of pediatricians and child care providers also will talk about situations they’ve observed in real life.

The committee is tasked with evaluating a range of mental health services and making legislative recommendations on how to best support young children and families. It runs through Nov. 30.

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