Jennifer Garner appeared to get close to tears Thursday while testifying before lawmakers about child poverty and early childhood education, issues dear to her heart.
The actress, who shares three children with husband Ben Affleck, got emotional while testifying for more than 25 minutes at the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee's hearing on early childhood education programs at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington and calling for more funding to help children in need.
Garner was invited to speak on behalf of the Save the Children charity, of which she serves as a trustee and ambassador. She has traveled all over the U.S. to see the effects of poverty on children and their families and has visited Washington several times to speak on behalf of the group.
"I make a point to try and get out and do as many site visits as possible," she said. "Mothers come up to me and say, 'Can you help get my child into these programs? Can you just nudge us up in the wait list? Is there anything you could do?'"
"The thought that I would have to go back to these mothers and say, 'Well, no, there is nothing I can do...' These families know what it is to have this intervention and they know what they're losing when it's gone and I'll have to answer to it, so that is what matters to me, selfishly, sir," Garner said with a sad smile, her voice cracking with emotion.
Garner talked about visiting the home of an impoverished family in central California and seeing an 11-month-old baby boy who was sitting on the floor staring at a TV and did not even look up when she and a group coordinator walked in the door. The rep gave him a ball and encouraged his mother to play with him. It appeared he had never seen one before and reacted positively when the mom complied. The rep also encouraged her to talk to him.
"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," she 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."
"It's easy to escape responsibility for disgrace like that by blaming the parents," she said. "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. Poverty dulls the senses, it saps hope, it destroys the will."
Garner called for a "significant investment in high-quality childhood education, proven effective programs like Early Head Start, childcare development block grants, preschool development grants and home visitation models such as Save the Children's Early Steps to School Success" so that "we can intervene in these children's lives in time to make a difference."
"These children don't vote, they don't make political contributions, neither do their parents," she said. "Somebody has to tell their story above all the noise. Poverty is silent, but I can't be."