News & Notes:

Message from Sean: Preschools Not Prison

A recent op-ed in the East Bay Times by Supervisor John Gioia and his colleagues perfectly summarized the concern many felt when the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors agreed to pledge over $15 million up front and more than $5 million annually to expand the West County jail facility.

While the merits of the proposal continue to be debated in Contra Costa, across the country, more and more municipalities are seeing the benefit of expanding services for young children and families. Each dollar invested in high-quality early childhood programs returns between seven and seventeen dollars in reduced social costs, including the costs of criminal justice and incarceration.

In one decades-long study, low-income children who attended quality preschool were much less likely to have addiction issues or end up incarcerated as adults compared to kids who hadn’t attended preschool. They were also more likely to go to college. Home visiting programs, like the Nurse Family Partnership we have in Contra Costa, have been shown to prevent child abuse and keep participating children out of the criminal justice system when they grow up.

Public investments should be about more than improving our jails or building more prisons. We must invest wisely in programs we know prevent people from getting incarcerated in the first place. Last week, Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D- Richmond) introduced legislation that would provide a revenue stream to do just that.

Assembly Bill 43 would tax for-profit companies, including private prisons, that contract with state prison facilities to provide goods or services. Funds would be used to invest in large-scale programs known to prevent incarceration including preschool and after-school programs.

“Children who start kindergarten behind are more likely to stay behind, a trend that feeds into the school-to-prison pipeline,” according to Moira Kenney, Executive Director of the First 5 Association of California, which supports AB 43. “Early interventions like quality child care and preschool can break this cycle and put children on a path that leads to success in school and life.”

We agree. More public investments should focus on improving children’s chances now. This will reduce the need to fund facilities to incarcerate them later.

Sean Casey, Executive Director, First 5 Contra Costa


GOP Health Care Plan and Children

Last week, House Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The proposed changes affect many aspects of our health care system, including the subsidies Californians receive through Covered California, as well as dramatic changes to Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California), a program that has insured poor, disabled, and vulnerable Americans for 50 years.

California was one of 32 states that expanded the number of people eligible for Medicaid when the ACA was passed. This enabled more people to get health insurance, and resulted in record low numbers of uninsured residents in the state.

Medi-Cal is a critical support for young children and their families. It covers half of all U.S. births and 75% of family planning costs. Half of California children, about 5.8 million children, receive health care from Medi-Cal, and one in four Contra Costa residents receive these benefits.

By 2020, the GOP bill would phase out the Medicaid expansion and cap the amount of funding states receive for the program. This means states will receive the same amount of funding regardless of need. To make up the difference, states likely will reduce eligibility and benefits. Children stand to lose comprehensive health care.

For California, the scale of these changes is big. Health Access California, a leading health advocacy organization, says the proposed changes would result in at least $8 billion cut from Medi-Cal by 2020, and another $10-20 billion more in the future, threatening the coverage of over 14 million Californians.

The bill would make big changes to other parts of the health care system, as well, including reducing some of the requirements that insurance companies in the private market currently face. For example, plans would no longer be required to cover maternity or mental health care, among other benefits.

First 5 Contra Costa is dedicated to ensuring that all of our county’s children have access to needed health care and preventive services. The Republican bill is likely to change over the next several weeks, and we’ll be keeping an eye on it. If you want to track the status of the bill, many organizations, like Health Access California and the Kaiser Family Foundation offer up-to-date analysis and information. If you want to share your opinion about the bill with your Congressman or Senator, their contact information can be found here.


Save the Date: Forum to Take Action for Immigrant Children and Families

Immigrant families need our support now more than ever. It’s time to mobilize, work together, and advocate for young children and families in Contra Costa County.  Join us at an upcoming forum to take action on new immigration policies.

The forum will take place on April 20, 2017 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Concord. National and local experts and advocates will provide information on:

  • New immigration policies and their impact on local families.
  • The history of discriminatory immigration policies to stereotype, scapegoat and criminalize people of color.
  • Research about the impact of trauma on young children’s development and how caring adults can ease children’s fears.
  • Practical tips and resources such as legal services and sample family preparedness plans.
  • Updates on sanctuary policies, rapid response efforts, and advocacy opportunities in Contra Costa.
  • Concrete ways you and your organization can advocate for just immigration policies and serve families more effectively.

Information about the forum, including how to register, will be posted here next week. 

For helpful resources, practical tools, and reliable information to help immigrant families, click here.


Q&A: Meet Commissioner Lee Ross

Lee Ross, a retired school psychologist who served children in the Oakley Unified School District for more than 30 years, is an Alternate Commissioner representing District III. Lee has extensive experience in preschool education, starting as a teaching assistant at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center in Berkeley, where he worked while earning his doctorate at U.C. Berkeley. His Ph.D. dissertation focused on the adaptive value of pretend play skills in young children, a topic he has lectured on at area colleges. As a school psychologist, Lee provided support for preschool-age children with autism and other developmental delays.

What was your favorite book as a child? My favorite book as a boy was My Side of the Mountain, a story about a boy who is able to survive a year in the wilderness.

What food did you refuse to eat when you were a kid? As a child, and even now, one of the few foods that I won’t eat is a hard boiled egg.

Did you have a favorite place to visit as a child? Growing up in San Francisco, my favorite place to visit was Candlestick Park to see the Giants play.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Contra Costa County?  My favorite things to do in Contra Costa County are to hike in the regional parks and try different restaurants with friends and family.

What is your motto? The serious one that I try to hold to are the words of Micah: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”

What would make Contra Costa an even better place for children and families? It  would be better for families if there were more opportunities for us to appreciate each others cultures, through cross-cultural celebrations of art, music, etc.


Program Turns West County Parents Into Literacy Champions

Twenty-two parents at the West County First 5 Center are on their way to becoming certified “ Tandem® Literacy Champions.”

Tandem Partners in Early Learning®, the organization we fund to provide StoryCycles book-sharing programs throughout the County, trains parents so they can, in turn, help other parents in the community learn how to build their children’s early literacy and language skills.

The first step to becoming a Literacy Champion is for parents to attend four training sessions on early literacy and family engagement. Of the parents and caregivers participating at the West County First 5 Center, one was a father, three were grandparents, and most were bilingual in English and Spanish.

The three-hour training sessions included topics such as Early Learning and the Growing Brain, Word Play All Day, interactive read aloud tips, and bilingual family and presentation skills. At the last session, each participant prepared a presentation on an early literacy topic and shared it with the group.

“For many Literacy Champions in training, the idea of sharing their knowledge is exciting, but a bit nerve-wracking,” said Tandem Contra Costa County Program Supervisor Lucy Parada. “But with practice and support, I’m seeing parents transform and become more confident, engaged leaders in their community.”

After finishing the classes, parents then commit to volunteering with Tandem Community Literacy Specialists out in the community. For example, Tandem is hosting a story time at the San Pablo Library on March 22 with Literacy Champions on-hand to lead stories, engage in arts and crafts, and provide interactive read-aloud tips for parents in attendance.

The final phase for the Champions, which comes with a generous stipend for participants, is to host literacy workshops and events that reach 20 additional parents in their community.

“I was most impacted by what I learned about brain connections–the connections between the brain and reading, looking at pictures, hearing sounds, acting out the story. Everything we do strengthens the children’s brain connections,” said Loywonner Haddadou. “I’m more encouraged to be creative when reading stories with my grandson, including using instruments to make sounds in the stories. I’m really looking forward to the next part of this program, the leadership piece. I’m ready!”

Literacy Champions in other counties have shared books and knowledge at community events, demonstrated read aloud techniques at their child’s birthday party, and presented interactive reading tips and family engagement strategies with their church members and mother’s clubs. Participants continue to receive expert coaching to help them implement their solo activities.

“The Literacy Champions are agents of change in their communities,” said Parada. “At Tandem, our goal is to reduce the achievement gap by boosting children’s early literacy skills. The Champions are spreading this message and helping more parents learn about simple, yet powerful ways they can help their children get ready for school. I can’t wait to see what the West County Champions do next.”