News & Notes:

Watch It: New Developmental Playgroups

Q&A: Meet Commissioner Barbara Cappa

Parenting Topic: Read to Your Baby

Spotlight: Triple P Workshops Reduce Stress, Improve Parenting Skills

Sean’s Message


First 5 Allocates $225,000 to Improve Early Literacy

01-readingTo help low-income children prepare for kindergarten, First 5 Contra Costa is investing $225,000 to expand the Raising a Reading literacy program. Raising a Reader provides low-income toddlers and preschoolers with an ongoing rotation of books to enjoy with their parents, which are rotated and distributed through local child care programs.

“Reading aloud to young children is one of the most effective ways for parents to prepare their children for kindergarten, yet research shows that 60% of low-income families do not have a single children’s book at home,” said Sean Casey, Executive Director of First 5 Contra Costa.

First 5 Contra Costa awarded funding to Raising a Reader Bay Area, a nonprofit organization currently providing the service to 11,000 children in San Francisco and Alameda counties. Raising a Reader has been cited as one solution for the “word gap” – a phenomenon which shows that by age three, children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than their higher income peers.

“A lack of exposure to words means low-income children are more likely to enter kindergarten already behind and with smaller vocabularies. Many children may never catch up,” said Molly Wertz, Executive Director Raising a Reader Bay Area. “Decades of research shows that sharing books at home fosters early brain development and bolters children’s school readiness skills, excitement about reading, and later success in school. The simple act of parents reading aloud to their children can help level the playing field.”

Up to 2,500 Contra Costa families already benefit from Raising a Reader in Contra Costa County. New funding to Raising a Reader Bay Area will enable more families to benefit from the program and will provide participating child care programs with more intense training and support to promote literacy concepts with parents.


Save the Date: Dr. Bruce Perry is Coming!

02-bruce-perryPLEASE SAVE THE DATE!

The country’s leading expert on childhood trauma, Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., will be providing a seminar for professionals in Contra Costa who work with young children. We hope you can attend!

The seminar will take place on February 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. The fee for attending will be $55, which includes a lite lunch. CEU’s will be provided.

Come learn the most effective ways for helping traumatized children in Contra Costa County. This seminar is designed for all professionals who work with young children. Participants will gain knowledge in the following areas:

  • The impact of trauma on early childhood development and implications for intervention
  • The biological and developmental cost of traumatizing parenting on young children
  • Building resilience through trauma-informed responses and interventions
  • How organizations and providers can be more responsive to the adverse impact of trauma on young children and families
  • Best practices for developing a trauma-informed community in Contra Costa

Registration information will be posted on our website by January 22.

The event is co-sponsored by First 5 Contra Costa, East Bay Community Foundation, Early Childhood Leadership Alliance (ECLA) and Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence.


Senator DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Bonilla Support First 5, ECE

04-15Yrs-120In case you missed it, here’s the op-ed that ran in the Contra Costa Times by Senator Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, both former First 5 Contra Costa Commissioners.

Fifteen years ago this month, California voters expressed their desire for greater investment in early childhood when they approved Proposition 10, the tobacco tax that dedicates funding for health and education programs for children birth to age five.

Even back then, the evidence was clear: how children grow and develop during their first five years affects them for the rest of their lives – as future students, parents, and workers.

Research from varied disciplines, including neuroscience, child development, and economics, continues to show that children’s earliest experiences – both positive and adverse – directly influence how their brains develop and whether or not they grow up healthy, prepared for school, and successful later in life.

Thanks to Proposition 10, which created First 5 commissions in every California county to respond to local needs and invest in local solutions, our children are getting a better start at life.

Locally, First 5 Contra Costa has invested more than $115 million to create a network of effective and essential services for our county’s youngest residents. As former members of the First 5 Contra Costa Commission, we are proud to have helped shape these services which now benefit thousands of Contra Costa children every year, such as:

  • High-quality preschool for low-income children who otherwise would start kindergarten socially and cognitively behind their peers.
  • Training and education for child care providers to ensure children receive the highest quality early care and education during their most important developmental period.
  • Family support programs, including First 5 Centers and home visitation services, designed to prevent child abuse and support healthy child development.
  • Intensive services for children at greatest risk for compromised development, including homeless children and those affected by parental substance abuse.
  • Regular screening to detect and treat developmental delays or autism as early as possible, when intervention is most effective and least expensive.

We congratulate First 5 for creating a solid infrastructure of critical early childhood education, health, and family support services. Programs like these not only help children become successful later in life, they also benefit society by leading to better health outcomes, higher earnings, and reduced spending on foster care, teen pregnancy, and crime. It has been widely documented that quality preschool alone is a sound investment, with as much as $7 saved for every dollar spent.

But to fully realize the great gains to children and society that investments like these reap, we as a state and a nation must do even more to invest in young children and meet their needs. California, home to one in eight of the nation’s children, faces great challenges in the years ahead. One in four children, and nearly half of children age three and younger, live in poverty.

The affects of poverty on young children – when 85% of brain development occurs – can be life-long, leading to a generation of Californians who may never live to their full potential. Investing in children in order to build a more competent and competitive future workforce is every bit as feasible and worthy as investing in infrastructure like transportation or the environment.

President Obama has proposed a significant increase in funding for preschool and voluntary home visiting programs for disadvantaged children. This shift in policy and long-standing federal funding would be transformative. It will produce individuals who achieve more, need less government support, and contribute to society. We encourage Congress to enact it.

First 5 has laid the groundwork in California, but it’s time to take this effort to scale. There is too much evidence to ignore. Building a strong, competitive economy starts by investing in our youngest children.

Senator Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla


See Our 2013 Highlights – In One Page

In 2013, we invested $9.9 million in local programs benefiting young children and families. See some of our 2013 highlights:

Ten Facts about First Five


Watch It: Our New Developmental Playgroups

State budget cuts and more restrictive eligibility criteria mean that many young children with developmental delays no longer qualify for state-funded services. So instead of catching up, some children are falling further behind. That’s where our developmental playgroups come in. The playgroups provide much needed early intervention services for children whose delays, while still significant, are not serious enough to qualify for state-funded services.
We launched the playgroups last year, led by specialists from We Care Services for Children and Baby Builders, who work with children to improve their development and provide tips for parents to help them address their child’s unique challenges. See the playgroups in action in this short video:

We’re investing $120,000 this year to continue the playgroups, which take place at the five First 5 Centers.

Contact a First 5 Center for more information.


Q&A: Meet Commissioner Barbara Cappa

qa-bcyBarbara Cappa is a Commissioner representing Disctrict II. Ms. Cappa has worked in the legal field for more than 20 years, and has served on various Boards overseeing important health and youth issues for the last 15 years. She has served on the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County, the Contra Costa County Child Death Review Team, Contra Costa County Alcohol & Other Drugs Advisory Committee, and Contra Costa County Youth Commission. Ms. Cappa currently serves on the California Task Force on Childhood Injury Prevention and the California Coalition for Children’s Safety and Health.

What food did you refuse to eat as a child?

What is your favorite childhood memory?
My childhood neighbors, playing hide and seek in the summer, and coming up with our own entertainment (we put on a lot of shows for our parents). We also loved to camp and hike.

What is your favorite place or activity in Contra Costa County?
I love hiking in the hills.

What was your favorite children’s book?
I liked anything with Nancy Drew in it.

What would make Contra Costa a better place for young children?
Safe environments where we are not afraid to let our children outside.


Parenting Topic: Read to Your Baby

07-pt-read-144It’s never too early to start reading to your child – even when he or she is a baby!

Here’s why:

The simple act of cuddling and reading to your baby helps his or her brain to develop.
Your baby finds your voice soothing. When you read to your baby it helps her love books as much as she loves you.
Babies who hear more words develop richer language.
Babies listen attentively to songs, rhymes, and stories.
What kind of books do babies like?

When choosing books for babies, use sturdy board books, washable cloth books or bath books, or books that allow baby to explore using touch. Babies like books with bright pictures of real and familiar objects, especially photos of baby faces.

Read aloud tips for babies:

  • Let your baby hold the book before you read. Show her “open” and “close”. Make it a game.
  • Stop often and point to the pictures as you name them. By naming the objects, it helps your baby learn new words.
  • Let your baby touch the pages and handle the book.
  • If your baby is more interested in putting the book in his or her mouth, try a teething toy as a distraction.
  • Make the sounds for your baby and ask him or her to make them (such as “mmmmmoooo” for the cow).
  • Give your baby time to respond to your voice. Listen to your baby, and then respond. This back and forth is how your baby learns about conversation.
  • Be patient when reading together. If your baby is restless, take a break.

By their first birthday, many babies will point to familiar objects or people in the books, make appropriate noises for animals in the story, and try to turn the pages of sturdy books.

Watch and share this short video with more read aloud tips for babies and toddlers.


Spotlight: Triple P Workshops Reduce Stress, Improve Parenting Skills

08-TriplePThe Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) we’ve been offering to parents in partnership with Contra Costa Mental Health Services and the C.O.P.E. Family Support Center is helping to reduce parents’ stress, anxiety, and depression and improved their parenting skills.

Triple P is a parenting program designed to prevent child abuse and improve parenting skills by fostering positive and nurturing relationships between parents and children. In the last two years, First 5 Contra Costa has trained 40 providers from 17 organizations to implement the Triple P curriculum locally. Classes take place at our First 5 Centers, family homeless shelters, and children’s mental health programs.

Last year, 229 parents attended one of 32 intensive 8-week group sessions, including parents caring for children with special needs. Among participating parents, 94% reported the classes helped them to learn new skills, while 90% said their relationships with other family members improved after completing the program.

See the chart below for more information about how Triple P helped alleviate parental depression and stress and improve child behavior:

Triple P Chart


To see how Triple P has helped improve parenting and reduce stress for families in very difficult situations, watch these parent testimonials, mostly filmed at Contra Costa County’s two family homeless shelters.

To learn more about Triple P classes, contact Cathy Botello at C.O.P.E. Family Support (925) 689-5811.

Sean’s Message

This month marks the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Act, the centerpiece of what he called a “war on poverty.” This effort secured federal dollars to create programs focused on education, health care, tax reduction, community revitalization and transportation projects, and even created Food Stamps and Head Start. In the last 50 years, anti-poverty programs have been expanded, reformed and eliminated depending on political and societal attitudes about government’s role in supporting the poor.

While poverty among the elderly has steadily and persistently decreased, the child poverty rate is virtually where it was 50 years ago. Children account for 36% of all people in poverty in the US. The impact of poverty on children, whether on their health, nutrition, safety or education, can be lifelong, particularly when combined with other adverse conditions such as racism, mental illness, substance use and violence.

It’s time to reframe poverty elimination as equivalent to supporting children. Researchers have demonstrated that children’s test scores improve for every $1000 increase in family income. The availability of Food Stamps increases positive educational outcomes for children. A fascinating new study has established the link between the Earned Income Tax Credit and reduced rates of low birth-weight babies among poor mothers.

Our poor families are more and more working families, and the programs we once considered a safety net are increasingly serving as subsidies for the low-paying, unbenefited jobs that are now the norm. The question is not whether the War on Poverty has succeeded, but rather how, without a robust middle class, families will succeed over the next fifty years.

Locally, we are working on a campaign to cut poverty in Contra Costa County by raising awareness and building a network of committed agencies, constituents and community members to support programs and policies that will accomplish this goal. Two anti-poverty coalitions, the Family Economic Security Partnership (FESP) and the Safety Net Task Force, are working on several projects, including a poverty Report Card for Contra Costa County and a convening to share local poverty data, explore policy solutions, and build a base of support.

I will keep you posted as these projects take shape.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director