News & Notes:

Watch It: Developmental Playgroups Help Kids Catch Up

Parenting Topic: New Campaign Makes Every Word Count

Spotlight: A Welcome Visitor for New Parents

Sean’s Message


Moving Toward Universal Developmental Screening

screening 200 x100More than 4,400 children have received developmental screening since we began training our partners to provide this critical yet underutilized service three years ago. Developmental screening is an important first step in diagnosing children who have developmental delays or autism, yet many young children fail to receive it.

To address this need, we started training children’s services providers on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) in 2011. Since then, 280 providers from 58 agencies in Contra Costa County have been trained.

The ASQ screens children in five areas of development: communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem solving, and personal-social. Each area of development is scored as ‘on schedule’, ‘in need of monitoring’, or ‘in need of a referral’ for more specialized assessment.

Of the 4,400 children screened in our funded programs, over one-third had concerns with their development, with 19% scoring in the referral zone and 22% flagged for careful monitoring on a specific issue.

Evaluation results indicate that the screenings are catching issues early and helping children to resolve concerns or delays. Fifty-six percent of children who were re-screened showed improvements, moving from the monitoring or referral zones to on-schedule. Conversely, new developmental concerns were identified in 11% of children when re-screened.

We’re especially proud to bring this service to Spanish-speaking families because research shows children in Spanish-speaking families are the least likely to receive an early diagnosis of developmental delays or autism, in part because they do not receive developmental screening. Of the children screened in our programs, 44% were monolingual Spanish-speaking, and another 10% were bilingual.

Our goal is to move toward developmental screening for all children. To get there, we’re starting with children in greatest need. So far, screening efforts by our funded programs have reached 11 percent of all children ages birth to five in low-income communities in Contra Costa County. Since we’ve trained several community partners not funded by First 5 to implement this service, the percentage of children screened countywide is even higher.

Parents interested in developmental screening should contact their pediatrician or visit a First 5 Center.


Sugar Bites Highlights: Round 2

SB_SLIDE 200 x100The second cycle of our Sugar Bites campaign was another success. This time we focused primarily on sugary juice drinks, which many parents aren’t aware contain as much or more sugar than soda.

The second campaign included many of the strategies used in round one, such as BART, convenience stores, and bus shelter ads as well as posters and brochures distributed through WIC, Head Start and our funded programs. We also tried a few new things in round two, including:

  • Placing ads on large billboards in Richmond and Pittsburg.
  • Distributing brochures through 133 dental offices in our targeted areas.
  • Posting door hangers at 22,500 homes in Richmond, the Monument Corridor, and Pittsburg and Bay Point. We saw the highest traffic to the website the day the hangers were distributed.
  • Creating 5,000 Sugar Bites shopping totes to get the message into grocery stores.

In May, our Sugar Bites website won the Gold Award of Excellence in this year’s Communicator Awards, the leading international awards program honoring excellence in marketing, advertising and communications. We received the top award for a website in the health category.

So far, evaluation of the Sugar Bites campaign is positive. It’s also great to receive emails like this one, submitted recently from a mother in Pittsburg:

“I recently had a major abdominal surgery and had to depend on my husband to buy groceries. My husband NEVER goes to the grocery store and only went because I can’t. With our son in tow, he purchased a nice bright sugary box of cereal. By the time I called to specifically tell him NOT to buy cereal, he was already in the check-out line.

When he got home and unpacked the groceries, I told him the only reason I allowed our son to eat the cereal is because I can’t fix breakfast right now. He replied that cereal is not going to hurt him. I disagreed. I told him that sugar is the pathway to addiction and obesity. He paused and said, ‘You’re right. I saw that ad Sugar Bites and you’re right.’ I was floored which is why I’m writing you tonight. The ad is in the perfect location and thank you for putting it there.”

Look for Round 3 of Sugar Bites sometime this spring.


Meet our New Child Care Quality Improvement Coaches

QRISChild care programs participating in Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), which we’re currently piloting in Contra Costa County, make the greatest improvements when they have access to technical assistance, professional and educational supports, training, and coaching.

That’s where our new Quality Improvement Coaches Kellee Davis and Francisca Hernandez come in. As coaches, Kellee and Francisca help child care providers to be successful throughout the QRIS process, from preparing for an assessment, observation or rating visit to meeting defined quality improvement goals. Ultimately, through coaching support and the technical assistance provided, QRIS participants receive higher ratings and children receive higher quality early education.

We have 100 child care sites participating in our pilot QRIS, including Head Start, state preschool, child care centers and family child care programs. Kellee and Francisca each work with 33 sites. The other members of our Coaching Team, Monica Joseph and Nancy Cuny, who work for the Contra Costa Child Care Council, provide coaching to the remaining 34 QRIS participants.

The coaches meet with providers, connect them to workshops and trainings, explain how the assessments and rating tools work, and help them to identify their program’s strengths and challenges.

“Every program is different so we tailor our work to each provider’s individual needs,” said Francisca, a former preschool teacher, director, and kindergarten teacher. “For some, we might help them make changes to their environment, while others need assistance improving child-teacher interactions.”

Coaching is part of a broader system of quality improvement activities we support in Contra Costa County, including workshops, CLASSroom tool training, financial stipends, and support for early educators at the county’s three community colleges.

“Coaching has been extremely rewarding for me,” said Kellee, who holds a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and has been a coach for child care professionals in Los Angeles. “A QRIS system is not only necessary, but vital to our society. Quality early education programs have a positive impact on children’s development, which holds significant economic benefits for our nation’s future.”


Delta First 5 Center Gets a Mini-Makeover

Delta4_useforconstantcontact 200 x100The Delta First 5 Center had a face lift this summer!

The Center closed in July to get new carpet, paint, and window coverings. The Center’s landlords repaved the back parking lot, updated landscaping, and power washed and touched up paint on the outside of the building.

Perhaps most exciting change is the way the Center’s staff reconfigured the office space and classrooms in the Center. The space is now much more open and welcoming to families, and has more to offer families.

Take a look at the after photos, then go check out the Center yourself. September Delta First 5 Center classes and activities can be found here:

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Watch It: Developmental Playgroups Help Kids Catch Up

playgroupsslide 200 x100Children behind on their developmental milestones are getting help catching up, thanks to the developmental playgroups we’re funding at our First 5 Centers.

We launched the playgroups in 2013 on the heels of our new developmental screening program, which led to an increase in children being identified with developmental concerns or delays just as state funding for early intervention services had dwindled. With delays not serious enough to qualify for state-funded services, yet still in great need for services, we created the playgroups to make sure these vulnerable children didn’t fall further behind.

Since then, the playgroups have served 265 children. Led by developmental specialists from We Care Services for Children and Baby Builders, each eight-week session provides engaging games, songs and activities focused on all areas of a child’s development. When re-screened at the end of the session, many children made improvements in their development, had higher screening scores, and no longer needed services. See the groups in action:


Parenting Topic: New Campaign Makes Every Word Count

talkreadsing2 200 x100Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Oakland recently to launch a new campaign focused on helping parents turn everyday activities into enriching vocabulary-building experiences for their children.

Sponsored by the Bay Area Council, Too Small to Fail, Kaiser Permanente, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the ‘Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing’ campaign is designed to reduce the “word gap” that puts many low-income children behind their higher income peers before they even start kindergarten.

Research shows that low-income children hear about 30 million fewer words than children in higher income families by the time they’re four years old. The more words children hear – whether it’s talking, reading or singing – the richer their vocabulary becomes and the better they do in school. For many children, the word gap leads to an achievement gap that persists into school and beyond.

With its colorful and playful graphics, the campaign provides prompts and ideas for parents to engage with their children in easy yet meaningful ways. It also stresses the importance of creating a language-rich environment for children starting at birth.

The campaign is being piloted in Oakland and includes television ads, radio spots, and ads on billboards, bus shelters and buses showing parents how talking, reading, and singing can boost their child’s brain development. It also includes an adorable clothing line to reinforce these important messages.

Learn more by visiting For more ideas about how to turn everyday life into learning opportunities, see our On-The-Go activities.


Spotlight: A Welcome Visitor for New Parents

Yvette 200 x100Yvette Escobar, the Hospital Outreach Coordinator we fund at Alta Bates hospital to link Contra Costa parents to services, recently met with a young, Spanish-speaking mother whose twins were born prematurely.

As Yvette sat with the mother, she learned that one of the twins had died. The surviving twin was still in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and the mother was having trouble communicating with the staff. The mother did have some family and friends for support, but because she lived so far away, transportation was a challenge. Yvette sat with the mother, listening as she tried to process the loss of her baby girl.

That was one of the more difficult visits Yvette had last year. The families Yvette sees are mostly isolated and have limited support in place. Sometimes, she may be the only visitor a mother has during her time at the hospital.

Seven years ago, First 5 Contra Costa partnered with First 5 Alameda County to launch a hospital outreach program for Contra Costa parents who give birth at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley. Yvette meets with every Contra Costa mom on Medi-Cal who delivers at Alta Bates, providing information and referrals about local home visiting programs or other needed resources.

Last year, Yvette reached out to 530 mothers. Nearly half were first-time mothers. Most were connected to public health nursing, Hello Baby home visiting, the West County First 5 Center, Black Infant Health program, and Text for Baby.

This year, Yvette will be providing more outreach to women before they give birth. She’ll visit local clinics and other services to enroll moms-to-be into home visiting programs. This strategy to reach moms earlier is designed to ensure healthy pregnancies and newborns and get support systems in place before baby arrives.


Sean’s Message

sean_portraitTwo new studies about young children reveal that:

• Only 1 in 4 children in California who need mental health care receive treatment, despite the fact their families have health insurance to pay for it.

• Preschoolers who suffer from depression will likely continue to experience it throughout childhood; however spotting it early can make treatment more effective.

It can be hard to imagine young children having mental health issues, but they do, just like the rest of us. For infants and toddlers, though, we find it’s easier to view mental health through the lens of social and emotional development. That’s because healthy social and emotional development in young children is dependent on their loving and supportive relationships with parents and other caregivers. When children are not receiving the loving care they need, and even worse, when they experience persistent trauma or abuse, they are likely to exhibit behaviors that might be perceived as mental health issues.

The good news is that early intervention with these children – and their families – can improve the health of children with social-emotional problems, and get them back on track for healthy development.

Researchers believe that the stigma associated with mental health treatment, infrequent early diagnosis, and a fragmented mental health system are some of the barriers preventing children from receiving services. Families who are low income or not English proficient can also have difficulty accessing these services for their children.

Children express emotional or behavioral problems in many different ways, so it’s not always easy to identify concerns. But if addressed early, mental health treatment can possibly lessen the severity of mental health problems later as adults.

To that end, First 5 Contra Costa is helping to build a system of care to screen children for social-emotional issues and treat concerns and problems when they occur. For over a decade, we’ve funded mental health consultation services and mental health therapeutic services for children with emotional or behavioral problems. Consultation services provide mental health specialists to observe and assist children struggling in child care. Therapeutic services provide mental health treatment for children with depression or anxiety, sleep problems, aggressive or withdrawn behavior, and attention problems. Evaluation results show that these services are helping to remediate children’s mental health-related issues.

In the last two years, we’ve added to this system by increasing developmental screening services, which include a social-emotional component, and providing more Triple P parenting classes, which give parents simple strategies to confidently manage their children’s behavior, prevent problems, and build strong, healthy parent-child relationships.

We know there’s a window of opportunity in the early years to set a solid foundation. Early screening, therapeutic mental health services, and programs to improve the relationship children have with their parents – the basis for children’s healthy social-emotional development and focus of early childhood mental health services – are helping to build a steadier foundation for Contra Costa’s most vulnerable children.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director