News & Notes:

Q&A: Meet Monument Community First 5 Center Maya Rodriguez

Listen: Parenting Programs Turn to Fathers

Spotlight: First 5 Programs Boost Language and Literacy Skills for Latino Children

Sean’s Message


New $5 Million Grant Will Improve Development for East Bay Children

Screening_Grant 200 x100The Thomas J. Long Foundation has awarded a $5 million grant to First 5 Alameda County and First 5 Contra Costa to ensure that developmental delays are identified and treated early in childhood. The grant will expand Help Me Grow, a national model that promotes early detection of development delays in young children, such as speech problems, behavioral challenges and autism, and ensures timely access to needed services.

Currently, seventy percent of developmental delays are undetected until children reach kindergarten, resulting in missed opportunities for children to receive intervention services shown to be most effective earlier in life. Funds will be used to train more pediatricians and child care providers on a developmental screening tool that checks children’s developmental progress.

“One in four young children is at risk for a developmental delay, yet current systems to identify delays are inadequate. Only 28% of California children receive developmental screening,” said Mark Friedman, CEO of the Thomas J. Long Foundation, about the effective method recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to flag developmental problems early. “This grant will help more East Bay children get back on track before starting school, which down the road can reduce costs to education and health systems.”

Screening will be prioritized for low-income children and those in non-English-speaking households. Funds will also be used for an awareness campaign for parents about the importance of early screening and how to access it.

“The optimal time to detect and address concerns is in the first three years, when children’s brains are still forming and are most receptive to intervention,” said Janis Burger, CEO of First 5 Alameda County. “Early detection and treatment services can vastly improve developmental outcomes for children with special needs and prevent further progression of delays. We’re thrilled to expand our services with this grant and make developmental screening a routine part of early childhood.”

As screening services expand, it is anticipated that more children will be identified with moderate delays not serious enough to qualify for state-funded intervention services, yet still in need of help. To fill this gap, funds will also be used to provide one-on-one and group support for these children and to teach parents how to address their child’s needs.

“Children with moderate delays have the same challenges as children whose difficulties are more severe. The difference is that they don’t have access to free intervention services the state is mandated to provide. Many children thus fall further behind,” said Sean Casey, Executive Director of First 5 Contra Costa. “With the Long Foundation grant, we’ll be able to provide these children with the timely and effective services they need to improve their development.”


New Sugar Bites TV Ads Target Children’s Juice Drinks

SB 200 x100Our Sugar Bites campaign is back with provocative new television commercials targeting the deceptive marketing tactics used to trick parents into thinking sugary juice drinks are healthy beverages for young children.

The commercials, available in English and Spanish, feature a young child pleading with her mother to purchase a juice drink in the grocery store. The mother is horrified when the container morphs into a toothy monster and she learns that consumption of sugary beverages can lead to tooth decay, obesity, and type II diabetes. We partnered with the Healthy and Active Before 5 collaborative on the campaign.

“Most children’s juice drinks contain as much sugar as soda and miniscule amounts of fruit, yet they’re marketed as healthy options for young children,” said Contra Costa Health Services pediatrician and Healthy and Active Before 5 member Dr. Diane Dooley. “The new Sugar Bites ads provide a much-needed counter message for parents barraged by misleading claims from the beverage industry.”

A recent study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that most parents believe some sugary drinks are healthy choices for kids, primarily because the labeling and marketing of these products imply they are nutritious. Among parents surveyed with children ages 2 to 5, 80 percent served them juice drinks such as Capri Sun or Sunny D. That’s why researchers recommend that, in addition to product labeling changes, sugary drink health campaigns should focus on juice drinks as well as soda.

“We may not have beverage industry advertising budgets, but we have the science and the truth. And parents have a right to know that sugary drinks are tied to serious, lasting health risks,” said Cally Martin, Deputy Director of First 5 Contra Costa.

According to researchers, sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the diets of children and contribute to childhood obesity. Unless trends change, health advocates say one in three U.S. children born after the year 2000 – and nearly half of Latino and African American children – will develop type II diabetes in their lifetimes. Already half of California children experience tooth decay before kindergarten.

The Sugar Bites commercials will run through July on Contra Costa cable stations and online. The campaign also includes a two-minute video with tips for parents to cut back on sugary drinks and serve their children water instead.

Watch the commercials:

To learn more, visit the campaign website:


Programs Help Reduce Preschool Expulsions

Reducing_Expulsions 200 x100Did you know that preschoolers are expelled from school at three times the rate of older children?

Getting kicked out of preschool can hinder children’s social-emotional development, disrupt continuity of care for children and parents, and delay children getting the services they need.

One way to reduce expulsions, as profiled in a recent New York Times article, is to connect child care providers to mental health consultation services and expertise in child development. Fortunately for children and child care providers in Contra Costa County, these services exist – they’re free and they’re working.

Funded by First 5 Contra Costa, Child Care Solutions and the Inclusion Program have been consulting providers and helping children with challenges thrive in child care for more than a decade.

Child Care Solutions provides mental health consultation when children are struggling with social-emotional development or exhibiting behavior problems in preschool. The most common reasons cited for services last year were for behavior and emotional issues like aggression and defiance

The Inclusion Project provides specialists who consult with providers caring for children with developmental delays or concerns or special needs. Communication, sensory, and motor issues were the main reasons services were requested last year.

Both programs, with parental permission, send experts to observe children in child care, coach child care providers, and develop solutions with parents and teachers designed to address the needs of children and improve their behavior or experience in child care. Child Care Solutions and the Inclusion Project primarily serve boys – about 75%. This mirrors national data which shows boys make up only 54% of the preschool population, but 79% of children suspended from preschool.

Last year Child Care Solutions served 285 children at 79 child care sites. 64% of the children remained in their child care setting. The Inclusion Project served 100 children at 56 child care sites and 77% of children remained in those programs.

When children leave their child care program after receiving these services, typically it’s because they’re moved to a program more suited to their needs, such as those with smaller class size or special education support. In some cases, it’s because a teacher or program is not yet able to manage the child’s needs or behavior.

If your child or children you teach are experiencing challenges in child care, get help:

  • Child Care Solutions (operated by We Care Services for Children): (925) 671-0777 ext. 106
  • Inclusion Project (operated by the Contra Costa Child Care Council): (925) 676-5442


Q&A: Meet Monument Community First 5 Center Maya Rodriguez

MF5C_Maya 200 x100Maya Rodriguez is the new Director of the Monument Community First 5 Center. Maya began working at the West County First 5 Center in 2008, and her experience with children and families influenced her decision to pursue a Masters in Human Development, from Columbia University. After graduating in 2012, Maya returned to Contra Costa County, eager to make a difference in her own community. Maya is thrilled to be working in Concord, the city she grew up in and calls home.

What food did you refuse to eat as a child?
Surprisingly, when I was a child I loved broccoli! I called them little trees. The food that I would leave behind on the plate was always meat. I think the texture was too rough for my baby teeth. Even though my mom made sure to cut it into small enough pieces, I felt that I had to chew it for too long, and it was always a struggle to finish.

What is your favorite childhood memory?
I have many favorite memories, but the thing they all have in common is the time and attention my mom was able to give me during my early childhood. She would take me on walks to park to feed the ducks, tell me stories of her upbringing in El Salvador, and was never afraid to be silly!

What is your favorite place or activity in Contra Costa County?
I love going to the Farmer’s Market at Todos Santos Park, especially during the summer when there are free concerts. I bring a blanket to enjoy the show, and get to take home fresh fruits, veggies, and sometimes a slice of pie.

What was your favorite children’s book?
It’s hard to pick just one book as my favorite. My mom always made story time fun by adding voices, changing the story, and then reading the book to me again in Spanish. A couple of my favorites were The Little House and Corduroy.

What would make Contra Costa a better place for young children?
I believe Contra Costa is a great place for children, and hope to start my family here soon. Contra Costa would be even better if all families could have access to affordable, high quality early education programs, as well as safe and clean parks in their community.


Listen: Parenting Programs Turn to Fathers

Fathers_1 200 x100The California Health Report recently recorded a five-minute audio story about the home visiting programs we fund for new fathers. Take a listen and learn about this innovative service.

Click here to listen.

To learn more about the programs, or refer new dads or dads-to-be, contact:

  • Hello Baby (West County dads), operated by Brighter Beginnings: (510) 323-2772
  • Welcome Home Baby (Central, East County), operated by Aspiranet: (9250 753-2156


Spotlight: First 5 Programs Boost Language and Literacy Skills for Latino Children

hv_1 200 x100A UC Berkeley study released last week found that Latino toddlers fall behind white peers in language development by age 2, and by the time they reach preschool age, the vocabularies of Latino children are far smaller. This gap in early language and literacy skills can lead to an achievement gap that persists in school and beyond.

One solution cited by the researchers is to provide effective parenting education and support early in a child’s life and to teach parents how to nurture their children’s language and literacy skills.

Helping parents understand how to be their child’s first teacher is the goal of many programs funded both by First 5 Contra Costa and First 5 commissions throughout the state.

Locally, we’re reaching Latino children early in life and providing parents with information to improve children’s language and literacy skills in programs like:

  • Home visiting programs that encourage parents to talk, read and play with their babies starting at birth.
  • Family literacy preschools that have improved children’s ability to recognize letters and increased the amount of time parents spend reading to their children and visiting the library.
  • First 5 Centers that offer dozens of free early learning and literacy classes every month, including Baby Signs and the Raising a Reader book-lending program.

Last year, nearly 60 percent of children participating in home visiting and First 5 Center programs are Latino. Latino children make up more than 90% of children served in the family literacy preschools, which are designed for children whose parents are enrolled in English as a Second Language classes.

According to the study’s co-author Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of education and public policy:

“The good news is that we know what works,” he said. “The question is how do we get mom and dad to understand the need to nurture stronger language skills by age 1 and 2 and that parents play a large role in that development?”

Home visiting, family support programs, and access to quality early care and education are good places to start.


Sean’s Message

sean_portraitThis Wednesday we’re holding a strategic planning retreat with our Commission, which will help shape the 2016-2020 First 5 Contra Costa Strategic Plan.

The retreat will be a time for Commissioners to engage in a focused discussion about how best to use our available resources – including not only funding but partnerships, new opportunities, staff time and energy, and its convening and leadership roles – to carefully gauge where it can make the most needed and worthwhile difference for children and families.

The retreat will take place from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Pleasant Hill Community Center. Members of the public are welcome to join us.

We’ve prepared a summary of stakeholder input as well as a Briefing Book outlining the needs of young children in our County, the changing landscape, and outcomes achieved by our currently funded programs. These can be found on our website, as well as the meeting agenda. Look for more updates from me or in our newsletter (or on our website) throughout the planning process. We’re aiming to finalize the new Strategic Plan in the Fall.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director