Jeff Schnaufer | First 5 LA Writer/Editor

(Editor’s Note: During this 20th Anniversary celebration of the passage of Proposition 10 by voters in November 1998, creating First 5s across the state, the Early Childhood Matters newsletter will occasionally feature select stories of how our various investments improved the lives of young children and their families in Los Angeles County.)

When First 5 LA first piloted its Welcome Baby program at California Medical Center in 2009, Dulce Margarito was navigating a first of her own: she was only 15 years old, pregnant and mystified about motherhood.

“I had no idea what it was like to raise a baby,” the Maywood resident recalled.

She found the answers she sought about being a first-time mom in Welcome Baby — a voluntary, free home-based support and coaching program that provides information, support and a trusted partner to help pregnant women and new moms prepare for and succeed in early parenthood.

“Welcome Baby helped me be a better mother,” Margarito recalled after the birth of her daughter, Samantha. “They gave me support and prepared me emotionally. With Samantha, for example, my parent coach taught me a little about everything. Breastfeeding was always a challenge, but I was taught that breastfeeding was the best form of nutrition for my baby so I did it for a year and a half.”

Margarito also became despondent and isolated following Samantha’s birth. “The biggest problem that marked my life was the depression. I was really young and I gained a lot of weight. And I was having issues with Samantha’s father. I always wanted to be home and shut in.”

Thanks to regular visits from Julie Mendez, her Welcome Baby parent coach, Margarito began to come out of her shell — and her home.

“She came to my home to do activities with the baby and recommended other places to take her,” Margarito said. “And more than anything, she listened to me. Had it not been for my parent coach, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Welcome Baby helped me be a better mother Margarito


First 5 LA is currently the largest funder for home visiting in L.A. County, representing 45 percent of the total funding. Overall, nearly 15,000 new moms and babies in L.A. County in 2018 were enrolled in a First 5 LA-funded home visiting program.

Recognizing it cannot do this work alone, First 5 LA has been involved in a number of significant developments in expanding home visiting at both the state and county level, stemming in part from a 2016 L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ motion to enhance and expand home visiting in the county.

Margarito’s search for maternal mentorship did not end with Samantha. As Welcome Baby grew to 14 hospitals throughout L.A. County during the next several years, so did Margarito’s family. Each new baby presented her with a different set of challenges. And with each birth, a First 5 LA-funded home visiting program was there to help.

Her son Antony’s birth four years later was colored with concern.

“He was born a little yellowish in color and they returned him to the hospital emergency room,” Margarito said.

Fortunately, she had signed up again for the Welcome Baby program, which reunited Margarito with Mendez. “Once the coach arrived, she knew what was going on and how to guide me through it. The doctor recommended he spend a lot of time under a sunlamp at home. After the doctor’s appointment, my parent coach had the doctor’s notes to help me.”

Then, in 2015, Margarito delivered her third child, Isabella. She wanted to continue with Welcome Baby, but it was determined that Margarito needed a longer home visiting program than the nine months offered by Welcome Baby. Through the First 5 LA-funded LA Best Babies Network, Margarito will receive home visiting for Isabella through 2020.

The expanded home visiting is paying off for Isabella.

“The biggest challenge has been her speech, and we’re currently working on that working with my home visitor, Anna Ybarra,” Margarito said. “They’ve been able to assign her a speech coach because she speaks at the rate of a year and 7 months old and she’s 2 and a half years old.”

In addition to breastfeeding and navigating health issues, Margarito’s parent coaches have also taught her how to enhance the development of her three children through reading and her favorite family activity: play. Perhaps most importantly, however, they have taught her that growth — even for a mother — never ends.

“My parent coaches have taught me so many different ways how to be a good mother,” she said. “The information is always improving. I think that one never stops learning.”

So, too, have parent coaches helped to teach Samantha — now 8 — to grow into her role as a big sister.

“They teach me that I need to be a good sister,” Samantha said of her mother’s parent coaches. “To read and play with them. She brings books so I can read to my brother and sister, books about animals and Clifford the Big Red Dog. And we sing Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

There’s a hint of pride in the third grader’s voice as she speaks.

“I want to help my mommy. I’m proud to help my mommy,” Samantha said. “My family makes me happy.”