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All children in San Mateo County deserve to learn in nurturing, safe and affordable child care, staffed by qualified child care professionals. Knowing that early childhood education is one of the most critical factors to future success, organizations like First 5 San Mateo County (F5SMC) are working hard to make that a reality.
An exemplary catalyst of creating solutions for local families is Puente de la Costa Sur (Puente), an active part of San Mateo County’s rural community. In 2016, Puente opened one of the area’s first bilingual parent cooperatives, “Sueños Unidos” (“United Dreams”). This co-op model allowed local volunteers—such as parents, grandparents and aunts—to access affordable child care while assisting Early Childhood Education professionals. With guidance from professional teaching staff, volunteers come one day a week and provide care on a rotating basis.
With the help of F5SMC, the co-op’s childcare center was able to obtain the funding necessary to fully support program operation within months of opening. Looking forward, Puente has its sights set on becoming a licensed early childhood education provider. In the meantime, they ensure quality programming by providing professional development opportunities for staff through F5SMC and the San Mateo County Office of Education, along with additional programs for children ages 0-5.
One of these programs is “Abriendo Puertas” (“Opening Doors”). This special program gives support to parents as leaders with a ten-session curriculum delivered through popular education tools in partnership with the La Honda-Pescadero School District and community parents. In addition, Puente provides home visits to families with children ages 0‐3. The program also gives parents and children access to safety net services, health and wellness services and developmental education.
It was through Abriendo Puertas that Puente staff first met 1-year-old Eddie*. From the very beginning, they were concerned about Eddie’s health, as he appeared very thin and low energy, with little language skills for his age. When he joined the childcare co-op, teachers referred Eddie’s parents to a pediatrician but were unable to obtain enough information from them to truly help. Puente staff then decided to accompany Eddie’s parents to one of his appointments and later determined that he was extremely anemic. With the help of a variety of vitamins and iron-rich foods, Eddie was back on the road to a healthy start. Eddie has not only gained weight, but he now laughs, runs, and even plays with other kids.
*Names changed to protect privacy
May 1, 2019
Executive Director, Kitty Lopez, visited Peninsula TV Voice to update the community about First 5 San Mateo County’s investment in the community over the last 20 years and where it is headed in the future.
America has long prided itself on being a land of equal opportunity and upward social mobility, a place where those from even the humblest of backgrounds can flourish on the strength of their hard work. But we don’t always stop to think deeply about what it means to give every child in our communities the opportunity to reach their potential. We may think about financial aid for college, mentorship programs for middle-schoolers, or equitable funding for public schools. But access to opportunity starts much earlier than that. It starts before children enter preschool. It starts with parents who have health insurance, enough food, and stable jobs with decent pay. In our society, unequal opportunity is evident even before a child is born.
The California Strong Start Index is a new tool designed to explore the geographies of opportunity into which children are born. Developed by the Children’s Data Network, the Index is built from twelve health, financial, family, and service indicators that are universally captured on California birth certificates. By examining the average Index scores for geographies such as census tracts, it is possible to identify locations where babies are more likely to be born into families and communities that lack some of crucial resources children need to thrive.
San Francisco and San Mateo Counties have the highest average Strong Start Index Scores in the State, at 9.9 out of 12. But if we only look at the county average, we will miss the very inequality of opportunity the Index intends to uncover. In San Mateo County, nearly one in three babies (31%) is born with fewer resources than average. And one out of every five (20%) is born into a low-asset neighborhood, where large proportions of families are struggling against great odds to create opportunities for their children to blossom.
If we truly believe that that every child in every community deserves an equal chance to build a life that is productive, fulfilling, and joyful, we must commit to a more meaningful understanding of “opportunity.” A society where some children come into the world already behind because their parents can’t afford health care or find a job that pays a living wage is not a society that embodies equal opportunity. It is up to us to acknowledge this moral imperative and develop the political will to make it right.
While the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children see a dentist when their first tooth appears or no later than their first birthday, for many families in San Mateo County, accessing dental care is a real challenge. Cost, distance, schedules and unfamiliarity can all act as deterrents. The Virtual Dental Home (VDH) seeks to address all of these. A signature investment of First 5 San Mateo County (F5SMC), the VDH helps to improve and maintain the oral health of children and the community by providing dental care in places where people live, work, attend school, receive social services, and beyond. Since F5SMC began funding the program in 2012, more than 1,125 children have been served.
One of the ways that the VDH program provides services to children in San Mateo County is by bringing dental services to them. Schools enrolled in the program are given the option of having a dental hygienist and a program navigator set a schedule based on the number of children being served. A part of the VDH model includes the signature “big red chair” that is used during dental visits. This, along with bringing dental care to schools, was put in place to be more inviting and provide services to children who may have a fear of seeing a dentist out of their comfort zone.
Take for example four-year-old Henry.* Henry received the preventive dental care he needed from the VDH right at his very own preschool. Henry was once terrified of dental equipment and not very comfortable going to the dentist, but with the help of patient and reassuring VDH staff, and the “big red chair”, he got over his fear and even participated in his own examination. Getting exposure to early dental care in a comfortable place was a critical step for Henry, who is now connected to regular care after graduating from the VDH program.
San Mateo’s transitional housing facility First Step is one of several locations where VDH currently provides services. There, three-year-old Jacob* complained about the extreme pain he was having in his preschool classroom. A visit from the VDH allowed program staff to learn about the severe and rampant decay in Jacob’s teeth – it was apparent that Jacob needed urgent care. But as a single mom working two jobs, it was difficult for Jacob’s mother to accommodate the time needed for his additional dental work.
Without hesitation, the VDH team and site dentist shifted their schedules to accommodate the family and successfully complete Jacob’s dental treatment. Run by the Ravenswood Family Health Center, the VDH has provided dental services in 11 locations in the last year alone, serving 650 children.
Thanks to VDH, families in San Mateo County can receive the dental care services they need and establish a healthy dental routine for their future.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
Currently, San Mateo County faces a shortfall of 19,000 child care, preschool, and after school spaces. Existing providers are being squeezed by the Silicon Valley real estate market; renters are seeing unaffordable increases, and those looking to open new sites or expand face challenges such as lack of usable, affordable space and extreme development expenses and timelines. However, many individuals and organizations in the community are learning and developing new childcare spaces.
Opening childcare centers is not new to Heather Hopkins. After noticing a need for more childcare spaces that could accommodate the ever-changing schedules of busy families, she opened Toddle, a flexible childcare center that serves children ages two to six in Menlo Park. Today, Heather has joined forces with Build Up for San Mateo County’s Children to help address the critical shortage of quality childcare facilities in San Mateo County by establishing child care centers on the grounds of existing faith-based organizations.
To Heather, the opportunity for faith-based organizations to help local children and families thrive by closing the educational opportunity gap is one that makes perfect sense. “If faith-based organizations knew the real benefits of using their space for early learning, it would be an obvious next step,” she explains with vigor. “There is perfect alignment with early learning and faith-based organizations because the goal of each is to help a person to be the best they can be.”
With the help of funding from First 5 San Mateo County, and other public and private sources, Build Up has enlisted the help of Heather to work with Build Up’s director, Christine Padilla, to explore opportunities within faith-based organizations, become liaisons, and provide technical support in the community. The team helps to assess an organization’s potential for hosting onsite early learning programs and assist with the permitting, licensing and renovation processes to open (or expand) child care facilities. They also connect faith-based organizations with early learning partners so that they can operate high-quality preschool and child care programs.
Currently, Heather and Christine are working with eight faith-based organizations in the community – St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and Sturge Presbyterian Church being two that are farthest along in the process. “If the churches were trying to do this work alone, they’d get so frustrated they would have quit early on,” said Heather. “We’re able to help them overcome the obstacles and understand the many complicated steps in the permitting process. Their vision for providing quality childcare on their church grounds is going to become a reality; it’s a win-win for everyone.”