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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