This month, the California Children and Family Commission selected Jackie Thu-Huong Wong as the new executive director of First 5 California. She is the first woman of color to lead the state agency, which plays a high-profile role in highlighting the importance of investing in early care and education and in strengthening healthy bonds between parents and children.
Following a national search, the commission recently chose Wong to replace outgoing Executive Director Camille Maben. The two worked closely together while Wong served as chief deputy director of First 5 California. The selection committee, led by California Surgeon General and First 5 chair Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and Shana Hazan, reviewed candidates who best exemplified the agency’s mission to provide equitable resources, services and programs to all families.
“Ms. Wong’s whole child/whole family/whole community approach — fueled by a lifelong commitment to equity and justice — is key for change that so many of our children need,” Maben said, predicting that Wong would usher in “an exciting new era” at First 5 California.
With formal training as a social worker and three decades working in the field, Wong is credited with helping transform the First 5 California into an organization that works to create safe, stable, nurturing, relationships and environments for the youngest California children. Wong was a Vietnamese refugee who was born during the fall of Saigon.
“Growing up as a refugee, my parents instilled in me the importance of staying rooted in the history of our lived experiences and to center that in my service to others,” Wong stated. “I am truly humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve California.”
In making the announcement March 1, First 5’s news release also noted Wong’s role in helping families “overcome the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, address adverse childhood experiences, remove barriers to equity, and tackle the systemic issues affecting California’s families.”
Her previous titles include vice president of policy and advocacy for GRACE, an organization focused on reducing child poverty; government relations director for the National Center for Youth Law; and statewide director for the Foster Youth Service at the California Department of Education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social welfare and psychology from University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s in social work from California State University, Sacramento.