From our different backgrounds — one as former prosecutor, and the other an early childhood education administrator — when we came across young people having done something dumb or really dangerous, there came the thought: “I wish I had the superpower to change opportunities for him. To improve his odds. To help him be his best self.”

From our combined years of experience in law and administering early childhood programs — working with other officials, experts and agencies — we know that a superpower does exist to make a child a worthy citizen, good and successful. The power is early education, with engaged parents

Experience and experts tell us that birth to 5 are the critical years for determining a child’s success later in life — and that parents must be engaged in high-quality early-learning efforts.

The evidence is so strong that it has even brought together a national bipartisan effort of leaders, called Fight Crime Invest in Kids. Across the country, those in the legal system are working to support and to promote programs like Head Start/Early Head Start in Pima County, whose services ensure our next generation of Americans will be citizen-ready.

When you’re young, being a good citizen means attending school, then finding a career or trade, voting, volunteering — and yes, even paying taxes. The groundwork begins right at home and right at birth.

There has been a new wave of interest in early education in recent years, in the wake of mounting scientific evidence showing that the first five years of life are a time of rapid brain development. Fight Crime Invest in Kids educates policymakers about the benefits that accrue from investments in high-quality early education for at-risk children, including kindergarten readiness, reduced dropouts and improved public safety.

We know that child poverty is growing in the U.S., so investing in comprehensive birth-to-5 early childhood education is a powerful way to overcome the negative consequences on child development and adult opportunity.

One study found that as much as 70 percent of the high school achievement gap between poor and wealthy kids already exists at kindergarten entry.

Children who enter kindergarten too far behind are likely to lag behind their peers throughout the K-12 system. Research shows a strong association between high school dropout and crime. Nationwide, seven out of 10 inmates in state prisons do not have a high school diploma.

In Arizona, 17 percent of youths ages 16 to 24 are unemployed, and 13 out of 100 youths ages 17 to 24 are arrested, according to the Strong Nation citizen-readiness study.

Locally directed programs like Head Start operate on the premise that parents are their child’s first and most important teachers. Like most effective age 0-to-3 programs, Head Start provides parents with opportunities to enhance their skills as caregivers and educators — better preparing them to guide their child’s development from Day One.

From the perspective of a judge who sees families in crisis, parents must be active in their child’s educational efforts as well as activities to improve their own lives. Head Start provides parents support and opportunities to learn how to be active in their child’s education. It also provides parents access to a spectrum of services that enables their children to be more successful as adults and employees — and then also become community advocates themselves for Head Start.

This is why Head Start’s priorities directly impact young children’s ability to become citizen-ready. And that’s why — in “Head Start Awareness Month” — we promote Child-Parent Centers’ Head Start efforts in Pima County that assist families stay intact, stay healthy and thrive.

We know the importance of high-quality early education and having parents involved in their child’s education from the get-go. That’s the kind of superpower that works.

Judge Kathleen Quigley is presiding judge of Pima County Juvenile Court. Edward Condon is executive director of the Region 9 Head Start Association.