Contra Costa County: Get Your Taxes Done for Free

It’s tax season again and there is a way to help qualifying filers file their taxes for free!

Every tax season the United Way Bay Area teams up with local nonprofits to lead the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coalition to provide free tax-filing services to clients with a household income under $55,000.

Eligible clients with income under $55,000 are able to take advantage of tax credits that are linked to breaking the cycle of poverty; such as the Federal and State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). To receive these services, clients can find a tax site near them at www.earnitkeepitsaveit.org and filter through over 200 free tax sites in the Bay Area.

  • For additional help in navigating the system, call 211 and an operator can assist you.
  • CLICK HERE for a printable and downloadable document with more information about the program and what to bring to a VITA site (in English and Spanish).
  • To learn more about Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS), click here to visit www.earnitkeepitsaveit.org

Young Children Likely to be Among First Beneficiaries of New State Leadership

First Five Center, Contra Costa County

Today marks a new chapter for California’s families with the inaugurations of not only Gavin Newsom as California’s 40th Governor, but also Tony Thurmond–former Contra Costa Assemblymember and West County School Board member–as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Both have publicly committed to ensuring that every child has the best start in life and is fully ready to engage and succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

“The research very strongly supports investing in early childhood to reap education, health, and social benefits later in life. Governor Newsom will likely waste no time in putting into action the early childhood policies he promoted in his campaign,” said Sean Casey, First 5 Contra Costa Executive Director.

“The leadership from the Governor, Superintendent Thurmond, and an equally supportive legislature could very quickly transform California’s early education system in ways we haven’t seen since the creation of the higher education system in the 1960’s,” he added.

First 5 Contra Costa stands ready to help implement these exciting possibilities in the months and years to come. “Everything we’ve done up to now, whether by building quality in early education, training the next generation of providers, or supporting and strengthening families, has prepared us for the time when public investments make high-quality early childhood education and family support universal,” said Mr. Casey.

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First 5 Contra Costa

First 5 Contra Costa helps young children start school healthy, nurtured and ready to learn by investing in programs and activities focused on children during their first five years, the most important time in children’s development. First 5 Contra Costa has invested more than $140 million in Proposition 10 tobacco tax funds to help Contra Costa’s children get the best possible start in life.

Our Top 2017 Highlights

Our Notable 2017 Accomplishments

2017 was another productive and effective year at First 5 Contra Costa!

Combined, our funded services and activities benefited more than 27,605 children, families, and providers. Here’s a snapshot of some of our notable accomplishments from 2017.

Reaching more families at First 5 Centers.

We spent several months assessing the First 5 Center structure and demographic changes in Contra Costa County to improve how First 5 Center services are delivered.

This resulted in a plan that will increase the number of families who benefit from these valuable services in East County. Over time, we will shift from funding three small sites to funding two large centers in Pittsburg and Antioch. Services will continue in East County throughout the transition. Look for routine updates on new sites and classes in East County here.

The First 5 Centers are a key resource for parents and communities, which is why we’ve committed to funding them long-term. Last year alone, the Centers reached 2,100 parents. Families who took parenting classes made significant improvements in their knowledge of child development, patience with children, and the amount of time they spent with their kids.

Child care quality is improving.

156 child care programs participated in Quality Matters, our Quality Rating & Improvement System. 110 of these programs have been rated, and about half are publicly funded programs serving low-income families. Nearly 90 percent of the rated programs meet or exceed quality benchmarks on criteria including providing positive, engaging teacher-child interactions and safe, healthy and stimulating environments, teacher training and qualifications, and ratio and class size.

Quality Matters programs are rated every two years and receive intensive coaching, training, financial incentives and support to maintain or improve ratings. Last year, 28 programs were re-rated. Thirty-nine percent increased their rating, and 57 percent maintained quality ratings. Only one site’s rating decreased.

In addition, more than 600 early childhood teachers increased their education through the Professional Development Program. The college support, tutoring, and training provided resulted in 26% of teachers earning a degree or higher level on the early childhood teachers’ credentials permit.

Children with developmental delays are getting help earlier.

We continued to expand the Help Me Grow system to support early screening and intervention for children with developmental needs.

More than 3,000 children in our funded programs and via public health nursing received developmental screening services. For children screened in our programs, half were on track with their development. Twenty-five percent of the children had mild to moderate delays and another 25% needed a more formal assessment for serious developmental concerns.

Nearly 300 children with moderate delays participated in Help Me Grow Developmental Playgroups at the First 5 Centers. About 25% of children screened after the eight-week playgroup no longer showed signs of delay.

First 5 Contra Costa had several policy victories.  

The three Regional Groups of parent leaders we sponsor continued to rack up major victories. Using their assessments of 75 parks in 5 cities, these parent leaders have secured $2.5 million in funding. Four new playgrounds were installed in neglected parks this year alone. They also offered over 40 sports and exercise classes to improve safety and usage at the new playgrounds.

The Regional Groups fought hard for protections for immigrant families and racial justice. They pressed six school districts and cities to adopt sanctuary policies, and helped sway the County to approve funding for Contra Costa’s first rapid response network to support immigrant residents.

2017 also launched our new strategic information and policy department at First 5 Contra Costa. With new staff capacity, we created a policy protocol for the Commission to engage in advocacy work at the state and federal levels, and successfully co-sponsored legislation for the first time. AB435 will allow for greater local flexibility in the use of state funds for subsidized early learning in Contra Costa County, serve more children, and ensure allocated state funding is fully used.

Thank you to our many partners and contractors for another productive year. Onward to 2018!

Contra Costa Kids Drinking Less Sugary Drinks

Together with Healthy and Active Before 5, we launched our hard-hitting and award-winning Sugar Bites campaign in 2013 urging parents to protect their toddlers and preschoolers from sugary drinks and serve them water instead. New data show local parents are heeding the message.

Analysis of children’s sugary beverage consumption among families new to First 5 services shows a steady decline over the last four years. The data come from First 5 Contra Costa’s annual family survey, a detailed list of questions hundreds of families complete when they start participating in services we fund.

The survey asks parents if their child had a sugary drink yesterday. Back in 2012/13, 80% of respondents answered yes. Last year, the response had dropped to 63%.

Juice Drinks

Sugar Bites is a unique campaign for many reasons, one being its focus on sugary juice drinks. Three of the four print ads we’ve run feature drinks like Sunny D or Capri Sun to challenge deceptive marketing tactics used to trick parents into thinking juice drinks are healthy beverages for young children. We also ran a TV commercial with this message.

Juice contains as much sugar as soda, sometimes more. Sugar Bites has provided a much-needed counter message for parents barraged by misleading claims from the beverage industry.

Since 2012/13, children’s consumption of juice in Contra Costa County is down 26%.

Decline mirrors state health data

Data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation’s largest state health survey, show a decrease in juice consumption among young children in Contra Costa County as well.

Families with children age two to six were asked if they served their children juice yesterday. In 2011, 22% of respondents said their child did not drink juice the day before. By 2015, this percentage had tripled, with 66% of children not drinking juice.

We continue to run the Sugar Bites campaign each year. For the last two, we’ve had a smaller campaign targeting Concord and San Pablo via bus ads, grocery carts, convenience stores, and window clings on sugary drinks cases in small shops. The last campaign had about 24 million media impressions (the number of times people saw the ads). First 5 Sacramento also runs the ads in the Sacramento region.

Learn more about Sugar Bites at www.cutsugarydrinks.org.

New Playgrounds Coming to Concord

The Monument Community of Concord is celebrating two new playgrounds with a parade and ribbon cuttings after the Central County Regional Group we sponsor urged the city council to improve parks in their community.

The effort began in 2013 when the CCRG and partners assessed conditions at parks in the Monument neighborhood of Concord. Two parks, Ellis Lake and Meadow Homes, needed the most improvement, lacked bathrooms, and had more crime and safety issues.

After the parents presented their concerns at several city council meetings, council members agreed to allocate $1.1 million to renovate the two parks.

At Ellis Lake Park, the city expanded the playground by 2,900 square feet, and installed benches, lighting, drinking fountains, a safety barrier near a small lake, and new public restrooms which include a tot-sized toilet and sink rarely found in city parks. Meadow Homes Park received a 4,900-square-foot playground with structures for older and younger children.

The parents group is also tackling crime and safety issues by sponsoring community meetings with police and forming neighborhood watch programs. First 5 Contra Costa and the First 5 Center program adjacent to Ellis Lake Park, will also provide free sports classes and other children’s activities to keep the parks filled with families and deter crime.

The new play structures at Meadow Homes

The celebration events will take place on October 7th, starting at Meadow Homes Park at 10:00 a.m. After the ribbon-cutting there, families will form a parade to Ellis Lake Park to enjoy face painting, arts and crafts, a bike rodeo, and more.

The new playground projects were funded by the City of Concord in response to the Monument Parks Assessment conducted by the Central County Regional Group, First 5 Contra Costa, Monument Impact, and Contra Costa Health Services.

First 5 Contra Costa and the three parent advocacy groups it sponsors have partnered with city officials to refurbish eight neglected parks in low-income communities throughout the county.

Learn more: www.first5coco.org.

 

Child Care Sites Earn High Ratings

2017 Quality Matters ratings are in!

We have new ratings for 40 licensed child care programs participating in Quality Matters, Contra Costa County’s quality rating and improvement system that helps programs offer the best care possible.

Combined with ratings completed last year, we’ve rated 108 licensed child care programs. Nearly 90% are meeting benchmarks and standards for quality care. View all ratings here.

How ratings work.

Quality Matters rates child care programs using a scale of one to five on elements including:

  • Providing positive, engaging teacher-child interactions
  • Providing a safe, healthy and stimulating environment
  • Teacher training and qualifications
  • Using recommended assessments to check if children are learning new skills and developing on track
  • Ratio and class size (centers only)

Family child care programs, private centers, and public centers, such as Head Start or state preschool programs, participate.

Programs are rated every two years and receive intensive coaching, training, financial incentives and support to maintain or improve ratings. Of the 40 programs rated in 2017, 28 were rated for a second time and 12 received their first rating. Ratings of “3” or above mean programs have met quality standards and benchmarks.

Quality is improving.

Results for the 28 re-rated programs in 2017 show that:

  • Nearly every program is meeting quality standards and benchmarks.
  • 11 programs increased their ratings, many moving from a 4 to a 5, a rating difficult to achieve.
  • 16 programs received the same rating.
  • Only one program decreased its rating.

In the five years since we launched Quality Matters, 83 child care programs have been rated twice. Eighty-four percent of these programs earned the two highest ratings, and most are state preschools or publicly-funded programs serving low-income children.

First 5 Contra Costa developed Quality Matters with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, Local Planning and Advisory Council for Early Care and Education, CocoKids, and Contra Costa, Diablo Valley, and Los Medanos Community Colleges.

To learn more or apply to participate, visit qualitychildcarematters.org.

Meet Benjamin

Benjamin Estrada didn’t have custody of his four-year-old daughter when he started taking classes at the West County First 5 Center.

“For me, I had to start over. I had to build from the bottom up. I had made a decision that I was going to be a better parent, and the First 5 Center gave me a vision for how that could be possible,” said Benjamin.

Benjamin began visiting the center weekly while working to gain full custody of his daughter. Most of the time, he was the only dad in the class. But that never stopped him.

“My favorite class was the Triple P class. It really goes in depth about parenting. And you learn about all of your child’s developmental stages, and why the first five years are so important. The First 5 Center maps it out for you and makes it understandable. It helps you be a better parent,” he said.

Benjamin is now a single father with full custody of his daughter, who’s about to turn 10, and an active member of the West County Regional Group we sponsor. He also participates on the PTA at his daughter’s school.

“I went to the first Regional Group meeting and haven’t missed one since. We decide what to stand up for, for other parents and children. It’s so fulfilling and empowering,” Benjamin said. “The First 5 Center staff embraces everyone who walks through their door. They still embrace me when I come. I tell all my neighbors to go there.”

Learn more about the First 5 Centers and the West County Regional Group.

Parents Help Antioch Get New Playground

ECRG members advocating for better parks in Antioch

An Antioch neighborhood is celebrating a brand new playground, thanks to a group of parents who worked with the city to renovate one of Antioch’s most dilapidated parks. To celebrate, the parents and representatives from the City of Antioch are holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 10 to unveil the new and improved Prosserville Park, now one of the largest parks in the city. The event will run from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and have races, arts and crafts, face painting, and plenty of time for kids to play on the new structures.

The campaign for the new playground began when the East County Regional Group, a parent advocacy group First 5 Contra Costa sponsors, rated every park in Antioch. Their findings revealed that parks located in the city’s lower-income communities had higher crime, graffiti, and unsafe conditions compared to the city’s newer neighborhoods.

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Program Turns 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.

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New Posters Promote Breastfeeding Benefits

We were pleased to join Contra Costa Health Services, Kaiser Permanente and the WIC program to print a new series of posters promoting the benefits of breastfeeding for babies, mothers and families.

Contra Costa County’s WIC department led the project, which features photos of WIC families, to create a set of promotional breastfeeding materials with modern, relatable families and messages, as you can see below:

 
  

The bilingual posters were placed at the County Health Clinics and WIC sites, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, the five First 5 Centers, and all Head Start sites. The image with the mother with tattoos was adopted by California’s WIC program to use for statewide outreach.

Find more information about breastfeeding benefits and support in Contra Costa County.