News & Notes:

Q&A: Q&A: Meet First 5 Commissioner Candace Andersen

Parenting Topic: The Important Role of Fathers

Spotlight: Opening Doors Class Helps Latino Parents

Sean’s Message


ECE Makes Largest Budget Gains in 10 years

01-ece-smWhen Governor Brown signed the 2014-15 California State Budget last month, he approved the largest investment our state has made in more than a decade in early childhood education. The $264 million package is designed to increase quality in existing programs and expand access for low-income children. The funds:

  • Provide $70 million to expand full-day, full-year California State Preschool Program for 11,500 more children.
  • Repeal the part-day California State Preschool Program family fee.
  • Improve existing transitional kindergarten standards.
  • Enhance preschool quality with $50 million.
  • Provide $69 million to increase reimbursement rates for all early learning and child care programs (ages 0-5). The proposal increases the Standard Reimbursement Rate by 5% in the budget year and Regional Market Rate to the 85th percentile of 2009 survey.
  • Provide $17 million to restore 1,500 slots for other child care programs: 500 Alternative Payment slots and 1,000 General Child Care slots.

The agreement also calls for an additional 31,500 slots to be budgeted in future years to provide pre-kindergarten opportunities for all low-income 4 year olds.

Since the Recession, $1 billion has been cut from early childhood education programs in California. While there’s still a long way to go, at least California is moving in the right direction.


Campaign Aims to Cut Poverty in Contra Costa County

02-conference-smLast month, First 5 Contra Costa and our partners convened over 200 elected officials, policy experts, social service providers, faith-based and nonprofit leaders, and representatives from the business community to discuss policy solutions for reducing poverty in Contra Costa County.

The conference, called Ensuring Opportunity, also aimed to jumpstart a countywide effort to improve economic outcomes for low-income residents in Contra Costa County. Speakers included experts from the California Budget Project and Western Center on Law and Poverty, Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Director Kathy Gallagher, and Senator Mark DeSaulnier.

In Contra Costa County, more than 200,000 residents live in poverty and many more struggle to make ends meet:

More than 65,000 families and individuals receive CalFresh (food stamps); half are children, many are seniors and most are working. 48,000 more are eligible, but not enrolled.
The Food Bank serves 149,000 people every month.
On any given night, 4,000 individuals and families seek shelter, yet there are only 382 beds available in homeless shelters. One-third of the homeless are children.
In the last decade, poverty in the suburbs has risen more than any other setting in the United States. For example, in East Contra Costa County, there’s been a 70% increase in the number of people living in poverty since 2004. Today, thirty percent of children in Pittsburg are growing up in poverty.

The Ensuring Opportunity campaign will raise awareness and build a network of committed agencies, constituents and community members to support programs and policies that address poverty. Learn more about joining this effort.

The conference was organized by Contra Costa’s Family Economic Security Partnership and the Contra Costa Safety Net Task Force. It was funded by First 5 Contra Costa, Kaiser Permanente, Richmond Community Foundation, Y&H Soda Foundation, and the Lesher Foundation.

For more information on Ensuring Opportunity, contact Fran Biderman (925) 771-7331.


The Latest on Contra Costa’s Quality Child Care Rating System

03-qris-smOne hundred child care programs in Contra Costa County are now participating in our new Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS)!

Contra Costa is one of 17 counties in California implementing a pilot QRIS thanks to funding from a federal Race to the Top (RTT) Early Learning Challenge Grant. Our original portion of the grant was $1.4 million, but was increased to $2 million last year. The extra funds will be used to serve more sites and benefit additional children.

QRIS’s rate child care programs using consistent criteria and provide ongoing support to help child care programs improve their quality. QRIS’s also help families easily identify high-quality child care for their children.

The programs in our QRIS represent family child care homes, Head Start sites, state preschool programs, and licensed and license-exempt child development programs. Most sites, as mandated by the grant, are located in low-income communities and serve infants and toddlers, dual language learners, children with special needs, and children eligible for state and federally subsidized programs.

Sites piloting our new system will be rated using the Quality Continuum Framework which includes various elements of quality, such as teacher-child ratios, teacher qualifications, and teacher-child interactions, and will receive scores based on their ratings. In states where QRIS systems are fully implemented, parents are able to refer to ratings to inform their child care choices.

In addition to ratings, our QRIS also creates a system for ongoing quality improvement, including one-on-one coaching, training, and financial incentives for participating programs to make improvements that lead to higher ratings and ultimately higher quality child care.

Our QRIS also creates a system for ongoing quality improvement, including one-on-one coaching, training, and financial incentives for participating programs to make improvements that lead to higher ratings and ultimately higher quality child care.

The federal grant ends in December 2015. Until then, we will continue piloting our rating tools and technical assistance and coaching support, while also working with local, regional and state level stakeholders to determine how to secure funding to take the pilot to scale. The 2014-15 California state budget also includes $50 million to support QRIS efforts, although it has not yet been determined how these funds will be allocated.

Our partners on the QRIS include the Contra Costa County Office of Education, Contra Costa Child Care Council, Contra Costa Community Services Bureau, and the early childhood education departments at Contra Costa College, Diablo Valley College, and Los Medanos College.


211 Receives Funds to Increase Early Intervention Expertise

04-211-smParents in Contra Costa County will soon have a new resource to consult when they have concerns about their child’s development.

With $60,000 in First 5 Contra Costa funding, the Contra Costa Crisis Center will expand its 211 services to provide more comprehensive information about developmental screening and early intervention services for children under age five.

Navigating the disability service system is difficult for most parents. In recent years, ongoing budget cuts and eligibility revisions have only exacerbated this problem. The funding awarded to expand 211 aims to create a centralized place where parents can easily find the help they need.

With the new funds, the Crisis Center will hire an Early Childhood Liaison to train 211 operators on developmental screening concepts, early intervention eligibility, and local early intervention services. The Liaison will also reach out to early intervention providers to help them understand 211’s new role in linking families with these critical services.

“The earlier children with developmental concerns or disabilities receive services, the better they do in life,” said Cally Martin, First 5 Contra Costa’s Deputy Director. “We hope 211 will become another resource for parents so they can find the services their children need easily and quickly. Early intervention is key.”

For the last two years, First 5 Contra Costa has leading the effort for the county to become a Help Me Grow affiliate, a model used throughout the U.S. to create a comprehensive, coordinated system for early detection, referral, and care coordination for children needing developmental or behavioral services.

Having centralized telephone access to connect children to services and care coordination is one of the Help Me Grow components. The others, such as provider outreach to support early detection and intervention, are being addressed through our work to expand developmental screening services and our convening of the Early Childhood Leadership Alliance (ECLA).

We will keep you posted as this program is implemented.


Community Leaders Complete Land Use Planning School

05-PlanningSchool-smThis June, nearly 30 members of the East County Regional Group (ECRG) graduated from a six-month training program on land use policy organized by First 5 Contra Costa, Contra Costa Health Services, Pacific Institute, and Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP). The project was funded by Kaiser Permanente and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The Land Use Planning School was the first of its kind in the region to train community residents on important land use concepts and advocacy skills to promote healthier and safer communities for children and families. The school consisted of six sessions covering land use equity, zoning, pollution, food access, park planning, campaign development, and messaging/strategic communication. Each session included expert guest speakers from the Bay Area as well as skits, games, and other dynamic learning exercises.

“It was inspiring to see the ECRG members increase their confidence and advocacy skills to impact land use decisions that shape the health and safety of young children and low-income families,” said Rhea Elina Laughlin, First 5 Contra Costa’s Community Engagement Program Officer. “They are ready to use their knowledge and skills, which were already strong, to participate in land use decision-making and to create more equitable, healthy communities.”

To that end, the Regional Group plans to apply their new skills to improve public parks in East County. After assessing 60 locations, Regional Group members found that improved safety, play equipment, and maintenance are particularly needed in parks located in low-income neighborhoods. ECRG members will share their park findings and recommendations with staff in each city this fall.

The success of the school has also made it a model. Contra Costa Health Services will be training other organizations throughout the county this fall using the group’s curricula, and other health departments throughout the region are exploring starting their own schools.

To learn more about the East County Regional Group or Planning School, contact Rhea Laughlin at (925) 771-7312.


Q&A: Meet First 5 Commissioner Candace Andersen

qa-candace-smSupervisor Candace Andersen was elected to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in 2012. She previously served on the Danville Town Council from 2003 to 2012, including two terms as Mayor.

Supervisor Andersen is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and Hawaii. She began her legal career as a Prosecuting Attorney in her hometown of Honolulu and worked as a civil practitioner with a law firm in Morgan Hill. Supervisor Andersen put her legal career on hold to serve the community and raise her family. She received both her B.A. in Public Policy and Juris Doctorate from Brigham Young University.

What food did you refuse to eat as a child?
Dried squid! It was a favorite food growing up in Hawaii, but not one of mine!

What is your favorite childhood memory?
Story time at the Aina Haina library after which my three sister and I would check out MANY books to read!

What is your favorite place or activity in Contra Costa County?
Playing tennis at one of our great public parks.

What was your favorite children’s book?
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale, by Maurice Sendak.

What would make Contra Costa a better place for young children?
Helping strengthen each of our families.


Parenting Topic: Kindergarten Expectations

pa-fathers-smFathers today are spending more time with their children compared to three decades ago, according to the Families and Work Institute, a leading nonprofit that studies workforce and family issues. They are also taking on more nurturing and caregiving roles.

A relationship with dad can change a child’s life. Research shows that the role a father plays in a young child’s life is extremely important to a child’s healthy development, and there are many positive outcomes for children whose fathers are more involved in their daily lives.

Get involved early. Taking an active role in caring for a newborn helps dads and babies bond from the start. You might consider taking a few days off from work after the baby is born to spend quality time together. In California, new parents, including dads, are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to be with their newborn.

Be informed and connect with other dads. Participate in community programs, take local parenting workshops, and talk with other fathers at the park or preschool to build a network of support. The First 5 Centers offer father’s groups and information, support, and fun activities. Our home visiting programs also serve fathers.

Put in the time. Make it a priority to spend quality time with your child. This helps you build a strong relationship that includes regular communication. Find activities that you and your child enjoy doing to make your time together special, like reading or spending time playing outdoors.

Create a strong bond. A great way to create and maintain a bond with young children is by being actively involved in their daily lives. Help your children take a bath, get ready for bed, or even do chores together to show that you are a consistent part of their lives.

Make it memorable. Everyday activities can provide opportunities to learn and listen to your child. For example, when riding in the car or on the bus, ask your children to describe shapes and colors they see.

Be a role-model. Practice appropriate discipline, considering your child’s age and personality. Disciplining with respect and love allows you to interact in positive ways with your child. Triple P parenting classes provide great info on setting limits and appropriate child discipline.


Spotlight: Opening Doors Helps Latino Parents

sp-OpenDoors-smFourteen parents just completed a 10-week course at the Bay Point First 5 Center called Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors), a national program to help Latino parents engage in early learning activities with their children. Abriendo Puertas is one of the largest programs in the United States working with Latino parents raising preschool-age children.

A new evaluation conducted by Child Trends found that the program is very effective in training parents to prepare their children for kindergarten. Parents who participated were much more likely to visit the library often and read daily with their children – two important school readiness activities. Even more important, parents continued engaging in these practices on an ongoing basis.

All five First 5 Centers have been trained on the ten-week program. Staff at the Bay Point First 5 Center say Abriendo Puertas is one of the most effective parenting programs they’ve ever seen. Parents like it, too. Here’s what some had to say:

  • “I thought I was the only one going through this situation. I learned that there are more solutions to things. And to give quality time to my daughter, because the more [time] I invest in her childhood the better student she will be and she’ll reach the university.”
  • “I learned how to interact with my son better, have more patience, read to him, communicate with him more, pay more attention to his needs, and let him express himself.”

Contact a First 5 Center to find out when the next Abriendo Puertas sessions are taking place.


Sean’s Message

sean_portraitAs the economy recovers from the Great Recession, the gap between rich and poor is widening. This is true in Contra Costa County, where nearly 200,000 Contra Costa residents live in poverty and even more struggle to make ends meet.

Poverty is hard for everyone but particularly toxic to children, who account for 20% of Contra Costa’s low-income population. When babies and toddlers are raised in poverty, they are more likely to experience the type of excessive, traumatic stress that interrupts healthy brain development. This disadvantage starts early and sticks.

Children born into poverty are less likely to graduate from high school or work as adults and more likely to develop chronic health problems as adults and live shorter lives. While loving, caring parents help mitigate some of the effects of growing up poor, our children deserve more.

It’s time to address the structural issues and barriers that keep people poor, such as high housing and child care costs, low-wage jobs, and confusing public benefit eligibility requirements. The reality is many people work; they just don’t earn enough to escape the intractable reality of poverty.

And the effect of a wage increase on children can be profound. Studies show that when a poor family’s income increases by just $3,000, their children do better in school and earn more as adults.

Poverty is not a natural state, like the weather. Poverty is severe and long lasting. The widespread poverty we have today is the result of human decisions and policy choices. It’s time for us to make different choices and do all we can to make sure our youngest children don’t grow up shaped by the consequences of poverty.

I encourage you to learn more about the new countywide campaign (see article above) called Ensuring Opportunity and how you can get involved to cut poverty in Contra Costa County.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director