The Commission unanimously approved support for a number of state bills that could greatly improve the lives of young children and their families in California.
Bills included in First 5 LA's 2015 Legislative Agenda were selected based on criteria approved by the Commission in March 2015.
Included on the list are:
- AB 74 (Calderon, D-Whittier): This legislation would increase the number of required inspections of family child care homes and centers. Currently, five years or more may elapse between site visits from the licensing program, which is hardly frequent enough to ensure quality of care and safety for children in these settings. AB 74 would implement a phased in plan to require the state Department of Social Services to conduct annual unannounced inspections of all community care facilities by July 1, 2018.
- AB 648 (Low, D-Campbell): The bill would provide a means of expanding the Virtual Dental Home (VDH) model by authorizing a one-time, $4 million General Fund appropriation to establish a Virtual Dental Home grant program. AB 648 would also authorize the allocation of grant funds for activities that support VDH implementation. First 5 LA recognized the value of this innovative model and funded a Virtual Dental Home clinic in Los Angeles County.
- AB 1321 (Ting, D-San Francisco): This bill would create the Nutrition Incentive Matching Grant Program, which would award grants to certified farmers’ markets that double the amount of nutrition benefits available to low-income consumers when purchasing fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables. In 2014, First 5 LA provided a $2.5 million grant for the Market Match program to help increase access to healthy foods for young children and their families.
In addition to these bills, First 5 LA is monitoring a number of other bills for potential action in the coming months.
First 5 LA will work with stakeholders to educate elected officials and the general public on the importance of these items to the health, well-being and school readiness of young children and their families, both in Los Angeles County and throughout California. Through collaboration with local experts, grantees, funding partners and the leadership of Commissioners, First 5 LA seeks to inform and influence policy to improve child health, safety and school readiness.
As part of the implementation of the new 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, First 5 LA staff has embarked on a review of programmatic investments expiring during the next Strategic Plan period. Components of the review include identifying remaining resources, evaluating the alignment of each initiative with the new Strategic Plan, and making recommendations to the Commission about continuing, revising or sunsetting the effort.
Among these expiring investments is the Healthy Kids Insurance Program, administered by LA Care.
Funded by First 5 LA since 2003, Healthy Kids provides access to low- or no-cost health insurance for children ages 0-5 in Los Angeles County who are not eligible for Medi-Cal or other health insurance programs. Due to successful outreach to enroll young children in other insurance programs, the program’s enrollment is currently 349 children.
The current four year allocation for Healthy Kids was approved in 2011 at $12.9 million. An unspent balance of $9.2 million is expected as of June 30, 2015, when the initiative was set to expire. Due to LA Care’s unique position as an insurer for a substantial number of children, First 5 LA and LA Care staff are exploring options to re-purpose the $9.2 million in remaining dollars to support activities that align with the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan. Staff are looking at opportunities to invest in strengthening systems coordination and integration to reduce barriers to developmental screenings and/or oral health services.
Of the 349 children enrolled in Healthy Kids, approximately 200 are expected to meet eligibility for MyHealthLA (MHLA) program, the County’s medically indigent program currently serving children aged 6 to 18. First 5 LA, LA Care and L.A. County Department of Health Services (DHS) have been exploring transitioning children currently enrolled in Healthy Kids into DHS’ MHLA program. For those children who would not be eligible for MHLA, staff is reviewing options to connect these children to the County’s safety-net system, including community clinics or to Kaiser’s Child Health Plan.
Through review and confirmation from both LA Care and DHS, staff determined that a 6-monthcontract extension would provide the appropriate amount of time to complete the transition process.
To approve the contract extension, the Commission was required to waive Governance Guideline #7, adopted in March 2014, which states that each First 5 LA contract/grant will have an expiration date and that multi-year First 5 LA services-related investments will end pursuant to the time stated in the original allocation or grant award. The Commission is under no obligation to continue funding beyond the initial contract term. In response to pressing circumstances and needs, the Commission may waive Governance Guideline #7. This requires a minimum of 7 of the 9 voting members of the Commission to agree.
In related news, as part of the expiring initiative assessment process, staff presented the Commission with the following recommendations:
1. Waive Governance Guideline #7 for the following expiring contracts and:
- Approve extending the Strategic Partnership with Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) for the Healthy Kids Children’s Health Outreach Initiative (CHOI) through December 31, 2015 for up to $2 million. This initiative is scheduled to expire on June 30. The extension would support Healthy Kids program (LA Care) transition and outreach sustainability. Children currently enrolled in the Healthy Kids program will be offered the opportunity to enroll in the County’s indigent health services program, MyHealthLA (MHLA) or if possible, another insurance program (Kaiser Permanente). DPH can play an important role in supporting that effort to move these children to an alternative health care program or insurance coverage through their community-based outreach and enrollment sub-contractors.
- Approve extending the Strategic Partnership with 211 LA County for the Information Resource and Referral (211) Initiative through June 30, 2016 for up to $1.2 million. This initiative is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2015. This extension allows the continuation of telephonic information resource and referral services connecting families to concrete supports. This one year extension provides staff the time needed to further explore the potential role of telephonic Information Resource and Referral in advancing the outcomes of the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan.
- Approve extending the Strategic Partnership with DPH for the Reducing Childhood Obesity Initiative through June 30, 2017 within the current allocation. No additional funds are required. This initiative is scheduled to end on June 30, 2016. This extension would allow DPH to fully implement the work and successfully complete all final deliverables.
Staff are scheduled to bring these recommendations to the Board for action in the May 2015 Commission meeting.
2. Endorse the ability of Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) to retain the anticipated remaining balance of $30 million from their original $580 million allocation in June, 2016 to advance aligned First 5 LA-LAUP priorities related to access, Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and workforce development; direct staff to work with LAUP to develop an expenditure plan that aligns LAUP use of remaining funds with First 5 LA’s and LAUP’s new strategic direction.
As First 5 LA’s new 2015-2020 Strategic Plan brings greater focus and clarity to the organization’s role and impact on the lives of Los Angeles County’s children prenatal to 5 and their families, the agency is transforming into a more intentional, systematic and data-driven learning organization.
As a result, Research and Evaluation Director Armando Jimenez told the Board, First 5 LA is planning and implementing a new, comprehensive framework for the agency’s research and evaluation work. The crux of this effort is the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) framework, which focuses on improvement and expanding knowledge .
The MEL framework is built on the following set of guiding principles that lay the foundation for First 5 LA’s approach to research and evaluation:
Guiding Principle: Lead With Learning
• We view learning and improvement as the overarching purpose of all MEL efforts.
• MEL is integral to continuous learning throughout Strategic Plan implementation.
• We recognize that learning takes time and are committed to the process.
• Being a learning organization requires shared ownership of MEL efforts.
• Embracing successes as well as failures is necessary for learning.
Guiding Principle: Align Approach, Effort and Investment with Purpose and Context
• We seek to monitor comprehensively, but evaluate selectively
• Through evaluation we seek to identify contribution, rather than attribution based solely on our efforts
• We conduct strategic research to fill gaps in knowledge that inform strategy and support advocacy efforts
• The MEL agenda will adapt to our current context and emerging opportunities
This approach enables First 5 LA to monitor progress, assess the importance of its investments, continuously learn from its experiences and adapt strategies based on that learning. In June, the Guiding Principles and MEL framework will be presented to the Board for directional endorsement.
With First 5 LA’s new 2015-2020 Strategic Plan establishing a greater emphasis on policy, advocacy, systems change and collaboration, Commissioners are being provided with important insights and lessons as First 5 LA considers implementation of this new strategic direction.
Kendra Rogers, former Executive Director of First 5 Fresno, presented the Commission with lessons learned from First 5 Fresno’s “pivot” to policy change, systems work and collaborative approaches to impact ECE countywide.
Background: Starting at First 5 Fresno County in 2000, Rogers said tobacco tax funding for community investment rose annual to $20 million per year by 2008. At that point financial projections predicted that by 2016, incoming revenue for community investment was expected to drop to $9 million per year. As a result, Rogers said the agency realized that they needed to pivot from being a funder of direct services to being a children’s advocate that also funds organizations. This meant moving from sustaining services to sustaining outcomes for children, which led to the conclusion that the only funding they would do was systems funding.
The start of this pivot was the new strategic planning process, where they created a “brain trust” by collaborating with government officials, social service agencies, school districts and child advocates that helped to identify the key issues facing children 0-5 and their families. As a result of data shared, including a common kindergarten assessment, First 5 Fresno began to focus on birth through 3rd grade (B3), particularly on how school readiness affects 3rd grade reading scores, which are a marker for academic success.
Outcomes: As a result of First 5 Fresno’s pivot, the collaborations, and a shared objective to greatly increase the percentage of students in the county who can read proficiently by the third grade (B3 Fresno County), significant Local Control Funding Formula investments in early education were made by local school districts, including Fresno Unified School District’s commitment of $7.4 million annually to double the number of children entering preschool. Local collaborating agency leaders also made personal pivots, such as the CEO of the local Housing Authority, who went from being unaware of the importance of 3rd grade reading scores to promoting early education on a local and national level.
Lessons Learned: To avoid hard lessons she learned during First 5 Fresno’s pivot, Rogers suggested that First 5 Commission members are properly educated and informed on the new strategic direction; to include not only the CEO of public agencies in collaborate efforts, but also deputy level staff and try to sidestep political bombs with county leaders. Hiring skilled consultants to coordinate the pivot and utilizing an excellent staff to implement it are also key.
While it’s tough to switch focus from managing programs to policy and advocacy work, Rogers said, the reality is that the pivot put First 5 Fresno on the right track to making First 5 Fresno’s contribution to improved school readiness for the county’s youngest children.
Belshé praised Delgado, the Superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, for his participation and engagement, particularly on the program and planning committee. First 5 LA has “benefited from his key insights and contributions”, Belshé said.
Delgado thanked the Board, saying how “impressed” he was with the people who served on the Commission and how he appreciated the work being done on behalf of young children in Los Angeles County.