Wednesday, November 18, 2015

3 Ways Santa Barbara’s First 5 Program Helps Children

Kenny Slaught

In addition to having access to a number of parks, festivals, and museums, young children living in the Santa Barbara, California, area have the benefit of community resources like the First 5 program. Founded upon the theory that the first five years of life are vital to a child’s future physical and mental wellbeing, the First 5 program’s mission is to utilize the tax revenue collected from tobacco sales to fund and sponsor programs and initiatives that enhance the lives of children from birth to five years of age. First 5 concentrates on the following three areas:

1. Better Healthcare

Children without access to adequate healthcare and nutrition have lower rates of growth, higher rates of illness, and more frequent occurrences of psychological and developmental challenges. Part of First 5’s mission involves ensuring that kids from different economic backgrounds get the best possible start in life, and this begins with affordable healthcare options for their families.

First 5 partners with Healthy Kids Santa Barbara, a budget-friendly insurance plan that provides children access to quality medical, dental, and vision care regardless of whether or not they or their parents are United States citizens. To qualify for the program, a child’s family must reside in Santa Barbara County, fall within a specific income spectrum, and not be covered by any other insurance plan. First 5 offers additional coverage for Santa Barbara’s youngest residents through its Early Childhood Oral Health Program, which directs families to affordable screenings and procedures at local clinics and as a part of local preschool programs.

Routine dental and medical checkups contribute to better school attendance and instill positive health habits in children that often last into adulthood. First 5 also focuses on educating parents on how healthy children have greater opportunities to be successful because they are able to study unhindered by the distractions and pains that come with illness.

2. Stronger Families

First 5 also focuses on strengthening family bonds and funds nonprofits that teach parents how to create positive emotional relationships and nurturing environments within the home. Among the organizations that First 5 works with is a local network of Family Resource Centers (FRC). At any FRC, parents can receive counseling, participate in support groups with other parents, and take parental education classes. Additional services include case management consultations, screenings for the early detection of various conditions, and initiatives that aim to protect children and families from abusive living situations.

Another service that First 5 sponsors is the Welcome Every Baby Program, which sends nurses and infant specialists into the homes of new mothers to monitor the health of babies over the course of their first 18 months of life. This program also teaches parents about proper infant care, breastfeeding, and post-partum depression. Beneficiaries of this program additionally receive information about community activities that are designed for infants and their parents.

Strong family ties early in life create immeasurable benefits, but they specifically play a role in a child’s ability to trust, relate to others, and develop self-confidence. The positive family units envisioned by First 5 help create a stable platform upon which children can build their futures.

3. Quality Education

First 5 supports the notion that parents are their children’s first and best teacher, and believes that early learning can set children up for continued success in the educational system and in life. In light of this, the organization provides a collection of informational pages on its website that help educate parents on infant and child development, healthy eating, and early literacy. Many of these pages outline instructions for simple activities that parents can use to help develop their baby’s motor skills, cognitive function, social-emotional growth, and communication abilities.

When a child has no exposure to quality early education, often due to limited economic resources and a lack of affordable preschool availability, he or she may enter the school system at an educational disadvantage. This can set the stage for a host of future academic difficulties.

To address this situation, First 5 helps pre-existing children’s centers adopt guidelines set down by Santa Barbara’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Adherence to this code helps these centers receive benefits provided by First 5 partner network Quality Counts.

Under Quality Counts, local daycare and centers where children receive early care and education can receive support through stipends for workforce training and funding to achieve accreditation. Additionally, through the Constructing Connections Project, the county brings together professionals in areas like land planning, housing development, and government to find ways to create more childcare spaces in the Santa Barbara area.