News & Notes:

Watch It: Quality Child Care Matters

Spotlight: Coaches Help Improve Child Care Quality

Sean’s Message

Our Impact in 2015

Our_Impact_2015_200x1002015 was another productive year at First 5 Contra Costa, as our funded programs continued to improve the lives of our county’s most vulnerable children and families. Take a look at some highlights accomplished by our funded programs in 2015, which reached 5,100 children, 18,725 parents, and 1550 early care and education providers. 

385 expecting and new parents received home visiting services, with 6,700 visits provided. We changed our home visiting model three years ago to provide more intensive and longer services. Since then, families are now getting more than twice the number of home visits and being served twice as long.

1900 families participated in First 5 Center classes and activities, with 400 different classes offered. After one year of participation, nearly all parents were reading to their children at least weekly and 36% more were reading to their children daily.

Parents taking Triple P parenting classes said the number and severity of their children’s problems decreased significantly upon completion of the class. Triple P classes are helping to ameliorate problems, particularly among families who at the beginning of class indicated the greatest need for support.

101 child care sites – with nearly 3,800 children enrolled – are participating in our Quality Rating & Improvement System. All sites have been rated at least once, and our years spent building quality child care are paying off. Most sites either met or exceeded quality standards.

More children are receiving developmental screening thanks to our Help Me Grow program. We’ve expanded screening services to 20 pediatric clinics and trained hundreds of providers to offer routine screening to young children. As a result, 1,244 children were screened by our funded programs. Nearly 25% of children needed further assessment for possible developmental delays and 22% needed careful monitoring in one or more developmental domain.

Nearly 75% of children participating in our developmental playgroups made improvements in their development at the end of the six-week group.

The three Regional Groups we sponsor advocated for improvements for some of Contra Costa County’s most unusable parks and playgrounds. The result: $1.6 million in city funding was allocated to improve parks in Antioch, Concord, Pittsburg and San Pablo. See these before and after shots of Contra Loma Estates Park in Antioch!

Contra_Loma_Estates_BEFORE Contra_Loma_Estates_AFTER

Since we implemented our Sugar Bites campaign two years ago, we’re seeing changes in family practices around sugary drink consumption. According to our annual family survey, more children are drinking water and fewer sugary drinks. In addition, our Sugar Bites tv ads had more than 100,000 views on YouTube. Watch it here!


Thank You Denece!

Denece_200x100Our long-time Evaluation Specialist Denece Dodson will be retiring in February after working with First 5 Contra Costa for nearly 15 years. Denece has been instrumental in building, supporting, and implementing First 5 Contra Costa’s evaluation system since our early days. First hired by our external evaluation contractor, Denece helped set up our first evaluation systems and frameworks. A few years later, we hired her in-house where she’s been a reliable and effective evaluation team member for the last ten years.

We will miss her even-keeled temperament, keen insights, and strategic thinking. These attributes have benefited our agency, our funded programs, and most of all, the children and families of Contra Costa County. Good luck Denece – you will be deeply missed!

What are you most proud of in your work at First 5 Contra Costa?

I’m proud and honored to be affiliated with First 5, and getting to know, learn from, and work with the 100s of individuals in programs that have been funded by or partnered with First 5 over the last 14 years.  I’m proud of the work that has been accomplished by our contractors.  I’m proud of the extraordinary and competent staff at First 5 and how much has been achieved. For those staff that have been here from the beginning, we have matured and weathered this incredible journey together. And, I’ve made lasting friendships with colleagues.

The Napa Program for Early Childhood Mental Health was the best personal investment I made in my time at First 5. It taught me more about the wonder of brain development and how impactful healthy relationships are for young children. Plus I earned this unwieldy title at graduation: AIFECTP/RPF1. Anyone figuring this out I owe lunch!

What were some challenges and lessons learned?

Thinking strategically takes time but provides the necessary clarity to be focused with limited resources. We can count on change that challenges the best of intentions. Things always take longer than anticipated. For evaluation purposes having to live simultaneously in three fiscal years at once is confusing with looking back, being in the present, and preparing for the next year. Being flexible, nimble and gracious takes practice!  And that First 5 assistants are some of the least visible but most fun and creative staff ever.

What are your hopes for young children and families in Contra Costa County?

Children can’t wait! My hopes are that every child grows up feeling loved, supported and enriched by the adults in his or her life. My hopes for families is that they enjoy the opportunity to be their child’s first teacher. My hopes are that service providers and educators receive the necessary resources to make a real difference.

What would you like people to understand most about evaluating programs?

Evaluation is a helping profession grounded in curiosity and embroidery – helping service providers learn about what works and what could be strengthened or changed to provide better services; helping programs tell bigger and better stories about their impact in the community; helping staff understand what gaps still need to be addressed; helping stakeholders understand the value of their investments; helping others be curious and to question results in order to tell a richer story; and best of all, helping to build a more thoughtful and detailed approach to services to ensure that families and children are nurtured, supported and well-connected. Evaluation is a stitched together effort of many many hands and eyes and brain power.

What will you do next?

That’s easy! I’ll spend a week or two in my pajamas reading on my long-neglected window seat. My four cats and husband won’t know what to do with me milling around the house, but my new puppy will have more supervision and I’ll spend less time mending her chewing projects. Then who knows? Maybe resume Spanish classes, drawing, yoga, week-day hikes, lunch with friends, salsa lessons, design clothes, plant more fruit trees, and generally dabble in this or that. I have friends who work internationally on very interesting projects focused on child welfare and poverty, so I just may jump on board!


Governor Proposes Restructuring State Preschool Programs


Governor Brown released his budget for 2016-17 earlier this month, and it calls for major restructuring – not increased funding – for the state’s current preschool and child care system.

The Governor’s budget proposal would consolidate funding from the State Preschool Program, Preschool QRIS grant, and transitional kindergarten into a locally controlled block grant for school districts to disperse called the Targeted Play and Learning Block Grant. This is modeled after the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which gives school districts more control over state funding for K–12 education. The block grant would focus primarily on providing pre-kindergarten for 4 and 5-year-old children with high needs, and total $1.6 billion.

Moving all state pre-kindergarten funds would be a big shift for the nonprofit and private child care programs who currently receive these funds directly from the state. Should the proposal pass, it would be up to each school district to decide whether to continue contracting with these programs. The proposal also does not outline how the block grant will ensure programs meet quality standards and are developmentally appropriate.

In addition, the proposal calls for changes to the transitional kindergarten (TK) program, which currently provides free pre-kindergarten to students with late fall birthdays who miss the kindergarten entry cut-off (those with September 2 through December 2 birthdays). All children with these birth dates are eligible for the current TK program. Under the new proposal, school districts could decide to provide the program for low-income children only or charge sliding scale fees for higher income families. Any changes toTK implementation would require legislature approval.

The details of the proposal will be developed through a stakeholder process, with the Governor to release more details in his May Revise budget. A joint statement on the Governor’s Budget Proposal from First 5 California, First 5 LA, and the First 5 Association said that more must be done with the budget surplus to meet children’s needs:

“After six years of economic recovery, our early learning and care system has not benefited from the state’s booming prosperity, so the system’s foundation has continued to erode. And as Gov. Brown noted, it may be tempting to go on vacation when you have extra money, but you must fix the basics first. Prior year budgets and this proposal combined do not fix the basics and may, in fact, crack the cornerstone of our current system.”

And Assemblymember Rob Bonta commented, “The investments made by the Governor’s proposal in early childhood education are laudable, but insufficient given the well-documented life-changing impact of preschool on children from low-income communities.”

We will post updates on this proposal as new information becomes available.


Q&A: Meet New First 5 Commissioner Marilyn Lucey


Meet Marilyn Lucey, who Supervisor Candace Anderson recently appointed to our Commission as an Alternate board member representing District II. Before becoming a “consummate volunteer,” Marilyn received a B.A. in Communications/Media Studies and a M.A. in Education from the Graduate School of Psychology and Education from Santa Clara University, and worked as a Program Director of a nonprofit infant stimulation, pediatric therapy, and maternal-infant mental health program.

Currently, Marilyn serves as the President of the San Ramon Valley Council of PTAs, the largest council in Northern California. She has served on many school district policy committees, with a particular interest in advocating for improved services and systems for children with special needs. Last year she led the successful effort to approve a new parcel tax, which passed with 75% voter approval. Marilyn also received a California State PTA Environmental Award for her role establishing the organic garden at Greenbrook Elementary school. When not volunteering, Marilyn enjoys at-home dinners and movie nights with her family, monthly book clubs, and keeping the dream alive of someday leading chapters of Surfrider and Surfers for Autism on Moloka’i or North Shore of O’ahu.

What food did you refuse to eat as a child?

​Sashimi (raw fish) and uni (sea urchin). Growing up on Hawai’i, our closest family (about 60 people) would get together at a beach for an all-day get together often. One of my uncles used to dive for uni, cut it open, mix it with rice, and serve it. Likewise, someone in the family would catch a fish, filet it and everyone would have sashimi.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

​My parents would send me and my siblings to my grandfather for the summer on a neighboring isle. We lived on O’ahu and grandpa lived on Kaua’i. Ghost stories and legends are part of the island culture. When I was in the 3rd grade, all of the cousins would ‘hunt’ for ghosts at night based on island folk tales of where specific ghosts or Hawaiian legends had lived.

What is your favorite place in Contra Costa County?

​The Contra Costa/Solano Food Bank. I first encountered CC/S Food Bank when my sons were cub scouts and we went there for a field trip. At that time, my son stuttered and the volunteer that led our tour was so patient and encouraging, whenever he spoke. Later when our elementary school grew produce and donated that to the food bank, again the volunteers were inviting, appreciative, and made our students feel good about their efforts.  Of course, what they do to deal with hunger in our county is essential to many in our community.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid?

​I loved all the Encyclopedia Brown books. It was fun to try to figure out the case, then see if I picked up on the right clues and solved the case.  I didn’t always​ get the right answer, but the attempt was so much fun.

What would make Contra Costa a better place for children and families?

Each family, each neighborhood, each cultural group, has unique, wonderful gifts and natural support systems and preferred resources. When we begin from that perspective​, and maintain our humility in knowing that as we reach out to understand one another, we can never fully know another’s reality, we can build the kind of peaceful, caring, and vibrant community we want for ourselves and our children. Together, we are better.


Watch It: Quality Child Care Matters


104 licensed child care programs in Contra Costa County are piloting our child care Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), a method to assess, improve, and identify quality child care. Watch this short video to learn more about this effort to provide all Contra Costa children with the high-quality early care and education they deserve.



Spotlight: Coaches Help Improve Child Care Quality


Nelly Orantes, Director of Tiny Toes Family Child Care in Brentwood, says her coach Francisca Hernandez is one of the best things about being in our pilot child care Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Francisca is one of four coaches in Contra Costa available to support the 104 sites participating in our pilot QRIS, a system to rate, continuously improve, and communicate levels of child care quality.

“Francisca will always say, ‘Don’t worry if you cannot do it. We will do the best that we can – you don’t have to feel pressure.’ I think Francisca is a great, great support in this program. I couldn’t do it without her.”

Contra Costa’s coaches meet regularly with providers, connect them to workshops and trainings, prepare them for assessments and ratings, and help them identify their program’s strengths and areas where they need more support. Studies have shown that onsite coaching is more effective in raising early learning quality than group training delivered without on-site assistance.

“I meet providers where they are, talk about what is possible, and map out a continuous plan of quality improvement,” said Kim Stadtlander, Contra Costa’s newest coach who has worked in early childhood for 30 years. “I tend to work most with providers on improving their environment and on creating more enriching teacher-child interactions. When you have these elements in place, the programs run more smoothly and there’s less stress and more joy for everyone.”

Routine, enriching teacher-child interactions are critical to a child’s development, and one of the most important areas coaches help providers to improve. For example, a coach might observe a provider say “good job” to a child stacking blocks. While “good job” is nice, saying “I see how hard you’re working to build that tower” or asking the child open-ended questions about what the child is building or why they’re building it are more likely to keep a child motivated and learning. Small changes like these make a big difference for children’s learning and development.

Coaches also suggest other teaching strategies to address problems providers might be facing such as disruptive behavior or children who have trouble sharing, sitting still, or developing friendships. Providers also receive videotaping, feedback sessions, and mock rating assessments to better prepare for the rating process.

Elizabeth Anderson, Site Supervisor of the Riverview Head Start site in Bay Point, appreciates having a coach, “Coaching is really valuable. I can turn to my coach for help in areas I’m not knowledgeable about. Francisca has really helped our teachers have more meaningful conversations with the children. I now see the teachers prompting more responses from the children, and the kids are becoming much more social. We feel ready for our rating assessment.”


Sean’s Message


Did 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:

  • Families who earned less than $54,000 in 2015 may be eligible for the federal EITC and to have their taxes done for free by IRS-certified volunteers. You can find a complete list of free tax assistance sites in Contra Costa County here or by calling 211. Outreach materials in English and Spanish are also available at
  • Families who earned less than $13,870 in 2015 may be eligible for California’s EITC and up to $2,300 in tax credits. Find eligibility information, social media graphics, and bilingual outreach materials here.

Helping families stay financially stable is critical and helping them claim credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit is essential to making that happen. Please share this information in newsletters, on your social media pages, and with your constituents. The EITC, along with the Child Tax Credit, lifts more children out of poverty than any other policy. Let’s make sure our hard-working families know about it.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director