News & Notes:

Governor Brown Releases 2017-18 Budget

“We are in very uncertain times,” said Governor Jerry Brown when he released his 2017-18 State Budget proposal last week. The Governor is anticipating a $1.6 billion deficit, the first deficit projected after four years of growth, due to lower revenues collected. The anticipation of major policy shifts from the incoming Trump administration and the Republican Congress only adds to the uncertainty. The impact of reduced (or eliminated) federal funding flowing to California will likely be reflected in the May Budget Revise, if known.

 Here’s what we do know: the Governor’s new budget does not do enough to support California’s young children and families. Most troubling is the fact it tables a three-year plan to increase child care provider reimbursement rates and subsidized child slots. This means $226.8 million in planned child care spending won’t be included in the budget next year and nearly 3,000 children will have to wait one more year for subsidized full-day preschool.

Can California’s children afford to wait? The state’s subsidized child care and preschool system lost $1 billion during the Great Recession and remains funded 20 percent below pre-recession levels, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. Uncertain times call for investing in programs proven to work. Quality early learning benefits children now and well into the future.

The Governor’s budget also proposes administrative changes to the California State Preschool Program. We will follow and participate in discussions about these changes to ensure they do not compromise program quality and children’s care and learning.

On the plus side, the budget offers support for families struggling to make ends meet from California’s earned income tax credit, an increase in the minimum wage, implementation of last summer’s repeal of the Maximum Family Grant for public aid recipients, and the expansion of health care coverage.

The next six months leading up to the final revised budget will be crucial in keeping whole the education, health and social programs that sustain hundreds of thousands of California families. These are the families who bore the brunt of the last budget crisis resulting in a generation of young children who lost the opportunity for quality early education.  The young children of our state and county cannot afford to fall behind yet again, even in “uncertain times.”

Read the California Policy Center’s take on the budget.

 

Help Me Grow Implementation Highlights

We’ve made great progress in our second year implementing the Help Me Grow (HMG) model, a system to streamline early screening and intervention services for young children and families.

Screening young children for developmental delays and linking them to effective services provides immediate relief to concerned families and reduces the costs for special education or other services down the road. In California, most developmental concerns are not identified or addressed until children start kindergarten – missed opportunities to begin interventions early.

Contra Costa’s Help Me Grow system is working to change this in four effective ways:

1. Expanding developmental screening services. We continue to train children’s services providers on the effective screening tool, Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ). County public health nurses and clinic staff, First 5 Center staff, Head Start sites, home visiting programs, child care sites and other nonprofit organizations are using the ASQ to routinely screen children. Nearly 30% of professionals we trained last year were child care providers, a direct result of California’s Quality Rating and Improvement System which includes screening as a measure of high-quality child care. The First 5 Centers also worked to increase screening efforts, which paid off with 40% more children screened compared to the previous year. In the last year, our funded partners screened nearly 1,800 children. Fifty-one percent were on track with their development and 49% needed assistance for possible developmental concerns.

2. Linking families to needed services. The 211 HMG phone referral service, operated by the Contra Costa Crisis Center, can assess families’ needs, connect them to services, and provide follow-up. All HMG 211 operators receive ongoing training on child development and how to ask callers sensitive information to determine if they have particular child development concerns. Of the 474 callers assisted last year, most lived in East County and about 20 percent were from Richmond. The majority of callers had children under age two. The most common referrals made were for housing and food services, mental health or behavior health services, and the First 5 Centers.

3. Helping children with mild to moderate developmental concerns. Children identified though screening who need a boost to catch up on developmental milestones are referred to developmental playgroups. The groups are operated by child development specialists (from Baby Builders and We Care Children’s Services) and take place at the First 5 Centers. Last year, 189 children attended these groups, and nearly three-fourths of parents said their children’s development improved because of their participation.

4. Increasing parent’s awareness about child development and how to find help. Each year we survey parents new to First 5-funded services. One thing we’re seeing is a steady increase in the number of parents with concerns about their child’s development. Last year, 29% of parents had concerns, compared to 2012 when only 17% did. In addition, mothers surveyed from our home visiting programs said that learning about child development (e.g., milestones, stages, etc.) was the most important thing they learned from their home visitor.  We will continue to expand awareness about Help Me Grow and child development in a new public education campaign later this year.

Learn more about Help Me Grow.

 

Tax Refunds for Working Families

The United Way’s Earn It! Keep It! Save It! campaign is underway once again to help eligible families receive the tax refunds they’ve earned. Please inform the families you work with about these important opportunities to boost their incomes:

  • Families who earned less than $54,000 in 2016 may be eligible for the federal EITC and to have their taxes done for free by IRS-certified volunteers. You can find a complete list of free tax assistance sites in Contra Costa County here or by calling 211. Outreach materials in English and Spanish are also available at earnitkeepitsaveit.org.
  • Families who earned less than $14,161 in 2016 may be eligible for California’s EITC and up to $2,700 in tax credits. Find eligibility information, social media graphics, and bilingual outreach materials here.

Please share this information in newsletters, on your social media pages, and with your constituents. Both EITC tax credits, along with the Child Tax Credit, lifts more children out of poverty than any other policy. Let’s make sure our hard-working families know about it.

 

New Posters Promote Breastfeeding Benefits

We were pleased to join Contra Costa Health Services, Kaiser Permanente and the WIC program to print a new series of posters promoting the benefits of breastfeeding for babies, mothers and families.

Contra Costa County’s WIC department led the project, which features photos of WIC families, to create a set of promotional breastfeeding materials with modern, relatable families and messages, as you can see below:

 
  

The bilingual posters were placed at the County Health Clinics and WIC sites, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, the five First 5 Centers, and all Head Start sites. The image with the mother with tattoos was adopted by California’s WIC program to use for statewide outreach.

Find more information about breastfeeding benefits and support in Contra Costa County.