A loving black family of 3: dad holds their baby while mom wraps her arms around them, creating a heartwarming embrace.

Nurturing Diversity: Paving the Way for Black Excellence in Early Childhood Education.

As we continue Black History Month, it’s important to shed light on the challenges that persist for many Black children during their early years. The landscape of early childhood education (ECE) reveals a stark reality— neighborhoods of color often have fewer options, creating a hurdle for the youngest members of our community.

Many children still face challenges based on their race during their early years. And while these challenges continue, so does the determination of communities to overcome these obstacles. In San Mateo County, only 43 percent of families have access to suitable ECE options. This leaves a staggering 57 percent of families without suitable, or without ECE options at all, which means there are hundreds of children falling through the cracks. This striking contrast highlights the need for a universal commitment to achieving genuine racial equity for every child. The journey towards breaking down these barriers requires an approach from all sides— one that embraces inclusivity, diversity, and a dedication to ensuring every child thrives, no matter their circumstance.

A young Black boy with a smile and thumbs up in a preschool classroom, radiating positivity and enthusiasm.

Beyond the statistics, there’s a wealth of untapped potential within Black communities. First 5 San Mateo is committed to supporting programs that respect Black cultures, helping children learn better, and also recognizing the many diverse backgrounds in our community. By including different cultures in what we teach and involving the community, we want to help Black children feel proud of where they come from. This pride can make a big difference in their lifelong well-being and success.

Teaching all children from an early age about the values of empathy, love, and respect is a cornerstone of fostering an environment where all children are seen and valued. By instilling these principles in our youngest generation, we empower them to build bridges of understanding and forge connections that go beyond racial boundaries.

A little black girl on her dad's back, with her arms around him, both beaming with smiles towards the camera.

First 5 San Mateo stands at the forefront of this life-changing journey, advocating success for every child and fostering an environment where their potential knows no bounds. As we celebrate Black History Month, let us collectively commit to breaking down the barriers that hinder the growth of our future leaders. By investing in early childhood education, embracing diversity, and advocating for change, we sow the seeds for a future where every child has the opportunity to flourish and contribute their unique gifts to the world, regardless of race.

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Introducing Claire Cunningham to the First 5 San Mateo County Commission 

We at First 5 San Mateo County (F5SMC) are so excited to welcome one of our newest commissioners, Claire Cunningham, to the team. She brings a wealth of experience and passion for the well-being of children and families.  Claire shared insights into her background, inspirations, and hopes for the future with us, shedding light on how her unique experiences align with First 5 San Mateo County’s mission and values. We are excited for our community to get to know her!

Tell me about your experiences with First 5 as a parent and as a commissioner. What have you learned?

CC:  I became an ex officio First 5 Commissioner in July 2023 when I was appointed as the Director of the San Mateo County Human Services Agency. Before joining HSA, I was a Chief Deputy in the San Mateo County Attorney’s Office. I spent over fifteen years representing local educational agencies and I’ve been honored to work side-by-side with hundreds of school leaders, both elected officials and their executive teams. As general counsel to school districts for over fifteen years, I handled almost every type of legal issue that can arise in that setting. I also saw how important it is to ensure children receive a strong foundation to be successful in school and ultimately to succeed in life.

During my tenure at the County Attorney’s Office, I helped create the Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities, which was formed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. I developed the legal framework and MOUs that underpin the Coalition’s work. I was also a primary drafter of the County’s Student Threat Assessment Protocol, which now serves as a model across the country. As HSA’s Agency Director, I oversee the work of our child welfare branch, Children & Family Services (CFS), which protects children and improves the health and strength of families in San Mateo County. CFS’s services include Foster Care, Child Protective Services, Adoptions, Family Resource Centers, Youth Services, and Safe Surrender. This aligns well with First 5’s mission: All children have the right to grow up healthy, safe, and with every opportunity.

Why is it important that First 5 San Mateo County provides families with early childhood services?

CC: Families have a lot to contend with, especially in high cost-of-living areas such as San Mateo County. First 5 SMC supports parenting education, child health and wellness, early childcare and education, and family support services, which are critical components of early childhood development. First 5 SMC supports providers and helps families access services to give children a strong start in their early years.

What do you hope for the future of First 5? How do you see your work with and for children and families continuing in the near future?

CC: I am enthusiastic about the future and committed to supporting initiatives that ensure every child in San Mateo County, regardless of their socio-economic status, has the opportunity to thrive. Reflecting on my own experiences as a parent, I vividly recall the challenges I faced in finding safe and nurturing childcare for my children. Balancing work demands and childcare struggles was a daily reality, and I understand firsthand the importance of the work and advocacy undertaken by First 5 SMC to address the childcare shortage.

The difficulties I experienced finding reliable childcare while managing my children’s health concerns and balancing professional demands gave me a deep understanding of some of the challenges faced by many working parents in our community.

Looking ahead, I will continue to focus on improving child health, development, and family functioning. By drawing from my own experiences and collaborating with the First 5 SMC team, I aim to contribute to the success of our communities. My dedication is rooted in gratitude for the privileges I had growing up, and I am committed to advocating for solutions that make these essential services more accessible and supportive for all families. The future of First 5, in my opinion, involves a continued commitment to addressing challenges like the childcare shortage and ensuring that families receive the support they need for a healthier and thriving community.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the First 5 San Mateo County community?

CC: I want to express my gratitude for the impactful work that this community is engaged in, striving to make a positive difference in the lives of children and families. The dedication to addressing crucial issues such as childcare shortages and early childhood well-being is commendable, and I am excited to contribute to these ongoing efforts.

In the spirit of collaboration and shared commitment, I look forward to working alongside the First 5 SMC team and the broader community to ensure that our children grow up in a nurturing environment, supported by the resources and services they need for a bright and promising future. Together, we can make a lasting impact on the well-being of our community’s youngest members, and I am eager to be a part of this transformative journey with First 5 San Mateo County.

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Supervisor Noelia Corzo on her Role on the First 5 San Mateo County Commission

In the dynamic landscape of early childhood development, First 5 San Mateo County (F5SMC) is proud to welcome a new commissioner, San Mateo County Supervisor, Noelia Corzo, whose personal journey has fueled her commitment to championing the well-being of young children and families. Supervisor Corzo was excited to share her background, motivations, and aspirations for her role in shaping the future of F5SMC.

How has your background inspired you to become a First 5 San Mateo County commissioner? How do your previous experiences align with the mission and values of First 5 San Mateo County?

Supervisor Noelia Corzo (NC): After becoming a mother at the age of 20 while pursuing an education at San Francisco State, I intimately understood the challenges faced by my fellow young parents. Having access to childcare through my university played a pivotal role in my ability to complete my degree and begin my career, while it also provided a stable foundation for my son’s education and development. My firsthand experience with the impact of quality early childhood education inspires my dedication to the mission and values of F5SMC. All parents should have the kind of support and stability they need to feel comfortable and to thrive. When parents can rely on their childcare, that is a huge piece of the puzzle.

As a former school board member and current County Supervisor, I bring a unique perspective to the F5SMC team. I raised my child in San Mateo County, and so I know how wonderful it can be. First 5’s mission is to support families and bring equity to the early childhood systems that low-income families rely on. I always have, and always will, keep those missions central to my work as a public servant.

Why is it important that First 5 SMC supports families by funding early childhood services?

NC: Providing families with early childhood services is important because it holds the transformative power to not only positively impact individual family members’ lives, but to shape the entire trajectory of a child. The quality of early childhood services, and whether children get access to these services at all, plays an essential role in addressing and closing gaps that can already exist by the time children enter kindergarten or preschool. These services are a powerful tool for a child’s learning, as well as their social and emotional development, and they are a foundational element that significantly influences a child’s educational future, and the future of our county. By intervening early, First 5 San Mateo County is making it so that every child, regardless of their background, has the opportunity for equitable and stable development before they get to kindergarten.

What do you hope for the future of First 5? How do you see your work with and for children and families continuing in the near future?

NC: My hope for the future of First 5 San Mateo County is continued and additional investment in early childhood and young families! We want to allow services to expand and better serve the needs of families. More investment would allow for even more people to know about and use the services First 5 San Mateo County supports. 

As a county supervisor, I am working to address community concerns faster, and in a sustainable way. As a commissioner, I have a deep understanding of the importance of quality childcare to parents and children, but also to the whole San Mateo County community, including businesses, public health, and the rest of our society. Early childhood is a foundation for our county, and I’m committed to bringing more childcare options to San Mateo County. 

My vision is growth, a bigger impact, and a codified commitment to supporting the well-being of children and families in San Mateo County. 

What about this work feels exciting to you? Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the First 5 San Mateo County community?

NC: I am genuinely impressed with the unwavering commitment to equity and thoughtfulness that shows in all aspects of First 5’s work. It makes my role on the board a fulfilling experience! I am eager to contribute even more and actively propel First 5 San Mateo County forward. I am particularly passionate about expanding childcare options in our county. I believe that by working collaboratively, we can address this critical need and further enhance the support we provide to children and families in our community. It’s heartening to see the progress we’ve made and the potential for even greater impact ahead.


Nurturing Diversity: Celebrating the Power of Black Caregivers in Early Childhood.

Think about your favorite book or song— each tells a unique story that has shaped the way you see the world. Those stories are so important to how we understand our community, and how we celebrate our own backgrounds. This Black History Month, First 5 San Mateo County is proud to celebrate the Black caregivers in our community, and how their unique stories shape early childhood.

Many things shape a child’s journey: their heritage, traditions, and societal influences, like the upbringing within their communities. Understanding these elements is at the center of providing inclusive care for all children. Creating space to celebrate the beauty of Black culture is about more than providing diverse materials. It requires us to create spaces where kids see themselves in a positive way. Whether it’s sharing stories that connect rich histories, or enjoying various types of art and music, the goal is to make kids proud and give them a strong sense of belonging from the very start.

Women of color, as caregivers, teachers, and advocates, have a big impact on shaping the next generation. The majority of the early childcare workforce is comprised of women of color, and that number is growing. There are over 1 million more women of color working in child care in the United States than in 2009. So now, women of color make up 53 percent of the workforce, representing a huge jump since they were 45 percent in 2009. Their unique perspectives, strengths, and rich cultural experiences add depth to the early childhood experience. After all, of all the almost eight thousand caregivers First 5 San Mateo County serves, 66 percent are Latinx, while only 4.5 percent are Black. As guides during these important years, they become inspiration for the kids they care for, helping them feel a sense of identity and possibility.

A black caregiver engages in play with a young black girl using building blocks.

Black Californians United for ECE (BlackECE) is a great resource to our local communities. Founded in 2021, BlackECE works exclusively for Black children, families, and child care workers to disrupt and abolish over 400 years of systemic barriers. As we step into Black History Month, let’s celebrate the impactful contributions of organizations like BlackECE, that shape early childhood for Black families and providers, and invest in measures that advance racial equity in San Mateo County. 

By fostering environments and systemic equity measures that welcome and highlight the diversity of experiences, we help create a world where every child can do well, no matter where they come from. First 5 San Mateo County provides the kinds of resources children need to thrive, and when those kinds of services are not being accessed equitably, we take steps to ensure families and providers of color are getting what they need. 

Understanding families’ experiences, in their own words, helps us create the future that parents want to see for their children. Read about how we are breaking down stigmas around developmental delays and early interventions in the Black community, and watch stories from our community about their strength, resilience, and life enduring the inequitable impacts of the pandemic and it’s recovery.  

We thought carefully about how to advance racial equity in our work, and determined that belonging was a key piece of the puzzle. Black families need to feel like they belong in these systems and programs, and for a community that has been historically left out, that means we have work to do. Read about the updates in our research and evaluation practices to account for what Black families and children really need. Using this data in a meaningful way to drive equitable impacts is imperative. We need to transform our early childhood systems so that they are advancing equity, now. This work has been imperative, and underlies everything we do and how we plan for the future of our investments. 

A black caregiver engages in play with a small child, building legos together in a classroom setting.

This February and beyond, let’s continue the journey toward a more inclusive, equitable, and vibrant future for all, recognizing the significant influence of Black caregivers in our community.

Visit blackece.org/ to read more about their vision, and the great work they’re doing to ensure California’s ECE system is culturally affirming for Black children, families, educators, and providers.