San Mateo County leaders seek more child care solutions

When the pandemic hit, childcare was not included in the state emergency plan, yet the sudden changes due to COVID-19 exacerbated so many parts of the current child care systems that need attention and investment. Although our partners did an extraordinary job maintaining stability for parents and providers during the crisis, more support for childcare is crucial. This month, we had the opportunity to meet with US Representative Jackie Speier. Speier plans to take these local concerns back to Washington. She believes that child care should be a key focus of the impending infrastructure bill, suggesting $700 billion be spent on child care improvements over the next 10 years.

Read more about the impact of this historic moment, the discussion with Rep. Speier, and the contributions of local organizations in advocating for systemic change from the top.

San Mateo Father, Marial Zúñiga, with his kids.

San Mateo County fathers continue to learn and grow with their kids

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and First 5 San Mateo County is excited to wish all fathers a special and reflective day with their families. Thank you to the fathers and father figures who play an imperative role in raising children. Our communities are stronger thanks to the commitment of fathers, and we were lucky to celebrate you all yesterday. 

Embracing the importance of fathers and male role models in the healthy development of children is one of the core values of First 5 San Mateo. Research consistently shows that present and active fathers teach their kids social and positive moral behaviors. Kids with present fathers are less likely to lie, more likely to take risks, better behaved, and less prone to depression. They consistently perform better on standardized cognitive testing in preschool. They develop empathy earlier and have stronger relationships later in life. Even with all of the most concrete evidence, it is simple enough to say that children love their fathers. So, we do everything we can to make sure that fathers are able to be present and supportive parents. 

First 5 San Mateo County is proud to fund organizations that proactively support dads. Dads from throughout the county have shared some of their experiences growing into their roles as fathers with the resources and guidance of some of the experts from these teams. 

StarVista supports parents and families, offering counseling, skill development, and crisis prevention that helps families navigate life’s challenges. Through their programs, including Healthy Homes, and Dad’s Hangout Group, parents can access key resources and tactics to use with their kids. Two strong single fathers, Marcial Zúñiga and RJ Salinda, are living right here in San Mateo County with their wonderful children. There have been times when they did not know where to turn. “As a father, I’d like to give them a certain life,” Salinda says, reflecting on his challenges. 

Salinda turned to StarVista when he learned about the programming through his children’s Early Childhood Education program. “I’ve been working with a lot of people in StarVista and they helped me to have a more stable approach with my kids,” he says. “Dad’s hangout group from Healthy Homes helped me to have a place where I can vent and to talk to people, where I can let most of my stress out. I look forward every week to participating in my Dad’s hangout group.” 

To Zúñiga, the strong community of dads, who want to understand their impacts, find healthy outlets for their stress, and share their insights, makes fatherhood feel empowering. “I learned to understand my children’s behavior, how to listen, how to talk to them on a day-by-day basis. I learned a lot from the conversation with other fathers in the groups and the Healthy Homes staff who did home visits. I learned how to deal with conflicts as well and to understand my children’s development,” he says.

As another one of our partner organizations has said, parenthood does not come with a manual. Family Connections is creating play-based education programming that parents can participate in with their children. “I have learned how to anticipate and approach upcoming issues in the lives of my boys and family, so I’m not blindsided by the unexpected life transitions,” says one father. Family Connections helps dads better understand how to best foster their child’s educational development. Through activities such as puzzles, building blocks, learning colors, letters, and numbers, parents are able to play with their children, and watch them grow before their eyes! “Enjoy playing with your children,” says another dad. “These moments will never return.”

For all of the challenges, the joys of fatherhood inspire these men to learn from a village and to give their children their best. “Each child has their own character and personality,” Zúñiga says. “They have taught me a lot and made me a better person. Each day they grow up, they behave differently. They change in different ways. I enjoy seeing them change and grow up.” 

“I love to see my kids running towards me; it fills me with joy when I come back from work.” Salida says. “I love each interaction I have with them each day, and how close we are. I feel I am close to my kids and they are close to me. We never spend a day apart from each other.”  No matter what your family looks like, these are the moments that solidify fatherhood. These are the moments that make families strong.

This Father’s Day, we are celebrating the dads of San Mateo. Thank you to dads for making dinner, healing scraped knees, teaching softness, growing in new ways, believing in your kids, and bringing up the next generation. Your kids will be kind, healthy, and capable thanks to your dedication. RJ Salinda said it best. “Be strong. Always think about the family, the kids, and what is best for them.” With everything that we have been through as a community this year, we hope your celebrations were meaningful. Happy day, Dads!


Supporting children and families through a bilingual parent co-op: Q&A with Puente de la Costa Sur

Puente de la Costa Sur supports families in San Mateo County’s coastal communities, providing resources and programs and advocating for communities and families. Puente is a First 5 San Mateo County partner, funded to provide a bilingual parent-participatory cooperative preschool, Sueños Unidos-United Dreams. Lizeth Hernandez, Education Director, recently spoke at a First 5 San Mateo County commission meeting about Puente’s work. Below, Lizeth shares more about the innovative co-op approach and how it pivoted during COVID-19 to stay connected with families.

Tell us about the Sueños Unidos-United Dreams program.

Sueños Unidos-United Dreams is a bilingual co-op for children 18 months to 36 months and their parents or caregivers. It creates space for South Coast (La Honda, Loma Mar, San Gregorio, and Pescadero) families to receive in-depth learning about child development, language acquisition, and a parent’s role as their child’s first teacher in life. The program provides developmentally appropriate opportunities for children and adults to experience joy, playfulness, and learning both individually and in groups. It is a bilingual English/Spanish space in which parents and children can feel safe and comfortable. The program honors children’s home language while introducing them to a second one.

What difference does this program make for the families in it?  

All children deserve access to high quality early childhood education and our center provides that for our families. It gives families the opportunity to enroll their children in a safe and nurturing environment where children’s thoughts, behaviors, and creations are welcome and fostered. For families, having this program not only relieves the stress of childcare, but it also gives them an insight to the complexity of early childhood development and the varying stages of growth that children experience—cognitive, social-emotional, and physical. 

We are also able to provide additional services and supports when families need them. For example, through our developmental assessments we were able to identify a child with some severe language delays. We were able to support the family through the referral process, and once the child was fully assessed, we were able to arrange for a speech therapist to do the sessions in the classroom. This was very helpful for the parents. We are happy to report that this little guy is now in preschool and doing well!

How is Sueños Unidos-United Dreams supporting children and families during COVID-19? 

When the shelter-in place order was enacted, Sueños Unidos-United Dreams had to stop operations of the co-op. Instead, we provided our families with weekly, personalized calls to assess their needs and assist them with any questions and/or concerns they may have regarding their child. In addition to this, Puente de la Costa Sur also began a Story Time segment on the organization’s Facebook page. This let us expand the literacy work the co-op did with its children to a larger audience. 

In addition to these efforts, the coop shifted to Learning Kits to continue promoting our toddlers’ development. The Learning Kits contain 1 activity per week for a given month, bilingual instructions on how to carry out the activities, and all the materials needed to carry out the activity. Included in the kit is also some information about how the activity relates to child development. 

Who can families contact if they need assistance?

Lizeth A. Hernandez, Education Director at 650-262-4062 or