News & Notes:

Watch It: Taking a Bite Out of Sugar

Spotlight: First 5 Centers Bring Community Together

Sean’s Message

First 5 Commission Adopts New Strategic Plan

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In October, First 5 Contra Costa Commissioners adopted our new strategic plan to guide approximately $53 million in investments over a four-year period starting July 2016.

This plan reflects our focus on building systems that have the greatest impact on the largest number of children in our county. These systems, which will lead to high-quality child care, screening and early intervention services, and family support programs for all children, are also areas we’ve received significant external funding to build.

Direct services will still be funded, but only those that fall into three strategic initiatives:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Early Interventions
  • Family Support

Like most First 5 Commissions in California, we too are facing a decline in our Proposition 10 revenue – a 36% decline in the last 15 years. Early on we created a fund balance to sustain our funded programs in anticipation of this decline. This model has served us well, but the new strategic planning period will be the last one in which we have significant use of these funds. We anticipate that the end of this strategic planning period in 2020 will also mark the conclusion of our fund balance. This fiscal reality has led to some tough choices, which are reflected in the new plan.

Chief among them is the need to reduce funding over the next two years for direct service programs that do not fall within the priorities outlined in the new plan. These are all worthy programs, but the reality is we don’t have enough revenue to continue sustaining them. Where possible, we will work with programs to identify additional funding from foundations, school districts or other systems to minimize the impact on families. These reductions total about $1 million.

These difficult decisions reinforce why California needs to provide dedicated, ongoing funding for the systems of care we know children need to reach their full potential. In addition to building our three systems of care for young children, the new plan outlines our intention to work with statewide and local partners to increase funding streams dedicated to early childhood health and development.

Overall, Our FY 16/17 –19/20 strategic plan marks a time of transition for First 5 Contra Costa. While we expect our revenues to continue to decline, opportunity remains. This plan puts us on a solid path for creating the enduring systems, partnerships and policies that will benefit all children in Contra Costa County now and well into the future.

To review First 5 Contra Costa’s FY 2016/17 – FY 2019/20 Strategic Plan, click here. Additional information about First 5 can be found at


Survey Provides Snapshot of Families our Funded Programs Serve

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Each year, new families participating in our funded programs complete a survey when they start services, providing us with demographic information about the children and families served by these programs. Last year 2,951 parents completed the survey. Here’s what we learned:

  • Our families struggle to make ends meet.
    • 30% earn less than $15,000 per year; while 33% earn between $15,000 and $30,000. Nearly one-third of mothers served do not have a high school diploma or GED.
  • Most parents identify their race/ethnicity as a person of color.
    • 50% of families speak primarily Spanish in the home.
  • Parents are routinely reading to their children.

    • 89% of families read to their child at least weekly; with 70% reading between 3-7 times per week and 27% reading to their child every day.
  • Parents are concerned about their child’s development.
    • 27% of parents have a concern that their child is not developing like other children, and 20% of parents said that their child had already been identified with a developmental delay or disability.
  • Most children have health insurance.
    • 69% of children have Medi-Cal coverage (includes 3% with Healthy Families-CHIP); while only 1% do not have health insurance. 94% of children have a regular health care provider for well-child check-ups.
  • Children are still exposed to secondhand smoke.
    • 15% of children have been exposed to second hand tobacco smoke at home.

In addition, it’s interesting to learn that one in three parents who completed the survey had already visited a First 5 Center, and most of the families (78%) had a child under age three. We are in the process of evaluating data collected from last fiscal year and will highlight outcomes on our Data Dashboard once completed.


First 5 Advocates Partner with Police to Improve Parks

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The Regional Groups are continuing their efforts to help all Contra Costa children gain access to safe, usable parks and playgrounds. Their latest activities include co-hosting meetings with police representatives to improve safety in and around parks.

The Regional Groups, three parent advocacy groups First 5 Contra Costa trains, supports, and sponsors, began their park improvement work a few years ago by assessing conditions at 75 parks in the Monument community of Concord, East County and San Pablo. Results from these assessments have been presented to local city councils and park and recreation commissions, and so far, have generated $1.6 million in funds and grants from cities to pay for recommended improvements. But that was just the beginning.

These dedicated parent advocates are now working with the police, city officials, and other residents to address crime and safety concerns plaguing many parks in the county’s lowest income communities. The Regional Groups, along with Healthy and Active Before 5, have co-hosted community meetings with police representatives in Pittsburg, Concord and San Pablo at the parks they prioritized as most in need of improvements.

The Concord meeting took place at Ellis Lake Park, which the Concord City Council recently awarded significant funding to implement recommendations made by the Central County Regional Group. The 120 residents attending the meeting expressed an interest in working with police to address drug dealing, prostitution, robbery, and assaults near the park. The Pittsburg event drew about 75 residents who expressed concerns about speeding, drug use near the park, and unleashed dogs. San Pablo’s meeting at Davis Park attracted more than 75 residents, along with the City’s police chief Lisa Rosales. Residents expressed concerns about vandalism, loitering, and perceptions about safety near the park.

All three meetings included updates about crime stats, opportunities for residents to share concerns with police, and planning to improve park use, safety and community partnership. More meetings are planned in these communities to start Neighborhood Watch or Park Guardianship programs.

Kudos to these parent leaders, who are working so diligently to make Contra Costa safer and more family-friendly, one park at a time.

Contact First 5 Contra Costa’s Community Engagement Program Officer Rhea Elina Laughlin for more information.


Help Me Grow Increasing Developmental Screening Use by Pediatricians

Help_Me_Grow_200 x100Expanding the number of pediatricians who routinely provide developmental screening services to infants and toddlers is one goal of Help Me Grow, the system we’re building to connect children to the early screening and community services they need to thrive. Thanks to a generous grant from the Thomas J. Long Foundation, providing this vital service to more children is becoming a reality.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developmental screening for children at 9, 18 and 24 months, but research shows that only about half of pediatricians report routinely screening patients younger than 36 months. The sooner children with delays receive help, the better they do in life, so it is critical to identify concerns as early as possible.

With our Long grant, a $5 million grant shared with First 5 Alameda to bolster Help Me Grow efforts in both counties, we engaged the Lucile Packard Medical Home Project to reach out to pediatric offices.  Packard provides training and support to practices on the use of Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), a developmental and behavioral screening tool that assists in identifying areas of developmental concern in children younger than age five. While the ASQ doesn’t provide a diagnosis, it can detect signs that a child is behind on reaching developmental milestones or may need additional support.

The Pittsburg Health Clinic was the first county clinic to pilot the ASQ, and with the Long funding, we’ve been able to train all 13 county clinic sites.

In addition, staff from Lucile Packard has trained 7 additional sites, such as La Clinica Health Services in Concord, bringing the total number of new pediatric sites offering screening to 20. All of these practices are certified Child Health and Disability Prevention Program (CHDP) providers, a state-funded program providing health assessments and services to low-income children.

The Packard staff will continue reaching out to train other CHPD providers in the county and may target practices serving under-insured or other low-income children. The goal is to provide universal screening to all children in Contra Costa, starting with low-income children first.

To learn more about Help Me Grow Contra Costa or sign up for the HMG newsletter, click here.


Watch It: Taking a Bite Out of Sugar

Taking_Bite_Out_200 x100Salud America!, an organization funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to reduce Latino childhood obesity, recently produced a video highlighting our bilingual Sugar Bites campaign. We’re so honored to have this campaign, implemented with our partner Healthy and Active Before 5, be recognized as a Salud Hero!

Watch the video here:

Spotlight: First 5 Centers Bring Community Together

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Each year the five First 5 Centers serve about 1,900 families, providing 400 different types of classes for them to take. These classes are designed to improve parenting skills, help parents feel more confident, and help children develop to their full potential. Parents also report that the Centers help increase their social support – which this short vignette perfectly captures.

When a mother at the Bay Point First 5 Center told other parents at the Center she wasn’t throwing her daughter a third birthday party, they wanted to know why. She said the little girl, who has special needs, did not have any friends. Moved by the response, the other parents at the Center immediately started planning a party for the little girl, which took place the following week with 15 kids attending the pink princess bash.

Building community is a big part of supporting parents. Thanks Bay Point First 5 Center and Care Parent Network for facilitating engagement like this!

See the latest free classes and programs at a First 5 Center near you.


Sean’s Message

sean_portraitLast month, headlines were abuzz with results from a new study on Tennessee’s state-subsidized preschool program for poor children: Tennessee study casts doubt on preschool, Increased access to preschool does not guarantee increased achievement, and Study shows preschool gains may not last.

In the study, researchers from Vanderbilt University found that children who attended the program, which serves 18,000 low-income children, initially started kindergarten ahead on many school readiness measures. But by the time the children were in first grade, they started to score lower on standardized tests than kids who hadn’t even attended preschool.

What these headlines and many articles failed to recognize is the program’s focus on access over quality. Tennessee’s preschool program quickly scaled up to 900 classrooms across 95 counties without a way to measure quality across programs. As U.C. Berkeley researcher David Kirp said recently on KQED’s Forum, “It is easier to go from better to bigger, than bigger to better. You’re not going to get a great preschool education on the cheap.”

Gains in quality must keep pace with gains in access. That’s why First 5 Contra Costa and our partners have joined 15 other California counties to build California’s child care Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).

Working with 101 child care programs in our county, we’ve created a system that rates their quality and provides continuous support to improve it. Thirty-three of the QRIS sites are family child care homes and 78 are child care centers, including Head Start sites and state preschool programs. Combined, these programs serve 3,400 children, most of whom are low-income children, dual language learners or children with special needs.

Early ratings are showing that these children are receiving high-quality care – 83% of participating sites earned top ratings. These impressive results didn’t happen overnight. They were years in the making: first with our work incentivizing child care providers to advance their training and education, then with our funded support at Contra Costa’s three community colleges to help providers succeed in school, and later with our Preschool Makes a Difference preschool scholarship program.

Our QRIS program builds on over a decade of quality improvement work. And the ratings our pilot sites are earning demonstrate this. We already know quality early education makes a difference for children long-term. What we need now is a commitment among policymakers to building quality, and ongoing funding to pay for it.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director