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."
RELATED: Ben Affleck Just Said the Absolute Sweetest Thing About Jennifer Garner
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.
[MUSIC] Tell me why you decided to become involved with Save the Children. I wanted specifically to find an organization that was. Helping kids in rural America. Kids in rural America just get lost. They get lost in the shuffle. And, they're so spread out, so isolated. And, there's nobody fighting for them. But, there is. [LAUGH] And, it's the U.S. programs of Save the Children. Your mom was a school teacher. Yeah. Do you think that, that impacted the way you wanted to take action, and be involved? Involved in Save the Children? My mom had a huge impact on where I wanted to put my focus, but it wasn't that she was a school teacher as much as it was that she grew in Oklahoma in real, real poverty. Mm-hm. With 11 kids in a one room little, tiny, tiny house. She is the only one of her family who went on and went to college. You have to get to a kid early. I mean, kids in America or kids growing up in poverty. By the time they're four, they're a year and a half behind. And so when you start school at five and a half or six here in the United States, you've already lost them. You're starting in remediation before you can even get your feet under you. If we could just take the billions of dollars we spend on catching kids up and just spend it on the first five years of their lives. And when their mom is pregnant with them, the problems would go away. It's. A social justice problem in the United States is actually a civil rights problem. And everyone is in agreement about it anyone I talk to in DC and yet we can't seem to just have the political will to push it over the line. [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, as evidence to [INAUDIBLE] incidents or A memory from a home visit that has really touched you? There have been a lot. But one that wasn't that long ago was in Central Valley, California, and this little boy. He was 11-months-old, and he had a two-week-old little baby brother. He didn't crawl or walk. Nobody spoke to each other. There weren't any books. There was nothing on the wall. And the coordinator was saying you know, does, does he talk at all? Is he babbling? And she was like no, no. Well she pulled out a ball, and he had never seen a ball. He said to the mom, just start rolling it back and forth with him. And she did, and he got so excited, he started babbling. And the coordinator said that's it, that's the beginning of speech. He's trying to talk to you, he's communicating with you. Do it back to him. And by the time we left, they were giggling together. They were hugging each other, and it was just, she just needed that little bit of love, and that nudge. But that's what it looks like. If you've never seen it, and nobody did it for you, and you're isolated in the middle of nowhere, and you're not around other moms, you don't know what it's supposed to look like. That's what this coordinator from Save The Children did for her. She gave her all this love and said, you've got it. People don't know the poverty that is in the United States. One in four kids in rural America are growing up in poverty. The only way out is to hit them hard, young. And it's brick by brick work. But this is an organization that really does it and puts their money right into the program. So, I'm a big believer. [MUSIC]