January 2012 News

News & Notes:

Spotlight: Early Childhood Professional Development Program Leads the State

Sean's Message


First 5 Commissions Win Lawsuit

First 5 Commissions Win Lawsuit

In case you missed the good news announced before the holidays!

AB 99, passed by California lawmakers last year to redirect $1 billion in First 5 funding, was deemed "invalid" by Fresno Superior Court Judge Debra Kazanjian in December. Judge Kazanjian ruled that AB 99 was an illegal attempt by lawmakers to amend Proposition 10 without voter approval. First 5 Contra Costa stood to lose about $23 million.

In summary, the State argued that because it was setting up a separate State fund that would support services for children 0 to 5, AB 99 was furthering the purpose of Prop 10. The State claimed that Prop 10 was primarily about providing services to children 0 to 5, not about setting up local processes to do so. The State even claimed that the severe budget crisis had forced the Legislature to take this difficult action.

Judge Kazanjian noted the great detail to which Prop 10 goes to ensure that local funds can only be expended according to the strategic plan approved by the local Commission. In her ruling, she wrote: “To claim that transferring decision-making from local communities to the state legislature is ‘consistent with’ Prop 10 is like asking the court to find that black means white.”

She also noted inconsistencies in the State’s argument that belied the barely hidden intent to use AB 99 as a method to backfill cuts in Medi-Cal. And she reminded the State that the budget crisis could be solved by other means more clearly at the Legislature’s disposal, such as raising revenue.

Ten county commissions' lawsuits were consolidated in Fresno and heard by Kazanjian on Aug. 31. The State has until February to file an appeal.

The First 5 Contra Costa Commission will begin discussing how recouping the $23 million will affect future funding allocations at upcoming Commission meetings.


California Wins Federal Early Learning Challenge Grant

California Wins Federal Early <p>Learning Challenge Grant

California was one of nine states to win a federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant from the federal Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. Thirty-five states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, submitted an application to the $500 million state-level competition designed to improve early learning and development systems. Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington also received grants.

"Not only is this a great accomplishment for our state, and particularly the hard-working staff at the California Department of Education who completed a very challenging application, but it is a great day for Contra Costa County, one of 16 counties written into the State’s application," said Sean Casey, First 5 Contra Costa Executive Director. "We are blessed with many strong leaders in early childhood who have diligently worked to raise the quality of early learning in our county, and our inclusion in this grant is a testament to their passion and hard work."

California's application called for establishing 16 regional consortia made up of county offices of education, First 5 commissions, and county government. Contra Costa is one of the 16 consortia included in the application. Each consortium will determine local priorities and be responsible for allocating the funds, a model not unlike the current structure used to implement Proposition 10.

According to State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, California's $52.6 million grant will primarily fund local Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) designed to evaluate individual early learning programs on common standards such as the learning environment, teacher effectiveness, and parent engagement. This system is particularly focused on improving access to high-quality early care for children who need it most, an outcome in alignment with our own Preschool Makes a Difference (PMD) program.

Congressman George Miller first introduced legislation in 2009 to create the Early Learning Challenge Fund and has worked with the Obama administration to ensure that this program found a home within the Race to the Top initiative.

Congressman Miller said in a statement, "At a time when many early learning opportunities are falling victim to budget cuts, today’s announcement reaffirms our commitment to early childhood education that economists, business leaders, and child development and education experts have been calling for our country to make."


Childhood Matters Remains on Air for Now
Childhood Matters Remains on Air for Now

Childhood Matters has raised $100,000 in the last two months and will remain on the air beyond December 18, the date previously set for the program’s last live show. Interactive Parenting Media (IPM), the producer of Childhood Matters, lost 45% of its operating budget this year. Many First 5 Commissions, including First 5 Contra Costa, reduced or eliminated support due to state budget cuts. Current funding levels may keep the program on the air through June.

“Clearly, we are not out of the woods yet and we are receiving foundation support to consolidate and streamline our operations so that we may continue providing the resources so many of our listeners have come to appreciate,” said Sara Calderon, Executive Director of IPM. “There is much to be done in the following weeks as we continue our fundraising efforts and outreach to the broader community.”

Founded in 2002 by Nurse Rona Renner, Childhood Matters and its sister program, Nuestros Niños, provides parenting education throughout Northern California broadcasting live on radio stations including 98.1 KISS-FM, KBBF 89.1-FM, 100.7 LaKalle, and 99.5 Tricolor.

Over one hundred new and original programs on topics such as early childhood development, child abuse prevention, positive discipline, health, and nutrition are produced in Spanish and English annually and reach more than 25,000 listeners weekly. The programs are hosted by Nurse Rona and Dra. Marisol – both nationally recognized experts in parenting education.

To learn more, click on this video and hear directly from Nurse Rona about the radio programs and how you can help or go directly to their fundraising page.


Parents Report Improvements from Mental Health Services

Parents Report Improvements from Mental Health Therapeutic Services

Parents whose children received First 5-funded mental health therapeutic services say the program helped reduce their stress level and improved their relationship with their child, according to a new report issued by Applied Survey Research (ASR), First 5 Contra Costa’s independent evaluators.

Since 2003, First 5 Contra Costa has funded Contra Costa County Mental Health, Contra Costa ARC/Lyn Center, Early Childhood Mental Health Program, and We Care Services for Children to provide intensive mental health services for young children exhibiting or at-risk of social, emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems. Families dealing with more complex issues can receive intensive “Wraparound” services, a team-based approach designed to meet each family’s individual needs.

ASR recently conducted interviews with families who had completed mental health therapeutic or wraparound services. Prior to receiving services, most families reported being at their breaking point with their child and were at a loss about what to do. Most parents felt that their problems would not have improved as much (or at all) had they not received therapeutic services.

One parent said, “Mental health therapeutic services were great. They literally saved our family as a whole, and made me, as a mother, not feel like I was failing.”

Parents who participated in Wraparound services reported that they gained skills, understanding, and emotional support, and parents learned discipline, anger management, patience, better communication, and behavior management strategies such as ‘time out’ or counting to 3. According to one parent, “I would get too upset and I would shout at her and now I don’t. Right now I understand better that she is a child and that I have to treat her according to her needs, I have to understand her, and I have improved in the way I treat her.”

After receiving services, parents and therapists reported that children's behavior had improved.  Children were less emotionally reactive, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, or aggressive, and less likely to have difficulties sleeping and paying attention.  Changes in children's behaviors were associated with decreased household conflict.

Last year, 254 children received services. The average duration of services was nine months.


Will Richmond Pass the Country’s First Soda Tax?

Will Richmond Pass the Country’s First Soda Tax?On December 6, Richmond’s City Council appointed city staff to draft a November 2012 ballot measure imposing a one-cent-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary beverages sold within city limits. Funds raised from the tax would fund obesity prevention programs. 100 percent fruit juice and diet drinks would not be affected.

The vote was passed after the Council heard a report from Contra Costa Health Services’ Public Health Director, Dr. Wendell Brunner, on the link between sugary drinks and the high rate of obesity among Richmond’s youth. According to the report, 42% of Richmond’s children are expected to be obese as adults.

Sugary drinks now represent the biggest source of added sugar in children’s diets. According to Dr. Brunner, the average Richmond teenager consumes 150,000 extra calories a year from sugar-sweetened beverages.

City Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a retired cardiologist, introduced the possible tax measure. Commenting on an article about the possible ballot measure, Councilman Ritterman wrote:

“If this passes in Richmond it will be historic. We will be the first city in the US to pass a Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax as a public health measure to prevent and reverse childhood obesity. We can do to Sugar Sweetened Beverages what we have done to tobacco; tax it and decrease usage and use the revenue to improve population health.”


Parents Embrace Delta First 5 Center’s Nutrition Policy

Parents Embrace Delta First 5 Center’s Nutrition PolicyThe Delta First 5 Center stopped serving sugar-sweetened beverages, including 100% juice, nearly one year ago. The change was part of the Center’s new Nutrition Policy.

According to Debbie Ogle, Delta First 5 Center's Director, prior to the new policy many of the snacks served tended to include more processed food. Since implementing the new policy, the Center now provides families with fresh fruit, whole grains, and low-fat options. Sugar-sweetened beverages have been replaced with water with fruit or milk.

"If we want to combat childhood obesity, then it is critical that the Center model healthful eating and drinking habits for our families," said Ogle. "Both the parents and children attending the Center are very happy with this change."

The Delta First 5 Center's nutrition policy states that the Center:

  • Will not serve sugar-sweetened beverages of 100% fruit juice to children at any of the Center’s activities, events or celebrations.
  • Will provide low-calorie whole grain cereal snacks on a daily basis and fresh fruits and vegetables when possible.
  • Will serve whole fruit slices in place of 100% juice or flavored punch when possible.
  • Will always provide water free of charge for children and their families.
  • May provide additional beverages for children which may include healthy alternatives such as carbonated water, flavored or unflavored, without sweeteners or non-fat or 1% milk (plain, not flavored).

In addition to serving more healthful snacks, the Center now uses snack time to teach children self-help skills, such as pouring milk and practicing good table manners.

The Delta First 5 Center received a $500 Pledge the Practice mini-grant from the Healthy and Active Before 5 collaborative to help implement the new policy.


Spotlight: Early Childhood Professional Development Program Leads the State

Spotlight: Early Childhood Professional Development Program Leads the State      With matching funds from First 5 California (CARES Plus), First 5 Contra Costa has created one of the most in-depth professional development programs for child care professionals in the state. Twenty child care programs and 185 individual child care providers have already signed on to participate in this program, which we call “CARES Plus CLASS Academy”.

The program is based on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), a proven observational tool that helps teachers provide children with more emotional support, instructional support, and classroom organization. Research has shown that these three areas have the greatest impact on child outcomes.

However, unlike First 5 California’s CARES Plus model, our program allows entire child care sites to participate. This approach is designed to improve the whole program, not just an individual provider, and has the potential to benefit far more providers and children. The program serves all staff at the Center, provides special assistance to Center directors, and provides stipends and resource materials for the center.

Similar to the First 5 California model, our program also supports individual providers learning to implement CLASS concepts by watching videos on their own. But we take the learning even farther. Every participating provider receives a pre and post CLASS assessment. Individual providers must also participate in one-on-one and group facilitation to set and advance professional goals, which are set based on their CLASS assessment results.

“First 5 Contra Costa designed a more in-depth professional development program for early caregivers because we know it works,” said Debi Silverman, First 5 Contra Costa Early Childhood Development Program Officer. “We tested a scaled down version last year and found that our providers made significant improvements and scored higher than national averages on the CLASS tool.”

Participating providers and child care sites receive a financial stipend when they complete the training. First 5 California provides a $300,000 matching grant to implement CARES Plus, and 80 percent of these funds are earmarked for provider stipends. Priority for CLASS training is for providers participating in the Preschool Makes a Difference Program and who work in the following cities: Antioch, Brentwood, Concord, El Cerrito, Hercules, Martinez, Oakley, Pinole, Pittsburg, Richmond, or San Pablo.


Sean's Message

Happy New Year!

2011 was another interesting year at First 5 to state the obvious. The State tried to divert $1 billion in First 5 funding, which forced us to make major program cuts and staff layoffs for the first time. We then spent the remainder of the year planning for the loss of $23 million to the State. After months of planning, the Fresno Superior Court sided with First 5 and declared the State's raid on First 5 funds "invalid." We'll know by February if the State decides to appeal.

Despite the political and economic pressure of the last year, the tireless work of First 5 Contra Costa and our funded partners carried on. Our funded services reached over 12,000 children, parents, and child care providers last year. And those were the intensive services. Thousands more received parenting kits, information and referral services, and financial stability assistance.

At our December Commission meeting, I presented highlights accomplished by First 5 staff and funded partners in 2011. Although this list does not include all of the outcomes achieved on behalf of young children and families in the last year, it's a pretty impressive summary of some notable accomplishments:

  1. 177 low-income children attended high-quality preschool. 54 child care sites met high-quality standards required to participate as a Preschool Makes a Difference site and received training and support. .
  2. We designed one of the most in-depth professional development programs for early childhood educators in the state. Our model offers more comprehensive individual instruction and assists entire child care sites, which will have a greater impact on children's learning.
  3. With our partners, we trained 150 providers from 50 agencies to implement the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, a developmental screening tool proven to help identify problems in children at an early age.
  4. We trained 20 providers to implement Triple P, an internationally known parenting program that prevents severe behavioral, emotional, and developmental problems in children.
  5. The Raising a Reader program expanded to 120 different sites, including all state preschools in the West Contra Costa and Pittsburg school districts.
  6. 150 low-income parent volunteers received leadership development and training and have become strong health advocates in their communities particularly in the fight against childhood obesity.
  7. Nearly 1,600 families attended one of our five First 5 Centers. One in four families received help from a Community Resource Specialist, positions created to address the growing needs of families struggling as a result of the recession.
  8. More homeless families with children 0 to 5 sought shelter services and most located stable housing. Nearly half of these families began the process of regaining custody of their children while in residence at a homeless shelter.
  9. A new First 5 Center satellite site opened in Richmond's Iron Triangle neighborhood.

Let's hope 2012 is equally as productive but significantly less dramatic!  To view First 5 Contra Costa's 2011 Highlights presentation, which includes some great video clips, follow the link.

-- Sean Casey, Executive Director