Every year, First 5 San Mateo County, along with the First 5 Association and First 5s from counties across the state, participates in Advocacy Day, when we share with our elected officials our priorities for children and families and the policies we believe are needed to support them.
Our 2022 policy agenda centers around the belief that all of California’s youngest children deserve to be healthy, safe, and ready to succeed in school and life. First 5 seeks to build comprehensive and integrated early childhood systems of care, with an intentional focus on prenatal to age 3 as a critical stage of child development.
We are focused on systems change, particularly across different sectors, with an intention to shift the conditions that hold problems in place, to achieve meaningful and lasting social change.
We are advocating for state and federal policy frameworks that foster systems of care that proactively support the wellbeing of young children and families—systems that reach those farthest from opportunity, recognizing the disproportionate impacts that systemic racism, COVID-19, lack of economic opportunity, and natural disasters have had, and continue to have, on communities of color and low-income communities.
It’s time for California’s policies to support our children and families. That’s going to mean:
Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH)
Mental health supports for young children and their families are vitally important to promoting resilience and social-emotional health and addressing the unique needs of infants and young children experiencing toxic stress and ACEs. This could be a pivotal moment in history for California’s mental health landscape and the future of our youngest children. So what does that look like?
- Increased access to community-based IECMH programs that are prevention-focused, help mitigate trauma, promote resilience, and identify concerns early.
- Secure increased investments in the workforce to create a robust network of providers trained in IECMH. First 5 supports a $250 million budget augmentation for IECMH services to prevent and mitigate mental health concerns, promote healthy social-emotional development, and train existing providers of infants and toddlers.
- Supported investments in the implementation of the new dyadic care Medi-Cal benefit, including technical assistance for local community partners, peer navigators, pediatric health care providers, and others.
Family-strengthening programs, like home visiting, improve birth outcomes, promote resilience and reduce parental stress, teach positive parenting techniques, and nurture stable, healthy, loving attachments for infants and their caregivers. To create and support these programs, we will need to:
- Build and expand upon state and local systems that provide family strengthening services rooted in the cultural and linguistic diversity of communities, such as home visiting.
- Expand and strengthen the home visiting workforce through additional professional development resources, in coordination with local early childhood systems building efforts, with the goal of ensuring home visitors represent the diversity of California’s families.
- Increase cross-system coordination to ensure families are offered the most relevant and effective services available in a timely manner.
- Increase family economic supports, so that families can provide stable, thriving homes in which to raise children.
Comprehensive Health & Development
High-quality and accessible developmental and health screenings, and timely connection to early intervention services when needed, improve life-long outcomes for children. Family-centered healthcare services that prioritize prevention are fundamental for young children’s healthy development. This includes:
- Improving the physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing of young children by advancing prevention services, care coordination, screenings, and multi-generational supports through Medi-Cal, including continuous Medi-Cal enrollment for children ages 0 to 5.
- Strengthening the systems of early identification and referral to appropriate intervention services for young children.
- Reducing racial inequities in maternal and infant health outcomes, including by removing systemic barriers to care for people of color, eliminating systemic racist practices, and increasing culturally relevant services for birthing people.
Quality Early Learning
High-quality early childhood care and education facilitates social-emotional learning and helps young children build critical early literacy and math skills, setting them on the path for school readiness and long-term academic success. We need to:
- Stabilize, strengthen, and scale early care and learning opportunities, with a focus on infant and toddler care.
- Promote increased access and affordability across the mixed delivery system, workforce support, system strengthening, and equitable access to quality improvement support to promote nurturing relationships between provider/caregivers and child.
All in all, this agenda is about supporting the whole early childhood landscape so that all parents, providers, and most importantly, children, are supported in their first 5 years for success. Advocacy Day is April 19th. We encourage you to learn more and tell your representatives that you prioritize these things too!