News & Notes:

Watch It: Triple P – A Solution for Every Parent

Parenting Topic: Apps and Young Children

Spotlight: Home Visits for New Dads

Sean’s Message

First 5 Contra Costa Joins Federal Preschool Grant Application

preschool grant 200 x100California is among 35 states and Puerto Rico vying for a share of $250 million the U.S. Department of Education has made available for states to improve their preschool programs. First 5 Contra Costa is included in this application, having signed on as part of the Bay Area Regional Consortia, which also includes Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.

The grant is designed to expand preschool programs for at-risk children, including low-income children and those with special needs. Ultimately, the goal of the funding is to help states prepare to participate in President Obama’s Preschool for All Initiative, which would offer high-quality early care and education for all children.

If approved, the grant could provide California with $140 million ($35 million per year over a four-year period) to support the development of high-quality state preschool programs. If selected, the funding would also provide 3,700 new and improved preschool spaces for low-income children and children with special needs. Funding would be divided among 12 sub-grantees, including the Bay Area Regional Consortia, which was selected to participate out of 200 applicants.

Grant recipients will be announced during a White House Summit on Early Education on December 10. Keep your fingers crossed!

Local Parents Assess Safety, Usability of 75 Parks

parks2 200 x100Parent volunteers participating in the three Regional Groups we sponsor have assessed a total of 75 local parks for safety, accessibility, and fun.

The park assessments, which have taken place in Antioch, Bay Point, Pittsburg, Concord’s Monument Community, and San Pablo, represent the Groups’ focus on urban planning and how it provides either barriers or opportunities for children’s health. Safe, accessible, and age-appropriate parks are critical to promoting physical activity and outdoor play among young children. These assessments particularly focused on Contra Costa’s lower income communities.

Using a rating system, and their children to “test drive” each park, Regional Group members and multiple partner agencies have spent Saturdays rating parks according to amenities offered (e.g., restrooms, seating, shade, water fountains), the condition of the play equipment and park grounds, safety concerns, creativity of play environment, and accommodations for children with special needs. Parents also rated how well their children liked the park and playground.

As is often the case in low-income neighborhoods, their assessments revealed significant health and safety concerns, such as broken play equipment, drug paraphernalia or glass bottles, community safety issues and illicit activity, a lack of play equipment for toddlers, broken water fountains, and filthy or unusable bathrooms.

After each assessment, the Groups compile their findings and share them with local elected officials in each city. Just last month, 35 members of the Central County Regional Group and project partners presented their findings to the Concord City Council. Group members and their park team have been asked to participate in the City’s capital improvement budget process taking place next year.

The West County Regional Group assessed parks in San Pablo last month, joined by 50 participants representing families, churches, promotores, and children’s health advocates. East County Regional Group members completed their assessment of parks in Antioch, Bay Point, and Pittsburg this summer and have produced flyers highlighting the best parks in each city. East and West County Regional Group members and their partners are also are planning visits to City Councils and Park and Recreation Commissions to present their findings.

Key partners on these projects include Healthy & Active Before 5, Contra Costa Health Services, and Monument Impact. Funding for the project is provided by Kaiser.

To learn more about the project, or to join a Regional Group, contact Rhea Laughlin (925) 771-7312.

The Latest on Contra Costa’s Campaign to Cut Poverty

Ensuring Opportunity 200 x100Last month, more than 100 service providers, policy makers, business and faith leaders, and other advocates gathered to officially launch Ensuring Opportunity: The Campaign to Cut Poverty in Contra Costa County.

Reinforced by the words of Nelson Mandela, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural…and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings,” Ensuring Opportunity aims to address the root causes of poverty by focusing on the structural and systemic changes needed to foster economic security.

In Contra Costa County, approximately 131,800 people live below the federal poverty level ($23,850 for a family of four); nearly one-third are children. Experts have calculated that to be self-sufficient in Contra Costa County without any public assistance, a family of four would need to earn three times the federal poverty level – or $71,000 annually.

Ensuring Opportunity aims to raise awareness, create a communication strategy to build and reinforce public opinion that poverty is unacceptable, and engage staff, constituents and community members in effective policy advocacy. The campaign focuses on six policy areas: Housing, Food, Economic Security, Health, Safety and Education. At the campaign launch event, participants met in small groups to share ideas, strategies, best practices and advocacy tips related to these areas.

Ensuring Opportunity is a joint effort of the Family Economic Security Partnership, the Safety Net Task Force, the Human Services Alliance and the Multi-Faith ACTION Coalition.

Visit to find information and resources, to sign up, and learn about upcoming events.

Programs Help Improve Quality of Life for Teen Parents

teen2 200 x100A new qualitative report shows that the two teen parent programs we fund help students to become more confident, independent, and capable of completing their education and pursuing careers.

For over a decade, we’ve funded counseling and education programs for teen parents at Crossroads High School in Concord. The YMCA of the East Bay provides similar services for teen parents in West County. The new report highlights interviews conducted with students and staff at Crossroads and Richmond High School, and provides an overview of teens’ challenges and successes.

Both teens and staff members reported that financial stress is the most common challenge teens face. Their dire financial situation is further complicated by social stressors and unhealthy environments. As one young mother said:

I wake up in the morning at 5:00 a.m. I take care of my baby, attend to her basic needs as well as mine. I wait for a bus to get to school. Then, after school I drop my child with a friend so that she can take care of him, then go to work, and finish work at 10:30 p.m. I get home, give my baby and myself a shower and sleep at 2 a.m. as my baby is cranky being away from me. I get up again at 5:00 a.m. This is my routine daily. I feel so tired all the time.

In addition to encouraging teens to build strong social networks, the programs provide supports, from baby supplies to counseling or tutoring. Teens reported feeling accepted and supported by the school programs, while staff indicated that the education and opportunities provided to students in the program helped the teens feel empowered to make positive changes in their lives.

The teens interviewed reported that the program teaches them valuable skills to support their child. In their child development classes, for instance, participants reported learning how to feed their baby (including how to add vegetables and fruits into babies’ food), what to do (and not do) when the baby is sick and how to calm a distressed baby.

Teens also described feeling better prepared for the future and more resilient in the face of hardship after going through the program. They shared that, over the course of the year, they began to find motherhood fulfilling and enjoyable. Each of the teens expressed confidence in their ability to be successful in life and that this was possible thanks to the YMCA and Crossroads programs:

Initially, I had only my mom to support me. No one believed I could graduate, sometimes even myself! Now, things have changed after I have graduated.

Last year, 56 of the participating teen mothers graduated from high school.

Watch It: Triple P – A Solution for Every Parent

Triple_P 200 x100Triple P (or Positive Parenting Program) is a parenting curriculum used throughout the world. It gives parents simple and practical strategies to help them confidently manage their children’s behavior, prevent problems, and build strong, healthy relationships.

Triple P has been shown to work across cultures, socio-economic groups, and in all kinds of family structures. No matter where it’s offered, or whom it reaches, Triple P works. It truly is a solution for any parent. See how it’s helping parents in Contra Costa County:

Parenting Topic: Apps and Young Children

Young children learn best interacting with people, not screens.

It's a wonderful teaching toolThat’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under age two, and that older children limit screen time to no more than one or two hours every day. This includes television, phones, computers, and tablets. Too much screen time can impact brain development and lead to attention and sleep problems or obesity. It also takes away from activities children need for their development, such as playing outside, hands-on activities, and interacting with other children or adults.

About Apps:

In the last few years, toddler and preschool apps have become very popular. Apps can be extremely interactive, with games that build various skills such as critical thinking, visual and auditory processing, and tactile or hands-on experiences. Following the AAP’s guidelines, we do not recommend using apps for children under age 2.

Like any technology or media, apps should be carefully selected and monitored by parents. If using apps, parents should look for ones that are conducive to learning, ensure a worthy success rate, and are fun and enjoyable.

  • Use apps that emphasize vocabulary, articulation, critical thinking, penmanship/hand writing, art, music and opportunities for peer interactions. There are apps for various subjects such as, emotions, shapes, farms, professions, sensory (sound, touch, visual tracking, sequencing, and adaptive skills, etc.).
  • Choose apps or games that meet children’s functional and developmental abilities, not just the recommended age. It’s most important that children enjoy the game, and are successful playing it. Move to a higher level only after a child has mastered a game or skill.
  • Read user reviews and comments to find games conducive to learning.
  • Choose games that allow opportunities for turn-taking at least half of the time so children learn to share and play with others, thus increasing social communication skills and compliance.
  • Children should only use apps/play games for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Monitor your child’s sensory response. If the bright lights or quick movements are over stimulating for your child, stop playing.

More Resources:

Special thanks to Ange Burnett, the Inclusion Project Coordinator at the Contra Costa Child Care Council, for providing these tips.

Spotlight: Home Visits for New Dads

Home visits for dads 200 x100For the first time in its 15-year history, Contra Costa’s popular Welcome Home Baby program is offering home visiting services to new fathers. Matched with a male home visitor, the program helps fathers to become more involved in their baby’s life, which research shows produces better health and educational outcomes for children.

“Children with involved, stable fathers have fewer behavioral problems, higher educational attainment, and lower levels of emotional stress,” said Odessa Caton, program director at AspiraNet, the nonprofit that runs Welcome Home Baby. “Home visiting is an effective way to reach new parents, reduce child abuse, and improve child health and development, but most programs are only for mothers. We’re out to change that.”

Fathers or other male caregivers are eligible for this voluntary service regardless of child custody status and receive assistance with parenting, employment resources, community services, and information about infant development. To reach dads, the program hired its first male home visitor, Cesar Paredes, and offers services at times to accommodate fathers’ work schedules.

“Fathers have a much bigger role in how children develop beyond providing financial support,” said Cesar Paredes. “A child’s first three years, the most rapid period of brain growth, are shaped by early experiences and stable relationships. Responding to cries or talking silly to babies promotes brain growth. For some fathers, this is new information and changing how they parent.”

For Jeff, father of three-month-old JB, the program has been a lifeline, especially since his extended family lives out of state. Before JB was born, Jeff had no experience caring for babies so Cesar brought over a fake baby for Jeff to practice holding and swaddling. At the hospital, Jeff, a 23-year-old window installer, proved to be a master swaddler and was already well-versed on the “5 S’s”, Dr. Harvey Karp’s method for calming crying newborns.

“Cesar helps me with anything. He gives me information and knowledge about being a better parent and partner. Talking to him helps get things off my chest and feel less stressed,” Jeff said. “I was really scared about becoming a dad, but I’ve come a long way. I have such a strong connection with JB. Nothing is better than those moments when he realizes I’m his father or when I hold him and he stops crying.”

The program is part of First 5 Contra Costa’s $3.6 million home visiting initiative, which provides services in Antioch, Bay Point, Concord, Martinez, Oakley, Pittsburg, Richmond, and San Pablo. Hello Baby, the home visiting program we fund in West County, recently hired a male home visitor who will soon start serving dads in Richmond and San Pablo.

Engaging fathers can be challenging, but according to Paredes, “Talking sports is usually a good place to start with the fathers. Then I might ask, ‘So where was the baby during the game?'”

To sign up for the program, contact: Welcome Home Baby (Antioch, Bay Point, Concord, Martinez, Oakley and Pittsburg): 925-753-2156 or Hello Baby (Richmond and San Pablo): 510-236-6990.

Sean’s Message

sean_portraitIt’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 invested more than $71 million.

The picture now is certainly brighter than it was five years ago. The economy is recovering and some programs decimated by budget cuts have been partially restored. 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.

A few realities haven’t changed though. Nearly one in four children in California lives in poverty. Raising a child, particularly in the high-cost Bay Area, remains a struggle for many families. And as expected, Prop. 10 revenues, the tobacco tax that supports First 5’s around the state, continue to decline about 3% every year.

Despite this decline, the good news is we managed to maintain funding for our programs over the last five years by using our fund balance and securing $11.9 million in additional revenue. We estimate we’ll have about $68 million to work with, based on figures we know now. This includes:

  • A projected $38 million in Prop. 10 funds
  • About $20 million in our fund balance
  • A target of $10 million in additional funding

At our October Commission meeting, Commissioners voted to adopt a $13 million spending plan for next fiscal year, the first year of our 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, and to make next year a bridge year between plans, with minimal reductions. This will allow us extra time to incorporate possible state and federal grants and other funding opportunities into our planning process.

This spring, we will hold a retreat with the Commission to begin forming the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, a process we hope to complete by fall 2015.The planning process will allow us to take full stock of where we are and how we’ll build on our achievements over the last 15 years.

I’ll provide regular updates as the new Strategic Plan takes shape.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director