As advocates for the healthy growth and development of young children, we at First 5 Contra Costa are outraged by the horrifying reports and images of the separation of children from their families at our southern border. Our work is based on the scientific knowledge that a healthy childhood is the essential foundation for lifelong growth and development. We know that to build that foundation, every child needs and deserves loving, safe and secure relationships with their parents and caregivers.
Separating children from their parents, especially those who are escaping the stress and trauma of unsafe home communities, introduces needless and unacceptable trauma into their young lives. Severely traumatic childhood events such as these are linked to adult addiction, chronic disease, cancer and heart disease.
We cannot escape the conclusion that a federal policy to remove children from their families is akin to willful child abuse. At times throughout this country’s history, government has unjustly, yet legally separated countless children of color from their families. We recognize the relationship between this dark chapter and others in our history in which young people of color have been traumatized and oppressed.
We condemn these inhumane actions and urge our elected officials and all who stand for families to bring this terrible practice immediately to an end. The children who remain separated from their parents must be immediately reunited. There is no justification for the actions that have occurred in the past several weeks and we hope they will never be replicated.
First 5 Contra Costa is pleased to announce our new campaign to help parents meet the everyday challenges of raising babies and toddlers and help more kids achieve healthy development. Called Help Me Grow, the campaign directs parents to a new website and 211 phone line where they can find answers to parenting questions and concerns, no matter how big or small. Services are free and confidential.
The campaign includes bilingual ads in English and Spanish and is sponsored by First 5 Alameda County, First 5 Contra Costa, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation.
“From the day they are born, babies are constantly changing. It’s exciting, and it can also be challenging for families to figure out what their baby or toddler needs next,” said Sean Casey, Executive Director of First 5 Contra Costa. “Help Me Grow support families through every stage of their baby’s development, from first smiles to the first day of school.”
Through its phone and texting services and website, Help Me Grow offers parents information about developmental milestones, what to do if they have concerns about their baby’s development, and where to find local services such as parenting classes, health clinics, or food banks. Help Me Grow also helps families find free developmental screening to check how babies are growing and developing; referrals for children to get evaluated if there are developmental concerns; and services for children who need to catch up on their development.
The advertising campaign will run through the summer and includes online ads, brochures and posters distributed through pediatric offices in the East Bay, and outdoor ads in Contra Costa County communities.
New bilingual brochures, postcards, and posters are available for Contra Costa organizations to distribute. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to order a supply.
Connect to Help Me Grow:
- Visit helpmegrowcoco.org
- Call 211 to speak to a HMG Specialist
- Text “hmg” to 898211
2017 brought new challenges for many families in our community. Expanded deportation policies and an intensified anti-immigrant climate left families feeling anxious and afraid. We responded quickly in significant ways to help both families and the agencies that serve them. Many turned to the First 5 Centers for help, where they found immigration workshops, counseling, and trustworthy information.
The three Regional Groups we sponsor took action as well. Together with their partners, they successfully advocated for 6 safe haven/sanctuary policies at city councils and school districts throughout Contra Costa County. We joined them in pressing the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors to approve funding for the county’s first rapid response program, which will soon provide legal assistance and reliable information to immigrant residents.
We held a successful forum for 175 local service providers featuring child development experts, attorneys, and advocates who provided the latest information on immigration policies and rights, the detrimental impact mass deportation policies have on children and families, tips for easing children’s fears, and resources to fight discriminatory detention practices in Contra Costa County.
These are issues we never thought we’d be tackling a year ago. But we found new ways to support families and bring light to their needs, as First 5 has done for nearly two decades.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Proposition 10, the ballot initiative that created First 5 in California. We’ve been responding to the needs of Contra Costa’s vulnerable children and families since then, and will continue to advocate and take action for kids in significant ways in the year ahead.
Look for improved services and outreach for African American families, a new curriculum on early childhood trauma, results from our first countywide kindergarten readiness assessment, expanded First 5 Center services, in addition to the many effective programs we regularly support.
Despite the challenges, or maybe because of them, First 5 is ready to act, and ready to lead. All children deserve to grow up safe, nurtured, ready for school, and able to pursue their dreams.
Sean Casey is the Executive Director at First 5 Contra Costa
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.
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!
Exciting changes are underway for First 5 Center services in Antioch!
The Center is moving to a new location in downtown Antioch, and will open soon. Until then, First 5 Center classes and activities will take place at nearby locations in January and February 2018:
- Find First 5 Center classes and activities happening in Antioch here.
- Antioch families are welcome to sign up for classes at other First 5 Centers as well. Class calendars for each site are here.
- Families who want a developmental screening for their child, or who have questions about Help Me Grow developmental playgroups, should call the Antioch/Delta First 5 Center (925) 516-3880.
- The East County Regional Group will still hold meetings in downtown Antioch. Contact Alejandra Plascencia (925) 771-7338 for location information.
Long-term, First 5 Contra Costa plans to open a much larger regional First 5 Center in Antioch in order to serve more families. We’ve already started meeting with a group of Antioch parents to consult us on locations and will have more community input sessions in 2018.
Another change to note is that starting January 1, the nonprofit Aspiranet will provide First 5 Center services in Antioch. This agency also runs First 5 Centers in Brentwood, Concord, and Bay Point. We thank Brighter Beginnings for their many years of service operating the Antioch First 5 Center.
See updates about First 5 Centers in East County here on our website.
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%.
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.
We are pleased to introduce First 5 Contra Costa’s new Deputy Director – Ruth Fernández!
Many of you already know and have worked with Ruth in her role managing the Local Child Care Planning Council at the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE). Ruth and the CCCOE have been longtime partners with First 5 on our early learning quality improvement work, and we are thrilled that she has joined our team.
Ruth brings over 20 years of experience working with diverse communities in project management, strategic planning and system services coordination in the education and social services sectors. For the last 12 years, Ruth has helped identify and coordinate educational services for educators working in early childhood education throughout the county. Earlier in her career, Ruth managed state contracts for KQED in San Francisco as the Early Learning Project Supervisor in KQED’s Education Network.
She is committed to community service and volunteers her time and expertise supporting educational projects in the Latino community and the community at large. Ruth earned a B.A. in Political Economies of Industrialized Societies from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master’s Degree in Leadership from St. Mary’s College of California. She takes pride in being a lifelong learner and is currently pursuing her Doctorate Degree from Mills College of Oakland in Educational Leadership, with a concentration in Early Childhood Education.
What was your favorite book as a child? The Little Prince
What food did you refuse to eat when you were a kid? As a young child I didn’t like spinach, but I happen to love it now.
What do you do in your free time? I love to paint, read for leisure, love spending time in the outdoors, walking and hiking.
Did you have a favorite place to visit as a child? As a child there were two places that I loved to visit: the beach and my grandmother’s house. I was very close to my maternal grandma and loved visiting her to cook, help in the garden or make paper flowers with her.
What is your motto? Perspective matters. This Wayne Dyer quote is one of my favorites:“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
What would make Contra Costa an even better place for children and families? Access to health care, high quality care and education, clean and outdoor spaces, and free access to the arts. These services would support physical and socio-emotional development for children and benefit all families.
Well, we’re one for one!
Last week, Governor Brown signed AB435 (Thurmond), which will provide much needed relief to subsidized child care systems in Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma Counties, where the high-cost of doing business leaves many providers struggling to keep their doors open, and many low-income families without quality child care for their children.
AB435 was our first time co-sponsoring legislation. What a great start as we develop our growing role as a pro-active advocacy organization.
AB435 will provide Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma Counties with more flexibility in using state-allocated child care subsidy funds for low-income children. The current system, which undercompensates Bay Area child care providers and underserves low-income children, results in millions of dollars in child care subsidies returned to the state. Combined, the three counties returned $4.5 million in 2015.
Now because of the bill, by 2019, subsidy programs in these counties will have the flexibility to increase income eligibility guidelines and serve more children, offer higher reimbursement rates to providers, and contract with programs that can fully use available subsidies.
We were proud to work on AB435 with Assemblymember Thurmond and the Contra Costa County Office of Education. We are also incredibly grateful to our many partners who supported this bill and helped push it over the finish line. We’ll be working hard over the next several months to develop our plan for implementing the bill.
AB435 will be a powerful tool for Bay Area early learning systems to ensure that every dollar allocated is spent and as many children as possible get the high-quality child care experience they deserve.
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 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.
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.”