Jennifer Garner spoke in front of members of Congress to advocate for early childhood education in a passionate speech on Thursday.
The actress, who serves as a trustee and ambassador for Save the Children, testified on Capitol Hill before a House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing, where she called for more funding toward childhood education programs.
In her testimony, the actress recounted a home visit she made in California, in which an 11-month-old baby was so deprived of stimulation that he didn’t even look up at her when she entered the room and instead was glued to the TV from the floor. After encouraging the mother to play with him, the group coordinator she was with gave the little boy a ball and he instantly perked up and responded positively. Garner, a mother of three, seemed to get slightly emotional as she started speaking about how poverty and a lack of childhood stimulation affects children.
“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, 44, 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 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.”
“Poverty dulls the senses, it saps hope, it destroys the will,” she said.
Garner was joined by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, professor of child development and education at Columbia University and Don Millican, spokesman for the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
“I’ve had the honor of working with Jennifer at Save the Children for the past nine years,” said Mark Shriver, President of Save the Children Action Network in a statement. “She is an incredible champion for children and works tirelessly to make sure low-income kids across the country have access to critical early education programs like Head Start and home visiting, as well as high-quality child care. She knows that it’s essential to our country’s future to invest in kids.”
On Tuesday, Garner’s estranged husband Ben Affleck revealed in a Facebook post that he had completed treatment for alcohol addiction. In his statement, he thanked Garner, saying: “I’m lucky to have the love of my family and friends, including my co-parent, Jen, who has supported me and cared for our kids as I’ve done the work I set out to do.”
This article originally appeared on People.com