Focus Areas

First 5 Santa Barbara County serves as a funder, partner, convener, and advocate in support of children prenatal through age five, while ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent on effective and efficient services which are subject to public review and maximum accountability.

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First 5’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan devotes funding and resources in the primary focus areas of Family Support and Early Care and Education. To support First 5’s work on these critical areas and to allow for flexibility to meet a diversity of needs and issues, investments will also be made in the secondary focus areas of Capacity Building/Systems Change and Communications.

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Family Support

Abundant research consistently points to the family as the key factor supporting healthy child development. The quality of parenting a child receives is considered the strongest potentially modifiable risk factor that contributes to the development of behavioral and emotional problems in children, making Family Support a critical area of focus for First 5.

First 5 invests in a system of family support which maintains long-term capacity to effectively meet the needs of children prenatal through age five and their families. Strong organizations, programs, and strategies exist in Santa Barbara County. As a community, we know how to best meet the needs of families by using evidence based strategies and evaluating and reporting on our results. First 5 seeks to help maintain and enhance the achievements of the family support system, to focus on delivering highly effective services for children and families who are most in need, and to look for incremental improvements in the system that can increase results in the lives of children, while ensuring the efficient expenditure of taxpayer and philanthropic investments.

To help meet these needs, First 5 focuses our funding and services on the following Family Support strategies:

  1. Case management
  2. Referral to services with follow-up
  3. Parent education
  4. Child and maternal health access.

Funding investments in Family Support are primarily allocated for direct services to children who are most at risk in communities with high levels of need and/or in rural areas with high levels of need per capita, but lacking family supports necessary to address risk factors.

First 5 prioritizes funding for evidence-based strategies implemented by agencies and organizations that have a proven record of success, are strong and viable in the long-term, show a diversity of funding streams, and are collaborative and supportive partners with First 5 and within the broader system of care.

  • Case Management & Referral to Services with Follow-Up
    Case management and referrals primarily support family and child needs, particularly concrete support such as referrals to address basic needs, childcare, education, job training, financial assistance, or health and wellness. Helping parents meet their pressing needs reduces the rate of child abuse and neglect and increases the likelihood that children will be academically and socially prepared to succeed in school.
  • Parent Education
    Parent Education focuses on the prevention-focused Protective Factors Framework with an emphasis on social connections, parental resilience, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support, and social and emotional competence of children.
    Specific goals include increasing the number of parents who use healthy and developmentally appropriate parenting practices and increasing the number of families who can identify, access, and utilize family and child resources.
  • Child and Maternal Health Access
    In 1999, Santa Barbara County had the highest per capita rate of uninsured children in the state – approximately 16,000 Santa Barbara County children. To help address this major issue, First 5 joined with the County of Santa Barbara to fund the Children’s Health Initiative of Santa Barbara (CHISB). First 5’s investment provides health insurance and health care access to just over 100 children age 0-5 who otherwise would be without coverage. The County of Santa Barbara invests $1 million to cover 6-18 year olds.
  • The result of this partnership has been tremendous, having helped reduce the rate of uninsured children in Santa Barbara County by 94% (based on UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey projections).
  • Recognizing the important role that child health plays in any strategy to support child development and school readiness, First 5 will continue funding CHISB to provide health insurance for 0-5 year olds who are unable to access any other form of coverage.


Early Care & Education

Research shows that providing high-quality educational experiences for children before they turn five yields significant long-term benefits – they are more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes, and have longer marriages; they are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get into future trouble with the law. (Investing in Our Future; The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, October, 2013)

Additionally, most working families depend on child care to keep their jobs, maintain productivity, and remain self-sufficient. For low-income parents, affordable child care can mean the difference between emerging from, or remaining in, poverty.

Locally, these issues are of major importance to children and families. Throughout the strategic planning process both parents and service providers consistently pointed to affordable childcare and preschool services as those that are most lacking in their communities.

To help meet these needs, First 5 focuses our funding and services on the following Early Care and Education strategies:

  1. Improving the quality of existing childcare and preschool services
  2. Creating new quality childcare and preschool services and expanding families’ access to them

Quality Improvement
Since its founding, the Commission has invested funding from both First 5 and grants from other sources to improve the quality of licensed childcare and preschool services in Santa Barbara County. As a result, First 5 personnel are leaders of quality improvement efforts in the county.

In addition to First 5 state efforts, the Commission’s funding allocations and additional leveraged dollars go directly to outside agencies, organizations, programs, and providers who participate in, and benefit from, quality improvement programs and services. This collaborative approach, and substantial leveraging of First 5 dollars, has greatly improved the quality landscape in Santa Barbara County.

Key elements of First 5’s funding of quality improvement include the establishment of the Quality Rating and Improvement System, workforce development, and national accreditation. Additionally, First 5 will continue to align quality Early Care and Education directly with strategies developed in the Family Support Focus Area, providing an opportunity to build both systems.

Increased Access to Childcare
Only 13 percent of children from low-income families are enrolled in early learning programs of sufficient quality to promote the kind of thinking skills that make the most difference in school readiness and performance (Karoly, 2009).

More than 50% of parents who reported that their children were cared for by someone other than themselves during the day indicated that their children were in unlicensed settings, a further indication of the need for quality childcare and preschool. (Data Source: First 5 Strategic Planning Process Parent Survey Results)

To help meet this need and seize on this opportunity, the Commission funds and administratively supports a Childcare and Preschool Expansion Project. First 5 will develop existing resources and expertise to establish a model that benefits children, parents, communities, and businesses while attracting investors to leverage First 5’s funding and administrative services. Internally, the First 5 staff team will build the infrastructure for the initiative, which will include contracting, fiscal management, program development, and evaluation. In the community, staff will take a leadership role in cultivating the funding and community partnerships, and in establishing the expansion efforts.

Childcare and Preschool Expansion Project strategies include:

  • Identify community needs
  • Support existing providers
  • Partner to create new service models with businesses, nonprofits, and government
  • Expand existing and create new facilities
  • Implement sliding fee scale to meet a variety of incomes
  • Establish a facilities/capital fun and provide training and technical support for new startups or expansion projects
  • Advocate for supportive land use policies
  • Invest in communities with a proven commitment to childcare and preschool and the systems necessary for
  • longitudinal tracking and reporting on outcomes
  • Engage other funders and develop 2:1 funding matches
  • Link expansion efforts with quality improvement
  • Sustain the effort
  • Track and report on longitudinal outcomes

Capacity Building and Systems Change
First 5 provides shorter-term grant funding to support Capacity Building and Systems Change in the broader system serving children prenatal through age five and their families.

These grants are not intended to fund direct services. Instead, they support specific solutions to system constraints such as improvements that increase efficiency, alliances that enhance the availability of services, and coordination that creates sustainability.

Efforts supported by the Capacity Building and Systems Change grants will be aligned with and support First 5 general efforts and may include strategies such as:

  • Aligning or merging programs/services/organizations so as to create efficiencies, increase services, and/or improve outcomes
  • Recruitment, engagement, and mobilization of community members, stakeholders, or providers in efforts to deliver increased or improved direct services
  • Improving communications and coordination between programs and/or organizations to create unified models of service delivery and efficiencies
  • Efforts to create, establish or improve quality standards for service delivery in specific areas of service for children and families
  • Improvement in the cultural competencies or diversity among staff and within programs and organizations in order to improve or expand services for populations that are isolated or disconnected from services and the community by cultural, economic, and/or language differences
  • Substantive trainings and professional development efforts to improve the quality of services preferably serving multiple organizations in a diverse set of communities
  • Improvements in assessment and evaluation capabilities to measure the needs of clients and report on outcomes among individual agencies and between multiple organizations as well as reporting on a regional or county-wide basis


Communications

The Commission invests in communications in order to connect parents with important information and services that support their child’s healthy brain, social, and emotional development. Parents need to know what they can do to support their child’s health and cognitive and social-emotional development at every stage of life. All parents need to know the simple activities they should be doing as their child’s first teacher, understand what to look for at every stage of their child’s health and development, and know when to ask for help and where to get it.

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First 5’s communications strategies are also designed to directly engage providers, stakeholders, funders, and the broader community around issues that are important for children prenatal through age five and their families.

Communications outreach helps parents:

  • understand their role in their child’s early brain development by sharing brain science information and strategies for supporting their developing child.
  • promote “Talk, Read, Sing” campaign as a way to support early literacy, language, and brain development as well as parental engagement.
  • identify and secure high quality preschool and childcare.
  • implement healthy family and child health practices through targeted campaigns such as “Potter the Otter” as well as more general public health topics.

First 5 is creating the systems necessary to build and maintain lasting relationships with these new stakeholders and to connect them with the information and activities that can help them advocate for early childhood development opportunities and kindergarten readiness. Communications serves as a capacity building strategy as these new relationships lead to a larger, increasingly informed, and much more effectively engaged constituency of support and partnership.

In addition to the support and information we provide, our goal is to educate and equip this diverse coalition of supporters. We will provide parents, providers, school staff, community members, elected officials, and businesses with the tools they need to advocate for and support the development of well-supported families and an adequate amount of high quality childcare.

See how these focus area strategies translate into positive results in our community.


Capacity Building

First 5 provides shorter-term grant funding to support Capacity Building and Systems Change in the broader system serving children prenatal through age five and their families.

These grants are not intended to fund direct services. Instead, they support specific solutions to system constraints such as improvements that increase efficiency, alliances that enhance the availability of services, and coordination that creates sustainability.

Efforts supported by the Capacity Building and Systems Change grants will be aligned with and support First 5 general efforts and may include strategies such as:

  • Aligning or merging programs/services/organizations so as to create efficiencies, increase services, and/or improve outcomes
  • Recruitment, engagement, and mobilization of community members, stakeholders, or providers in efforts to deliver increased or improved direct services
  • Improving communications and coordination between programs and/or organizations to create unified models of service delivery and efficiencies
  • Efforts to create, establish or improve quality standards for service delivery in specific areas of service for children and families
  • Improvement in the cultural competencies or diversity among staff and within programs and organizations in order to improve or expand services for populations that are isolated or disconnected from services and the community by cultural, economic, and/or language differences
  • Substantive trainings and professional development efforts to improve the quality of services preferably serving multiple organizations in a diverse set of communities
  • Improvements in assessment and evaluation capabilities to measure the needs of clients and report on outcomes among individual agencies and between multiple organizations as well as reporting on a regional or county-wide basis