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Friday, June 3, 2011

Sonoma County is on a Mission to SAVE First 5

Supervisors Sue the State to Save First 5

Please see Investing in Our Future following this article, to understand why this funding is so important.

By Jim Leddy
California voters created First 5 - referring to the all-important first 5 years of life - when Proposition 10, the Children and Families Act of 1998 was passed overwhelmingly across the state and in Sonoma County. This proposition established a 50-cent tax on tobacco products, to be used to promote the healthy development of young children through age five.

First 5 Sonoma County concentrates its investments in evidence-based programs scientifically proven to produce significant, measureable change in children’s health and healthy development, in parents’ ability to nurture and support their children, and in the quality of early care and education.

On May 9, 2011, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors acted to protect local early childhood programs by filing suit in Sonoma County Court to prevent the transfer of $15.45 million to the State of California. The suit asks the court to invalidate AB 99, legislation recently signed by Governor Brown, which requires First 5 Commissions across the state to give up half of their fund balances, a total of $1 billion statewide. The suit contends that only voters have the authority to approve a state takeaway of funds. This suit would protect First 5 Sonoma County’s ability to improve the health and school readiness of Sonoma County’s youngest children by ensuring voter-approved resources remain local.

“The Board of Supervisors adamantly opposes Sacramento using monies intended for local children to solve the state’s problems," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Efren Carrillo. "If this raid is not stopped, our local First 5 Commission would lose dollars to the State’s general fund black hole. These funds directly benefit Sonoma County’s children and families. By filing suit, the Board is standing by our young children and saying enough is enough.”

First 5 Sonoma County Commissioners have expressed concern about the precedent if the State succeeds in taking these funds without going to the ballot. In addition to the County of Sonoma, First 5 Commissions in Marin, Fresno, Madera, Merced and Orange have also filed suit to stop the Governor’s appropriation of First 5 funds. The First 5 LA Commission and the County of Solano have announced that they intend to take legal action as well.

Investing in Our Future—
Sonoma County’s Youngest Children
By Carol Caldwell-Ewart
Health Information Specialist II
A child’s brain grows to 90% of adult capacity in the first five years of life. During this time children are able to learn more than at any other time—and their feet are set on the path they will take through life. Positive, enriching experiences in these early years set the stage for a child’s future success—at home, at school, and in life.

Negative experiences, such as child abuse, neglect, or unmitigated poverty, put children at higher risk for teen pregnancy, dropping out of high school, misusing alcohol and drugs, and for becoming abusive themselves. As adults, such children are less likely to be physically and mentally healthy and more likely to be criminals.

In a recent issue brief called “Paying Later: The High Costs of Failing to Invest in Young Children,” the PEW Center on the States reported, “Research has demonstrated that supporting healthy early childhood development—from before birth through age five—produces substantial educational, social and financial benefits for children and their communities.”

Currently, the most significant public investment in Sonoma County children—and in most children in the US—begins with kindergarten, and for many children that is too late. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that they can predict almost from the first day of school, the children who will succeed in school and those who will not.

First 5 Sonoma County invests to ensure local children from the prenatal stage through age five arrive at kindergarten healthy and ready to succeed.

What Is First 5?
California voters created First 5 when they passed the Children and Families Act of 1998 (Proposition 10). Prop. 10 established a 50 cent tax on tobacco products to be used to promote the healthy development of young children through age five. Each county First 5 in California receives a portion of that funding to be invested locally. First 5 Sonoma County invests about $4 million each year in Sonoma County’s youngest children and their families.

How Does First 5 Work?
First 5 does not provide direct services. Guided by a five-year strategic plan, our local First 5 Commission, working through First 5 staff, provides grants and technical assistance to funded partners who deliver services to young children and their families. Our partners include public agencies and community-based organizations, such as Sonoma County Public Health, Community Action Partnership, and Early Learning Institute. First 5 also brings together and collaborates with many others in community efforts that support young children.

Funding What Works
First 5 Sonoma County invests in evidence-based practices that have been scientifically proven to produce significant, measureable change in the lives of participants. These programs assure that children are healthy, that parents receive the support and education they need to do the best job possible, and that children have high-quality preschool experiences. By investing in programs that are proven to be effective, First 5 maximizes its investments on behalf of young children (see sidebar of program examples).

Putting Children First
According to Nobel prize-winning economist James J. Heckman, First 5 is on the right track. He says that the best way to “increase workforce capabilities, raise productivity and social cohesion, and assure America’s economic competitiveness in the global economy… is to invest in comprehensive early childhood development—from birth to age five—particularly in disadvantaged children and their families.”

Thus, the well-being of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers today is critical to the future of our county, our state, and our country. Unfortunately, the needs of young children get lost in the current economic climate. Children’s services often get the deepest cuts. In times of crisis, we tend to grab for the short-term fix and ignore its long-term consequences.

Children can’t wait for better economic times. They must have healthcare, quality early care and education, and supportive nurturing parents today to become contributing citizens in the future. We must all make the health, education, and well-being of our youngest children our first priority.

Investing to Maximize Return

First 5 Sonoma County invests in programs and services along a continuum illustrated by the pyramid .

First 5 funds multiple programs at each of these levels. Here are a few examples.

Universally Available Programs
Reach Out and Read
Improves early literacy and school success by training doctors and nurses to give books to children at well-child check-ups from age 6 months to 5 years and to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud at home.

Triple P—Positive Parenting Program
Prevents behavioral, emotional, and developmental problems in children by building the knowledge, skills and confidence of parents through a multi-level parenting and family support program.

Broadly Targeted
Healthy Kids Sonoma County
Assures that Sonoma County children have access to health care by assisting low-income families to enroll their children into public and private insurance coverage and providing health insurance for children who are not eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families.

Preschool Scholarships
Improves school readiness and subsequent high school graduation by providing a high-quality preschool experience to children whose families are income eligible.

Narrowly Targeted
Nurse-Family Partnership
Improves pregnancy outcomes, child health and development, and maternal life course through intensive nurse home visits with first-time, low-income mothers from pregnancy through their child’s second birthday.

AVANCE Parent-Child Education Program
Improves family literacy, child development, and school readiness by training low-income Latino parents with low educational levels to be active partners in their children’s education.

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