News & Notes:

Standing Up for Our Children

Almost half of all kids in Contra Costa County have immigrant parents. As champions for the most vulnerable among us, we wholeheartedly refute policies that cause harm to immigrant families and our community.

Immigrants move to America to make better lives for themselves, and to contribute to our culture and community. That’s the American Dream. Or at least it always has been.

Today’s political climate – with its unsound Executive Orders and inhumane deportation policies – is putting  more and more families in harm’s way, especially non-citizens, people of color, and Muslim Americans.

Immigration policies that break families apart threaten young children’s safety, stability, and development. Children should not live in constant fear their parents will be taken away at any moment. Children should not be further traumatized when a loving parent is deported or by policies that promote racial hatred.

We are exploring many strategies for protecting children and preserving their families, including training service providers and other partners on immigration policies and resources, promoting sanctuary city and safe haven policies, providing trustworthy information for families at our First 5 Centers,  and advocating for just immigration policies.

California lawmakers and officials are also working to protect our families and neighbors:

  • Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) has introduced the “California Values Act” to prevent the use of state and local resources for federal immigration enforcement that would separate families and hurt the state’s economy
  • The immigrant Tenant Protection Act of 2017 (Assembly Bill 291) aims to strengthen state law to protect immigrant tenants from intimidation and retaliation in their homes.
  • California School Superintendent Tom Torlakson urges school districts to remain safe havens for students; see Pittsburg Unified’s resolution.

In America, no one should fear for their safety because of the color of their skin, what language they speak, how they pray, who they love, or where they’re from.

At First 5 Contra Costa, we will stand with our families in this moment of crisis. We believe, like Marian Wright Edelman, that if you don’t stand up for children, then you don’t stand for much of anything

– Sean Casey, Executive Director, First 5 Contra Costa

First 5 Goes to the Capitol

More than 100 representatives from First 5 commissions throughout California attended First 5 Advocacy Day in Sacramento last month. First 5 champions spoke with legislators about the importance of early childhood development, the state of declining First 5 revenues, and why Governor Brown’s “pause” on promised increases for child care funding harms children and providers.

Legislators were also informed that by 2020, First 5 revenues are projected to be 40 percent lower than their peak in 2000, dropping to $400 million annually statewide. Last year, First 5 commissions invested close to $500 million in early childhood programs.

“California has tied essential children’s services to unstable funding,” said First 5 Association Director Moira Kenney. “We need lawmakers to understand that First 5 programs and services are unsustainable given the way we fund children’s services.”

For the past four years, the First 5 Association of California has brought together First 5 leaders from all 58 counties to urge lawmakers to prioritize young children in policy decisions and to advocate for quality early care and education, home visiting, and developmental screening services.

As President of the First 5 Association, our Executive Director Sean Casey also joined First 5 leaders in meetings with the Governor’s Office, Lt. Governor’s Office, Senate President Pro Tem’s Office, and the Department of Education.

Special thanks to First 5 Contra Costa Commissioner Lee Ross for joining the Contra Costa team for the day!

Click here to learn more about the First 5 Association’s policy agenda.


Are Kindergarteners Ready for School?

Are Contra Costa kindergarteners ready for school?

We set out to answer this question by conducting our first large-scale assessment that examined children’s readiness at kindergarten entry and various factors that influence their readiness.

Applied Survey Research, the external evaluation firm we work with, conducted the assessment in the Antioch, Mt. Diablo, and Pittsburg Unified School Districts. Nineteen schools participated.

We selected schools based on their proximity to a First 5 Center as well as schools with lower 3rd grade reading proficiency and higher numbers of children in the federal school lunch program. A total of 425 children participated.

Kindergarten teachers assessed each child at the beginning of the school year on:

  • Kindergarten academics – number, shape and letter recognition
  • Self-regulation – children are focused, can follow directions
  • Social expression – children are eager to learn, empathetic
  • Motor skills – general coordination, can hold a pencil properly

Parents also completed surveys to collect additional data about their children’s school readiness experiences leading up to kindergarten.

Here’s what we learned:

Thirty-two percent of children were assessed fully ready for kindergarten, 35 percent were partially ready, and 33 percent of children were not ready.

While the assessment had a small sample size, it is concerning that only one in three children was fully ready for school.  Children who start school behind their peers are more likely to stay behind.

The good news is that study also sheds light on factors that contributed to these children starting school fully prepared – many of which First 5 Contra Costa already supports. For example, parents who participated in parenting classes or home visiting programs had children who were more likely to be prepared for school.

The following are factors associated with children’s readiness:

Health and well-being: Children who come to school hungry, tired, or sick on at least some days were less ready than those who do not.

Age and gender: Older children were more ready. Girls were more ready than boys.

Child concerns: Children whose parents reported fewer child-related concerns—such as being concerned about managing their child’s behavior or feeling their child is much harder to care for than most children—were more likely to be ready.

Family characteristics: Children whose mothers had more than a high school education, whose family income was at least $35,000, and who came from two-parent households had higher readiness than children who lacked one or more these characteristics.

Parent support activities: Parents indicated if they participated in various support activities, such as home visiting from a nurse or community worker; attending a First 5 Center; consulting parenting books, magazines or newspapers; or visiting parenting websites. Children whose parents engaged in at least one of these activities were more ready.

Child care experience: Children who attended a formal child care or preschool setting (Head Start, center-based programs, family child care home or transitional kindergarten program) had higher levels of readiness.

This assessment was a good start in understanding kindergarten readiness in Contra Costa County. We plan to repeat the assessment with other districts, schools, and classrooms to deepen our understanding about school readiness and the factors that influence it. Results of this work will be used to shape both First 5 service delivery and advocacy activities to ensure more children start school ready to succeed.

Read the two-page summary.


Meet Sarah Crow

Welcome Sarah Crow, the  new Strategic Information and Planning Manager at First 5 Contra Costa. This new position is responsible for supporting First 5’s increasing role as an advocate for children and families.

Before coming to First 5, Sarah held a few different positions at small non-profits with missions to advance policies to improve the lives of vulnerable children and working families.

Earlier in her career, Sarah worked as a senior analyst at the San Francisco Human Services Agency where she worked with various social service programs and initiatives including subsidized employment, child care, food assistance, and access to Medi-Cal. Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Oberlin College and a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Michigan. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and two fabulous kids.

What was your favorite book as a child?

The BFG, and almost anything else by Roald Dahl.

What food did you refuse to eat when you were a kid?

I didn’t eat most food as a kid, so this is hard to answer. My mom is a ridiculously good gourmet cook, and prepared beautiful, fancy food every night that I stared at but rarely ate. I got most of my calories from breakfast cereal.

What do you do in your free time?

Drive my kids around; go for long, fast walks or short, slow runs; rant about politics; talk about food, think about food and eat food; try to keep up with my book clubs; plant beautiful things in my backyard and then mourn their deaths.

Did you have a favorite place to visit as a child?

I spent a lot of time at my best friend’s house, because I could ride my bike there and her mom was ok with us eating junk food. My family traveled a lot, so I found a lot of favorite places during our trips to different countries.

What is your motto?

I keep a rolling list of phrases in my head that I run through when in need. Currently I’m fond of “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

What would make Contra Costa an even better place for children and families?

I’ve been incredibly inspired by the First 5 Centers. I love that they are places of stability and warmth for families. I wish there had been a First 5 Center near me when my kids were little. I wish there were one in every neighborhood.