Help Families Get the Tax Credits They Deserve

CalEITC_1Did you know California has a new state Earned Income Tax Credit? Combined with the federal EITC, hard-working families may be eligible for up to $6,200 in tax credits. Please help get the word out about these tax refund opportunities which all too often go unclaimed.

The United Way’s Earn It! Keep It! Save It! campaign helps eligible families receive the tax refunds they’ve earned, and First 5 Contra Costa is pleased to participate again in this year’s campaign through our efforts with the Family Economic Security Partnership. Thank you in advance for informing the families you work with about these important opportunities to boost their incomes: Continue reading

Quality Matters

ChildCare_BlogLast month, headlines were abuzz with results from a new study on Tennessee’s state-subsidized preschool program for poor children: Tennessee study casts doubt on preschool, Increased access to preschool does not guarantee increased achievement, and Study shows preschool gains may not last.

In the study, researchers from Vanderbilt University found that children who attended the program, which serves 18,000 low-income children, initially started kindergarten ahead on many school readiness measures. But by the time the children were in first grade, they started to score lower on standardized tests than kids who hadn’t even attended preschool.

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Our New Strategic Plan

sean_portraitLast week, the First 5 Contra Costa Commission reviewed the draft of our new strategic plan, which will guide approximately $53 million in investments from fiscal year 2016/17 through 2019/20. The Commission will vote on adopting the new strategic plan at the October 5th Commission meeting.

As with all of California’s First 5 commissions, we too are dealing with a significant decline in our Prop. 10 tobacco tax revenue.  This decline is not new or unexpected; we planned for it.

For several years, we’ve been using discretionary funding from our fund balance to offset reductions and maintain full funding for programs. This model has served us well, particularly during the Great Recession, but it simply isn’t sustainable. By the end of 2020, we will have depleted our fund balance. Our ability to get external funding has helped extend our work, but it will never be enough to make up for the decline in Prop. 10 revenue and end of our fund balance.

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Protect Children and Regulate E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes are tobacco-free, but they contain liquid nicotine in many flavors that can be appealing to young children.

E-cigarettes are tobacco-free, but they contain liquid nicotine in many flavors that can be appealing to young children.

It’s time for California to regulate e-cigarettes. Liquid nicotine is poisonous and can be toxic if ingested.

Last year, the number of calls to the California poison control center involving e-cigarettes exposure in toddlers and preschoolers tripled. And since not all poisonings get reported, according to the CDC, this figure is likely higher.

E-cigarettes come in bright colors and flavors like chocolate or strawberry. The products are appealing to young children, who may ingest them, and older children, who may begin using with them. New research shows that teens who vape are more likely to try smoking regular cigarettes.

A 2013 survey found that 6% of California 7th graders, 12% of 9th graders, and 14% of 11th graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. That data was from two years ago. It’s estimated now that e-cigarette consumption could surpass traditional cigarettes within ten years. Even more troubling is new research that shows teens who vape are more likely to try smoking regular cigarettes.

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A Billion Dollar Day for Early Childhood Education

investToday at the White House, President Obama announced $1 billion in public-private investments focused on young children. “Early education is one of the best investments we can make,” the President said during the day-long summit on early childhood funding.

The $1 billion investment includes:

  • $250 million in federal preschool expansion grants awarded to 18 states.
  • $500 million to expand Early Head Start and child care programs for children birth to age 3. Contra Costa County will receive $1.1 million.
  • The launch of Invest in US, a new initiative coordinated by the First 5 Years Fund to provide a call to action for greater investment in early childhood.
  • $330 million from corporations and foundations to enhance the quality of early education for thousands of children.

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Time for Strategic Planning

Strat-plan-coverIt’s time to update First 5 Contra Costa’s Strategic Plan.

Our current five-year plan, which ends this June, was developed during the Great Recession and in the midst of severe budget cuts for California’s safety net programs. We decided during that challenging time to keep our funding levels as high as possible, and we did, investing more than $71 million.

A Brighter Climate

The picture now, while not totally rosy, is certainly brighter than it was five years ago. The economy is recovering and some programs decimated by budget cuts have been partially restored. Last year’s state budget process was the easiest in recent memory. Perhaps most exciting is the traction early childhood development funding has currently, from federal and state preschool initiatives to those addressing the “word gap” for low-income toddlers. First 5 has always been on the forefront of early childhood issues. It seems the rest of the nation is catching up, and opportunities abound.

Still a Declining Revenue Source Continue reading

Healthy Social-Emotional Development Lasts a Lifetime

NestSteps1Two 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, 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.

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Ensuring Opportunity, Not Poverty

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As the economy recovers from the Great Recession, the gap between rich and poor is widening, leaving poor families and individuals further behind. 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.

In a county with a median annual income of $78,000, you might be surprised to learn that:

  • 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.

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 much more likely to experience excessive, traumatic stress that interrupts healthy brain development. This disadvantage starts early and sticks. Continue reading

The Year for Preschool

fedsThere’s been a lot of talk in the last year about the importance of investing in early childhood education. We’ve heard from President Obama, business leaders, and governors from both red and blue states. In New York, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Governor Cuomo are even jockeying to see who will implement a universal preschool plan first.

Last week, at the federal level, we saw more than just talk.

The federal 2014 Omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law by the President, received bipartisan support and includes an additional $1 billion in funding for early childhood education programs. This is a great start.

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Can Batkids Save the Country?

If you didn’t feel even the slightest stirring at last week’s admittedly over-the-top “Batkid” event in San Francisco, you were distinctly in the minority. The outpouring of affection by thousands of strangers for this one little boy was unexpected, and encouraging in this cynical age.

For one day, Batkid gave the Bay Area a much-needed distraction from the random violence, spiraling housing costs, and clogged freeways we call normal Bay Area life.

Also last week, Contra Costa’s Congressman, George Miller, introduced the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act,” a bill to implement President Obama’s vision of universal high-quality preschool. Under this Act, children across the country would be able to receive the benefits of at least a year of high-quality preschool that will advance their learning far beyond where they would be without it. For low income children especially, preschool can be a potentially game-changing experience.

This should be a high priority for Congress and the nation. A recent report by the Society for Research in Child Development summarizes the extensive evidence base for preschool. In short, “large-scale public preschool programs can have substantial impacts on children’s early learning.” A year of preschool can provide anywhere between a third to a full year of additional cognitive development.

BatkidNumerous studies have also demonstrated that “quality preschool education is a profitable investment,” returning three to seven dollars for every dollar spent. Most important to note is recent research pointing to the advantages of preschool to “middle-class children as well as disadvantaged children; typically developing children as well as children with special needs; and dual language learners as well as native speakers.”

But for all children, we need to do everything we can so they are ready, at age five, to enter kindergarten ready to learn in school and thrive in life. Or, if you like, as Batkids prepared to save the country from the threat of a poorly educated, ill-prepared workforce unable to meet the demands of global competition.

Sound like a lot to put on a five-year-old’s shoulders? Not really.  The burden isn’t on the children; it is on us as a society, to recognize the things we can do now to provide security for the next generation. And right now we need to build the kind of early education that allows a whole generation of Batkids to save the country.