News & Notes:

Q&A: Meet New Help Me Grow Coordinator Shaun-Adrian Choflá

For Providers: When Parents Decline Developmental Screening

Spotlight: First 5 Centers Offer Car Seat Inspections


Sean’s Message

sean_portraitOn Monday night, the First 5 Contra Costa Commission reviewed the draft of our new strategic plan, which will guide approximately $53 million in investments from fiscal year 2016/17 through 2019/20. The Commission will vote on adopting the new strategic plan at the October 5th Commission meeting.

As with all of California’s First 5 commissions, we too are dealing with a significant decline in our Prop. 10 tobacco tax revenue.  This decline is not new or unexpected; we planned for it.

For several years, we’ve been using discretionary funding from our fund balance to offset reductions and maintain full funding for programs. This model has served us well, particularly during the Great Recession, but it simply isn’t sustainable. By the end of 2020, we will have depleted our fund balance. Our ability to get external funding has helped extend our work, but it will never be enough to make up for the decline in Prop. 10 revenue and end of our fund balance.

Despite this fiscal reality, we still have an opportunity to use our funds to build solid foundations for all young children in our county – even as we transition over the next four years to the smaller, leaner organization we will inevitably become.

As such, we plan to focus our funding on building enduring systems, policies and partnerships that will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of children in our county. These are systems we’ve been working on for more than a decade, and systems that have attracted significant external funding.

Direct services will still be funded, but only those that fall within the systems we are building through three strategic initiatives:

  • Early Childhood Education: All children have access to high-quality, affordable child care and early learning.
  • Early Interventions: All children achieve their optimal development.
  • Family Support: All children are raised in supportive, nurturing families.

Our fiscal reality is driving this refined focus. With it, come some very difficult choices and the need to reduce funding for worthy programs that do not align with these priorities. Most of these reductions will occur in the first two years of the plan, by June 2018. Our goal is to work with each program, on a case-by-case basis, to gradually step-down funding or help identify additional funding if available.

Although these steps may not be easy to implement, they will ensure the sustainability of a strong service system for children and families for many years to come. The new strategic plan helps us live within our means, takes into account our diminishing revenue, and focuses our investments in ways that help all children in Contra Costa succeed in school and life, now and well into the future.

— Sean Casey, Executive Director


Early Intervention Partners Provide Input on Local Help Me Grow System

HMG_6 200x 100Representatives from more than 60 early intervention system partners joined First 5 Contra Costa in early September for a special meeting to discuss the county’s implementation of Help Me Grow (HMG). HMG is a national model, proven successful in connecting children to the early intervention services they need to thrive.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide community partners with more information about the Help Me Grow System, our progress implementing it locally, and to gather ideas and input to ensure the system meets the needs of children and families throughout the county.

At the meeting, participants learned about the four key components of Help Me Grow, including:

  • Creating a centralized care coordination, resource and referral telephone line
  • Expanding developmental screening in pediatric and early childhood education settings
  • Community outreach to inform parents, families, and community at large about the importance of developmental screening and early intervention support
  • Data collection across the system to ensure all children are receiving the services they need to thrive

“It’s important to think of Help Me Grow as a system that connects children and families to existing services, rather than a new service or program,” said Shaun-Adrian Choflá, First 5 Contra Costa’s newly hired Help Me Grow Coordinator. “Many elements of this system already exist in our county. The Help Me Grow model will help us identify gaps or barriers of services and through collaboration – ultimately create a more seamless system of developmental services for young children in our county.”

Participants also received an update about the $5 million grant the Thomas J. Long Foundation awarded to First 5 Contra Costa and Alameda to strengthen Help Me Grow systems in the East Bay. Funds will support full implementation of the components listed above as well as services for children with mild-to-moderate delays that typically do not qualify for state-funded intervention services.

Small peer-led group discussions were then held to gather input and identify challenges implementing the phone referral and care coordination line, expansion of developmental screening in pediatric and early care and education settings, social marketing, and service gaps for children with mild-to-moderate developmental delays.

Participants highlighted the importance of streamlined care coordination and warm transfers, recommending the creation of a workgroup among resource and referral phone lines to ensure consistency and collaboration across programs. Another suggestion, made by several groups, was the importance of communicating developmental screening in a way that is affirmative rather than stigmatizing or fear inducing. Among a myriad of other ideas and suggestions, we learned that 94% of the participants viewed the Help Me Grow model as “helpful in their work supporting children and families.”

Follow the links for updated information about the local Help Me Grow efforts or to sign up for an information newsletter.


Protect Children and Regulate E-Cigarettes

NoSmkng-NoVpng 200x 100It’s time for California to regulate e-cigarettes. Liquid nicotine is poisonous and can be toxic if ingested.

Last year, the number of calls to the California poison control center involving e-cigarettes exposure in toddlers and preschoolers tripled. And since not all poisonings get reported, according to the CDC, this figure is likely higher.

E-cigarettes come in bright colors and flavors like chocolate or strawberry. The products are appealing to young children, who may ingest them, and older children, who may begin using with them. New research shows that teens who vape are more likely to try smoking regular cigarettes.

A 2013 survey found that 6% of California 7th graders, 12% of 9th graders, and 14% of 11th graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. That data was from two years ago. It’s estimated now that e-cigarette consumption could surpass traditional cigarettes within ten years. Even more troubling is new research that shows teens who vape are more likely to try smoking regular cigarettes.

Marketing is one reason. E-cigarettes are not regulated the same way tobacco products are. When was the last time you saw an ad on TV for cigarettes? Not for 40 years, back when tobacco product advertising was banned on the airwaves.

Meanwhile, the amount of money spent to market these products in the U.S. increased by 1200% – including TV and radio ads – in the last three years alone. These products are not harmless. The Center for Environmental Health released a new study last week that found most of the e-cigarette products they tested produce high levels of cancer-causing toxins such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde – even in some nicotine-free products.

First 5 Contra Costa supports the American Lung Association’s recommendations to regulate e-cigarettes and other smoking devises to protect children and public health by:

  • Implementing manufacturing and safety standards, including child-proof packaging of e-liquids and cartridges and accurate labeling of ingredients and nicotine levels.
  • Restricting and enforcing e-cigarette sales and marketing so that it does not target or appeal to youth and mislead the public.
  • Including e-cigarettes and other electronic smoking devices in smoke-free air laws.
  • Restricting sales of flavored tobacco products that especially appeal to youth


Q&A: Meet New Help Me Grow Coordinator Shaun-Adrian Choflá

Shaun-Adrian 200x 100Shaun-Adrian has spent more than 24 years working in the fields of early intervention, early childhood education, community advocacy, education technology, and higher education. In 2008, he started teaching at National Hispanic University (NHU), a small, four-year university primarily serving first-time and emerging bilingual college students, with a focus on early intervention. As part of his role as a core faculty member, he spearheaded the development of 40 online child development undergraduate and early childhood studies graduate courses. Among other accomplishments, he was awarded Faculty of the Year in 2013 and 2014 and Faculty Grand Marshall in 2014 and 2015.

What was your favorite children’s book?  My favorite book growing up was Donde viven los monstrous (Where the Wild Things Are). As a child, it is often incredibly difficult to understand the strong feelings that suddenly overwhelm you. I remember, quite vividly, feeling both understood and empowered by this book. Even when I read it today, I feel almost as if the book was written about or possibly for me.

Your favorite quote?  As an educator, advocate, and now program coordinator of a system designed to support children and families, my responsibility in serving others is especially meaningful to me. There is a quote by Rabindranah Tagore that I have found deeply meaningful: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”  When I can come to work each day and focus on changing the lives of others for the better, that to me is where I am the happiest.

What is your favorite childhood memory? During our summer vacation, we often spent extended time with our grandparents and cousins in Texas. One year, a large collection of tadpoles begin to develop in a large bucket. Over much of that summer, we witnessed the metamorphosis. It was magical and sparked a strong interest in animals!

Who are your heroes?  When we think of heroes, we often immediately envision public figures. While certainly, there are a lot of visionary leaders such as Louise Derman-Sparks, W.E.B. Dubois, and John Dewey, who I have learned from and hold in great esteem. There is another group of heroes that has touched me in even more profound ways. Having worked with a lot of families raising children with varying abilities, I have been fortunate enough to meet several heroes. This list has included an older brother dedicated to his younger brother with autism so much that he attended IEP meetings and a network of unrelated friends who planned around the developmental needs of a neighbor’s child. These folks will likely never receive an award, but through their actions are just as much champions.

What food did you refuse to eat as a child?  The maternal side of my family is predominantly from Mexico and Spain.  Though we ate Mexican food fairly often, for some reason I did not like crunchy corn tacos.


For Providers: When Parents Decline Developmental Screening

Dev_Screening 200 x100When staff at the Bay Point First 5 Center observed that a two-year-old boy attending classes wasn’t speaking at all, they broached the subject with his mom. She quickly replied, “He’s fine. I know what he needs.”

Primary caregivers, such as parents, know their children best. Talking to a family member who is uncomfortable about getting developmental screening for their child can be a delicate dance. Here’s how staff at the First 5 Center approached it.

The First 5 team first acknowledged that the mother is the expert on her child. The staff explained that developmental screening is one way to help her learn more about her child’s development. They also suggested she enroll her son in a literacy and sign language class to boost his language and speech. She declined the screening but tried the class.

As time passed, the boy began to show signs of frustration and aggression, which often occur when children have difficulty communicating their needs. The staff suggested screening again. She still declined. Knowing that she wasn’t ready to take this step, they suggested he have his hearing tested. The appointment with the doctor did not go well, as the boy was uncooperative and did not follow instructions.

Finally, the mother came back crying. She said she couldn’t take it anymore. Her son was completely out of control. She agreed to developmental screening, and answered a series of questions to determine how her son was progressing on developmental milestones. Scores in the white indicate milestones are being met, gray indicates developmental areas that should be checked and monitored, and black shows children are in need of a more formal assessment. In this little boy’s case, every section came back black except for one.

The boy was placed immediately in a play therapy class and referred for assessment. Within a month, he was receiving full-day early intervention services at the Lynn Center, and may be on the autism spectrum. The mother is still going through many emotions, but now tells every parent she meets to get developmental screening for their children.

Some lessons learned from situations like these for organizations implementing developmental screening:

  1. Parents are their child’s first teacher. Primary caregivers, such as parents, know their children better than anyone else and are their child’s first teacher. Keep these two elements in mind.
  2. Provide resources. If families refuse to screen their child, offer other resources, such as classes at the First 5 Centers or connect them to the Help Me Grow Specialist at 211.
  3. Be understanding of a family’s process. There are complex reasons why families might choose not to screen their child. Effective partners embrace this reality and realize it is a process.
  4. Be patient and try again. Primary caregivers may be more open to it another time. Just be there.
  5. Demonstrate the importance of understanding child development. Stress that developmental screening is one way to learn more about their child’s development; not just identify if something is wrong. Rather than pushing the issue of screening, consider providing information about child development.
  6. Timing is important. 90% of brain development occurs in during the first five years of a child’s life. This is when services can benefit children most. It’s okay to let parents know this.


Spotlight: First 5 Centers Offer Car Seat Inspections

Car_Seat 200x 100Installing a child car seat is no easy task. Research shows most seats are installed incorrectly and many children are improperly restrained. On top of that, selecting the right car seat, and knowing when to transition to the next type, is often confusing for parents. The First 5 Centers are working to ease this confusion and ensure safe travel for young children.

The five Centers began offering free car seat inspections three years ago through a small grant from the California Department of Public Health. These were short, one-day events in which families had their car seats inspected, and in some cases, received brand new car seats if their current one had been recalled or was deemed unusable.

While these events were well attended and successful, Center staff were looking for ongoing support for their families. This support was found in a new partnership with John Muir Health and Contra Costa Health Services Community Wellness & Prevention Program, who continued to provide small grants and technical support to the Centers.

Eventually, First 5 Contra Costa paid for six Center staff to attend a 4-day training to become certified car seat technicians. Now, when new families register for classes for the first time at one of the Centers, part of their intake involves questions about car seats.

Appointments can then be made with the Center’s car seat tech who will conduct a car seat inspection, instruct parents on proper installation and safety, and make recommendations to address a family’s individual needs. In some cases, car seats are made available to families free of charge. Typically these seats are given to parents in need who cannot afford new car seats. Since the program started in 2012, more than 700 participants have had their car seats checked and 600 new car seats have been distributed to parents in need.

Only families enrolled in First 5 Center programs are eligible for the program. Contact a Center for more information.