Fraser Hammersly | First 5 LA Digital Communications Specialist

The November 12 Board of Commissioners meeting — which was held virtually due to ongoing safety precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic — marked the last Board meeting of 2020.

Executive Director Kim Belshé reflected on the historic moments that have taken place in the past year, as well as the challenges that First 5 LA has faced and the nimbleness and commitment the agency has demonstrated in response.

“While we all recognize that 2020 is a year that can’t end soon enough, in some respects, I do want to take my moments here to express my appreciation to the Board and the staff for what has been some extraordinary work this past year, particularly in the context of our remote work and our responsiveness in the context of COVID-19,” Belshé said.

L.A. County Supervisor and Board Chair Sheila Kuehl spoke on the recent election during her remarks, noting the many shifts that have taken place both federally and locally as a result, such as the new County Supervisor Holly Mitchell who will replace long-time L.A. County Supervisor and former First 5 LA Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“Regardless of these changes in elected office, I know that First 5 LA will stay on its steady course, headed toward achieving its North Star goal,” she said.

The Board unanimously approved the consent agenda, including an action item related to Belshé’s employment contract that extended the terms of her employment for an additional two years.

To view the complete consent agenda, please click here.

Early Care and Education (ECE) Director Becca Patton, ECE Program Officer Jaime Kalenik and ECE Program Officer Gina Rodriguez were joined by L.A. County Office for the Advancement of ECE Director Debra Colman and  Micaela Walkman, a child care advocate and facilitator for L.A. Family Child Care Providers United, for a presentation for a presentation and panel discussion entitled, “Building a More Equitable Early Care and Education System.”

Providing an overview of the current ECE context and the pandemic’s impact on child care providers, Kalenik told the Board that only 37% of child care centers were open in L.A. County at the end of September. However, home-based child care centers — also known as family child care centers (FCC) or family, friend and neighbor (FFN) care —remained open at a much higher rate of 64 percent.

“We see that the ability of the ECE system to adapt to challenges and strains is based on the strengths of family child care and family, friend and neighbor care,” Kalenik said, highlighting a slide about what First 5 LA has learned about L.A. County’s ECE system as a result of the pandemic.

According to Kalenik, essential workers who used state-subsidized emergency child care vouchers during the pandemic often chose to use them on FFN care. But while these providers have been able to stay open and serve families, it does not mean that the current reality of FFN is sustainable or easy on providers or parents, as the current model often leaves these providers unable to meet their bottom line, going into debt to pay for basic necessities like cleaning supplies.

First 5 LA has recently begun focusing more of its ECE strategies on FFNs and FCCs, and the trends that have come to light during the pandemic have only underscored the need to integrate this model of care when building a more equitable ECE system.

To achieve this objective, First 5 LA is working with partners to conduct a landscape analysis of FFNs and FCCs in L.A. County to better understand what is working well within this model, as well as how to increase overall supply, quality, access and sustainability.

Additionally, Quality Start Los Angeles — a partnership between First 5 LA, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Child 360 and Child Care Alliance Los Angeles — was recently awarded a grant from First 5 California to expand a dual-language pilot program.

According to Rodriguez, the majority of FCCs in California support dual-language learners, and this funding will go toward increased professional development and other support for FCC providers, as well as a public awareness campaign to promote the importance of dual-language learner early education programs.

To learn more about First 5 LA’s work building a more equitable ECE system, please view item 6 on the agenda. To learn more about the dual-language pilot program, please view item 2D.

Interim Chief of Staff Peter Barth, Interim Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs Charna Widby and Public Policy & Government Affairs Senior Policy Strategist Ofelia Medina presented on First 5 LA’s 2021 State and Federal Budget and Policy Priorities.

“2020 was a helpful reminder that context will always change and we’re not going to be able to — no matter how well we try to forecast the future — predict everything that’s going to be happening. And that’s why it’s more important than ever that we pay attention to and ground our work in the goals that we seek,” Barth said.

Widby introduced First 5 LA’s state policy priorities for the coming year.

“Implementing prior wins at the state continues to be a top priority. We know that it’s not just the victory of getting something included in legislation or the budget, but always paying attention to what happens next and making sure it’s meaningful in L.A.,” Widby told the Board.

This year there were a lot of budgetary wins for First 5 LA priorities, including new investments at the state level in the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, home visiting, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) screenings and developmental screenings. However, the utilization, oversight and systems integration are the meaningful pieces of this work, Widby explained to the Board.

Additionally, First 5 LA is preparing for 2021 to be a difficult financial year for California due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Widby, part of First 5 LA’s state policy priorities will be stabilizing and safeguarding funding for early childhood programs and increasing equity across systems.

Outside of budget and legislation, First 5 LA’s advocacy work will also be focused on influencing administrative opportunities related to early childhood at the state level and federal level.

Medina provided a more in-depth overview to this work that will encompass advancing the Master Plan for Early Learning and Child Care and aligning it with whole child and whole family priorities; monitoring and informing the transition of child care programs to the Department of Social Services; and elevating early childhood development in the Medi-Cal Managed Care Plan contract procurement.

Additionally, Medina explained that this will expand into First 5 LA’s federal policy priorities for 2021.

“Our federal advocacy work has become more important than ever before, and since last March, we’ve been increasing what our federal work looks like as we lean in to support and leverage California’s administrative priorities in D.C.,” Medina said.

This has included championing legislation to remediate the impacts of COVID-19, fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and modernizing the federal early education program Head Start to reflect progressive minimum wage laws.

Noting that this has been a presidential transition year, Medina told the Board that First 5 LA also signed onto a transition letter addressed to the new administration coordinated by First 5 Association.

As part of the implementation of First 5 LA’s 2020-2028 Strategic Plan, the agency is also working on an updated policy and advocacy agenda that will be returned to the Board for approval in February 2021.

The next Board meeting will be on the second Thursday in February 2021. Check closer to the date for more information.

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