To say it's been a big week for Jennifer Garner would be an understatement. Just two days after her husband Ben Affleck went public with his latest rehab stay, the actress testified before Congress about the importance of early childhood education.
Garner, a Save the Children trustee and mother of three, spoke during a House Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday. In an effort to secure more funding, the 44-year-old actress shared a heart-breaking story of a home visit she made in which she met an 11-month-old baby who was so under-stimulated that he didn't even look up when she entered the room. Instead, he sat alone on the ground glued to the television. Garner got teary as she recounted the moment he was presented with a ball and immediately perked up.
"A child who is not touched, who is not spoken to, who is not read to or sung to in the first five years of his or her life will not fully recover," Garner said. "Neglect can be every bit as harmful as abuse. When many of these children enter kindergarten, they don't know their letters and numbers, they don't know how to sit in a circle or listen to a story, they don't know how to hold a book. They may have never even seen a book!"
Garner noted that one in five U.S. children are so impoverished that they may enter kindergarten having never seen a book.
"It's easy to escape responsibility for disgrace like that by blaming the parents," she added. "'Who doesn't talk to a child? Who doesn't sing to their child?' I'll tell you who: parents who have lived their whole lives with the stresses that come with food scarcity, with lack of adequate shelter, with drug addiction and abuse. Parents who were left on the floor when they were children, ignored by their parents who had to choose—as one out of three mothers in this country do—between providing food or a clean diaper for their children."
She went on: "So why don't be take care of our poorest children more willingly? Well, poverty is silent, and I mean that entirely metaphorically. These children don't vote, they don't make political contributions, and neither do their parents. Somebody has to tell their story above all the noise. Poverty is silent, but I can't be."
Watch Garner's moving testimony above beginning around the 20:20 mark.