YOLO COUNTY NEWS

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Fiscal cliff looms for First 5 Yolo

By From page A1 | May 20, 2014

The Yolo Crisis Nursery is not the only child safety-net program at risk locally.

First 5 Yolo, which funds numerous programs aimed at improving life for children ages 0-5 and their families, is facing a fiscal cliff next year, when the agency’s annual budget may be cut in half, forcing some tough choices on which programs continue to be funded and which will not.

During fiscal year 2013-14, First 5 Yolo allocated more than $4 million in funds for everything from health and dental services to food distribution, literacy programs, child care, child abuse prevention, preschool and foster care recruitment and support.

One of the agency’s largest allocations went to the child abuse prevention program known as Step by Step, an intensive home visiting program aimed at first-time parents considered at high risk for child abuse or neglect.

Step by Step received national accreditation last year.

“Our largest program is Step by Step,” said First 5 Yolo Executive Director Julie Gallelo. “That program is probably one of our most successful programs for moving (at-risk) families … into a thriving scenario. They are having amazing results.”

First 5 Yolo also has provided annual funding to the Yolo Crisis Nursery over the years, including $9,000 currently for respite care for foster parents, Gallelo said.

The crisis nursery, which also aims to prevent abuse and neglect by providing emergency child care to families in crisis, is facing a fiscal cliff of its own. EMQ Families First, which operates the nursery, announced earlier this year it would halt its funding  on June 30.

The Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery are actively fundraising to keep the nursery open beyond the end of June and working to find a new host agency to run the nursery.

Reserves targeted

Meanwhile, the fiscal challenge facing First 5 Yolo has been looming for several years now, beginning with the passage of AB 99 in 2010, which took $1 billion from First 5 commissions across the state to cover the state’s Medi-Cal costs for young children.

Those funds were derived from a voter-approved tobacco tax enacted in 1998 to fund locally administered community health care, child care and school readiness programs for children up to age 5.

With AB 99, the state took aim at First 5 commission reserves, including $2.5 million in First 5 Yolo’s reserve.

A Fresno County judge ultimately ruled that the state did not have authority to take the funds legislatively and they were restored to First 5 agencies, but commissioners saw the writing on the wall, figuring the governor and state lawmakers eventually would try to acquire the funds through an initiative instead.

“We saw any fund balance as a big red target,” Gallelo said. “Every commission across the state with any reserve funding set in place long-term plans to reduce fund balances.”

Family resources

In Yolo County, that meant conducting a needs assessment to find out how best to serve young children and their families with those funds. The answer: family resource centers.

The needs assessment had shown that a major concern for Yolo County parents is finding help and support, particularly in the areas of parent education, access to low-cost fresh produce, developmental screenings, financial literacy, access to health care and opportunities for young children to engage in early learning activities.

Commissioners decided the best way to meet those needs was through place-based funding that directs money to communities based on population size and demand.

In Davis, that meant a new family resource center at Montgomery Elementary School, where the school’s large population of low-income families could access those resources, as well as centers at Harper Junior High School and in downtown Davis adjacent to Davis Community Church.

A total of eight family resource centers — since renamed Centers for Families — now serve families throughout Yolo County.

With the family resource center initiative, on top of the existing programs funded by First 5 Yolo, the agency began steadily spending down its reserves, to the tune of about $1 million annually.

“We will take our last $1 million for this year,” Gallelo said.

At that point, she added, First 5 Yolo will have only the money coming in from the tobacco tax — an amount Gallelo said has steadily decreased by 2 to 5 percent every year — plus matching grants, the future of which are also unknown, she said.

“Our worst-case scenario is (our budget drops) from $4 million down to $1.8 million, which is huge,” she noted. “That’s more than a 50 percent drop.

“We’re really on pins and needles right now,” she added.

Strategic planning

Facing an uncertain future, the agency will enter a strategic planning phase that will again require looking closely at community needs, what works and what doesn’t.

“Basically, we’re saying, ‘Show us what works and we’ll see what we can fund,’ ” Gallelo said. “It’s causing some stress in the provider community because we obviously can’t continue to fund everything. But folks know that and they are concerned but also collaborative and creative.”

Gallelo said one of her biggest goals is to pull together all local bodies that provide funding for children’s services — from the Yoche Dehe tribe to the Yolo Community Foundation — and find ways to collaborate more.

“We all fund in silos,” Gallelo said. “We don’t talk to each other much. We need to think of ways we’re not oversaturated in one area, are better able to reach all families and have more coordinated funding efforts.”

Additionally, she said, First 5 Yolo is interested in partnering more with local businesses, particularly “if they can be shown the return on investment — that investing in young children comes back, that that is their future workforce.”

But overall, she said, “we’re definitely looking at other ways of leveraging our funding.”

“Who can we partner with, who has the same goals.”

Input solicited

First 5 Yolo will be asking the larger community for input as well, including with a survey on the agency’s website “asking folks what their needs are,” Gallelo said. “We really want people’s opinions.”

And in conjunction with the Yolo County Children’s Alliance — many of whose programs First 5 Yolo funds — a Yolo Children’s Movement is taking shape.

“We’re gathering data with the children’s alliance, working to release a ‘children’s status report,’ and using that to create a countywide children’s agenda,” Gallelo said.

“Once we have that, we’re going to basically be asking everybody — parents, school board members, elected officials — to sign on to that agenda,” she said. “We want decision-makers to have children in the forefront of their thoughts when they’re making decisions.”

Learn more at www.first5yolo.org.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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