By Don Saylor, Helen Thomson and Lois Wolk
Nearly one in four Yolo County children live in poverty. For children 0 to 5 years of age, living without adequate nutrition, health care, parental support or early learning opportunities means they start school at a disadvantage and often never catch up.
Research shows a child’s brain develops most dramatically during the first five years and that what parents and caregivers do during these years to support their child’s growth will have a meaningful impact throughout life.
Children exposed to healthy, loving, early learning environments enjoy greater academic achievement, are more likely to graduate from high school and college, and are less likely to be involved in crime. Simply put, school readiness has a profound impact on lifelong learning and success.
First 5 Yolo is committed to helping the infants, toddlers and preschoolers of Yolo County — and their families — obtain the resources and support they need to get a good start in life. Over the past 15 years, First 5 Yolo has invested more than $26.5 million in the well-being and early development of Yolo County’s youngest children.
Through partnerships and collaborations with other local organizations, First 5 Yolo investments have enabled tens of thousands of families and children to receive needed medical and dental care, fresh food, preschool opportunities, library reading programs, parenting classes, home visits and other valuable services.
First 5 Yolo is one of 58 county First 5 children and family commissions that came about as a result of Proposition 10, passed by California voters in 1998. This affirmation in support of young children transformed the landscape of children’s services in California and Yolo County.
Innovative, efficient, locally managed and tailored to each community, the county commissions focus on one thing: giving children from the womb through age 5 the very best start in life through high-quality health, early learning and family strengthening resources.
This unprecedented investment in California’s youngest children, through a 50-cents-a-pack tobacco tax, has made First 5 the most significant and effective funder of early childhood development programs in the state.
First 5 Yolo works with families, public agencies, schools, business and nonprofit groups to build on existing resources and fill the gaps in needed services as identified through periodic community needs assessments. And as the voters mandated, all expenditures are for supplemental programs for children and families, accessing monies that otherwise would not have been available and funding programs and services unavailable from any other source.
Outcomes achieved through First 5 Yolo funded programs and services include:
* Since 2006, 3,651 West Sacramento children received free preschool at centers and homes with the highest quality ratings;
* Since 2008, there has been a 65 percent increase in the number of early literacy activities provided by the Yolo County Library. In 2012-13, 388 story-time sessions took place with 7,952 participants;
* The number of Yolo County licensed foster parents increased from 38 in 2006 to 80 in 2012;
* The reliance on licensed foster homes for initial placement has doubled from 17 in 2009 to 35 in 2013;
* Between 2010 and 2013, the percent of children ages 0-5 placed by agencies or out-of-county decreased by nearly 50 percent. Last year alone, this saved the county $420,000 in costs for higher levels of care for its foster children;
* Since 2008, First 5 Yolo investments have contributed to 3,778 dental visits for pregnant women, 10,513 dental visits for children ages 0-5 and 5,352 fluoride varnish applications;
* The percentage of low-income children ages 0-5 with active dental disease decreased by 12 percent countywide since First 5 Yolo began investing in oral health services in 2008;
* Since 2008, more than 15,000 children ages 0-5 have been enrolled or re-enrolled into a health insurance program;
* In 2005, when First 5 Yolo launched its Children’s Health Initiative, 92 percent of children had health coverage. In 2013, 97 percent of the children in Yolo County are insured;
* Last year, 1,213 families received support, referrals, parent education and case management through F5Y’s Family Resource Center Initiative;
* Since 2009, more than 200 high-risk mothers received intensive education and support through the home visitation. Outcomes for mothers and babies include:
— Despite initial high risk factors, all children remained in parental custody;
— 98 to 100 percent have health insurance; and
— Breastfeeding rates exceed Healthy People 2020 goals.
* From 2004 to 2012, 182 family child care homes and 61 child care centers increased their quality through:
— 30 hours of intensive training and technical assistance each; and
— New equipment and facilities improvements.
We are proud of these successes. However, we recognize that tobacco tax funding is declining due to effective educational programs that have helped to decrease tobacco use. This will lead to reduced funding for First 5 Yolo and therefore our partner agencies and community organizations.
We sincerely hope the future includes the formation of new community partnerships and collaborations that keep children at the forefront of policy and budgeting decisions. We invite local child advocates to not only keep informed about the funded programs through First 5 Yolo, but to also get involved in the Yolo Children’s Movement which will be launched in 2014 through a partnership between First 5 Yolo and the Yolo County Children’s Alliance.
It has been a privilege to serve as chairs of First 5 Yolo and be intimately involved in identifying critical needs for young children in our community, and to support and work side by side with the incredibly dedicated individuals and organizations who are making such a difference in thousands of young lives.
Together, we will continue to strive to ensure that every Yolo County child has the opportunity for good health, an exemplary education and the full support of their family and community.
— State Sen. Lois Wolk served as the first chair of First 5 Yolo in 1999-2002; former Yolo County Supervisor and Assemblywoman Helen Thomson served as chair in 2002-10; and Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor is the current chair of First 5 Yolo, having taken the reins in 2011. All are Davis residents.