Fraser Hammersly | First 5 LA Digital Content Specialist

April 29, 2021

Reflections on First 5 LA’s work one year into the COVID-19 pandemic was the theme of the April 8, 2021 Board of Commissioners meeting. Los Angeles County Supervisor and Commission Chair Sheila Kuehl used her opening remarks to highlight how county agencies and First 5 LA have stepped into new roles amid the pandemic. 

“In many ways, the county which I represented has been called on in ways never before to provide solutions, to provide emergency help, to figure out long-term solutions, to make decisions about what’s safe and what’s not safe,” she said.  

“And in many ways, our First 5 agency and our colleagues doing this work have been faced with very much the same thing. There’s been a really good partnership between First 5 and the agencies in the county. The kind of the continuing partnership that I think serves us so well.” 

To end her remarks, Kuehl announced that John Wagner formerly First 5 LA’s Executive Vice President of the Center for Operational Excellence would be stepping into a new role as Executive Vice President of the Center for Child and Family Impact (CCFI). 

As Executive Vice President of CCFI, Wagner will be responsible for leading the Center’s systems change efforts in strengthening public and community systems to be more family-centered, child-focused and equitable in the outcomes they produce.

To learn more, please click here. 

Moving on to presentations, Chief of Staff Peter Barth, Center for Operational Excellence Interim Chief Operating Officer/IT Director Jasmine Frost, Human Resources and Talent Management Director Gala Collins, Early Care and Education (ECE) Program Officer Jaime Kalinik and Family Supports Director Diana Careaga presented, “A Year with COVID-19: Learning from Our Response to the Pandemic.”

Noting that the April Board meeting marked the one-year anniversary of First 5 LA’s Board of Commissioners’ transition to remote meetings, Barth summarized how First 5 LA’s COVID-19 response framework, A Path Forward, Together, has been guiding the agency’s decisions since the start of the pandemic. 

Barth, Frost and Collins provided concrete examples of how First 5 LA pivoted to meet the first priority laid out in the framework of protecting the health and safety of First 5 LA staff, including shifting work to a remote setting with the support of IT and providing greater flexibility and knowledge about benefits to staff as supported by the HR team. 

Careaga and Kalenik spoke on how First 5 LA’s COVID-19 response has taken shape within its programmatic work by sharing examples of how the Family Supports Team and ECE Team adapted to meet the needs of families, providers and partners during the pandemic. 

Examples within home visiting included shifting the home visits from in-person to virtual. Careaga explained how this necessitated new training and dissemination of materials to support providers, as well as a change in the way home service programs are evaluated, to capture the best data as it relates to virtual visits. 

“We know that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to meeting families’ needs. And if anything, we’ve learned that for some families, virtual visits have been an effective recruitment strategy and service delivery method,” Careaga said. She also shared that virtual home visiting was recently approved to be a continuing national model of service post-pandemic. 

Kalenik explained how First 5 LA served as a critical convener for ECE partners during the pandemic, which led to the formation of the L.A. County ECE COVID-19 Response Team, a coalition of partners that have been meeting weekly since April 2020. 

Through the partnership, the ECE Response Team was able to effectively coordinate the distribution of supplies for ECE providers during the pandemic, as well as set up an enhanced referral system that helped essential workers find child care. Additionally, the Response Team informed the distribution of CARES Act funding to support the industry, created a dedicated website where providers could access the latest information and safety guidance, hosted community calls, and facilitated the distribution of vaccines to ECE providers. 

“Even with the best intentions, we could not respond to this crisis without our partners. We are not the organization that has the contact information of all the providers in the county, we are not the experts on health and safety, and we do not receive the funding that flows from the state and federal governments. But we have relationships with all of these organizations and can make sure they are at the same table and working together to keep accessible and safe for providers, children and families,” Kalenik stated. 

To learn more about First 5 LA’s COVID-19 response, click here. 

The second presentation, “Optimizing Our Effectiveness: Adapting Our Structure,” was given to the Board by Barth and the Office of Equity, Strategy and Learning’s Chief Learning Officer Antoinette Andrews-Bush. 

Optimizing the agency’s effectiveness is one of First 5 LA’s strategic priorities laid out in the 2020-2028 Strategic Plan. Barth explained how a critical aspect of this has been adapting the organizational structure to promote efficiencies, foster integration and recognize the evolving fiscal reality of dwindling Proposition 10 funds. 

First 5 LA announced its new structure in November 2020, which included a shift in language in the way teams are defined and a reduced number of layers between the executive director and the organization as a whole, among other changes. 

To view the new organizational structure, click here. 

Beyond structure, Andrews-Bush explained how strategy, business practices and organizational culture enable the key drivers of implementing the strategic plan and optimizing the organization’s effectiveness to strengthen its impact. 

Andrews-Bush called out what First 5 LA refers to as the “key drivers” of strategic plan implementation, explaining how focus and prioritization, alignment and integration, and diversity, equity and inclusion are all themes the organization aims to embody as it continues its evolution towards creating the greatest change for kids and families in L.A. County. 

The next Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on May 13, 2021. For more information, please visit www.first5la.org/our-board/meeting-materials closer to the date. 




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