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Connecting Points: Are We There Yet?

By Kim Belshé, Executive Director of First 5 LA

The Board of Commissioners meets on the second Thursday of each month at 1:30 p.m., unless otherwise indicated, at the First 5 LA offices. All meetings are open to the public, and agendas are posted on our website at least 72 hours in advance. Please check our Commission Calendar for all updated meeting information and click here for Commission meeting packets, agendas, summaries and meeting notes.

On occasion, parents who have embarked on long, and sometimes even short, car trips have been asked by their kids, “Are we there yet?” While my intention is not to earn the ire of moms and dads behind the wheel, it is a valid question.

At First 5 LA, the question speaks to the urgency of our work and what it will take to reach our “North Star”:  By 2028, all children in Los Angeles County will enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life.

First 5 LA’s mission is kids – L.A. County’s youngest to be exact; far too many families with young kids struggle to access early childhood services and supports that we know can improve outcomes related to strong families, and healthy, safe and school-ready children.

In 1998, voters created First 5 because voters understood that the early years matter and that the complex needs of families with young kids don’t fit neatly into one particular service sector or discipline.  Instead, voters understood the need for a comprehensive, integrated system of early learning, health and family-strengthening services and supports to optimize early childhood development. Having safe places to play and quality environments for learning, ensuring screenings for developmental milestones so they don’t lag behind their potential, connecting parents and caregivers with resources so they can be their child’s first and best teacher – these strategy examples, and more, speak to engaging and supporting families in the earliest moments in a young child’s life and why our unwavering sights are set on our North Star.

"By 2028, all children in Los Angeles County will enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life."

Are we there yet?

Getting there means thinking carefully about what systems and policies we are working to change. How are we contributing to making services and supports work better for children and their families? How are early learning, health and community systems more family-focused and child-centered? How will we know we are making progress? What does success look like?

No single answer can satisfy these questions. And, in fact, the answers may change as we move forward, make progress, and learn from experience. But, that is the nature of the work we do to open new channels for families and young children – it’s not a linear process, but one that changes over time.

Scientifically, evolution’s natural order is rarely apparent until you step back, observe and pinpoint the transition. Ever since we launched our current Strategic Plan I have referred to our shift – from providing direct services to partnering with others to advance systems and policy changes that are family-focused and child-centered – as an evolution... of both thought and action.

But, unlike evolution’s spontaneous nature, our transition is not only intentional, it is observable thanks to First 5 LA’s Impact Framework which will allow us to monitor and measure the path we are on – knowing when we’re making an impact, when we’re not, and when we need to course correct.

The Impact Framework is a process and a tool for learning and adapting to ever-evolving challenges in our pursuit of our North Star. It’s a learning and measurement process to collect key data, determine outcomes and report progress. It’s also a powerful communications tool to tell a clear story about the impact First 5 LA seeks to make on behalf of children and families.

As we enter the third year of our Strategic Plan this month, we will dedicate a significant portion of our July Board of Commissioners meeting to an in-depth discussion of how we’re approaching measurement and learning – centered on our Impact Framework.

Through it we’ll be able to clarify the systems First 5 LA is working to change; how we’re contributing to improving systems; how we will know we are making progress; and what success looks like for children and families in L.A. County. We are driven by the desire to make policies and systems better serve young children and their families; which will be the result of furthering systems change strategies and by investing where and how it matters most.

Is it working?

Let’s take a look at one system we are trying to impact, the state budget.

Last month, Governor Brown signed into law this year’s budget that will direct more than $1 billion in additional funding to services, systems and supports for California’s youngest residents. Several of First 5 LA’s priorities and initiatives that we championed are reflected in the state’s budget, including inclusion of over $156 million in general fund support – the first state investment ever – to fund Home Visiting programs for families receiving CalWORKS assistance and expanding the scope of interventions provided under the Black Infant Health Program. The state budget also includes more than $900 million in new funding to improve the quality of and expand access to early care and education programs.

Our ability to impact systems like the state budget stems from our commitment to establishing a strong and visible presence where decisions are being made, building relationships with decision makers, and supporting coalitions of stakeholders to prioritize advocacy efforts. Whether in Sacramento, Washington D.C. or local seats of government across L.A. County, the insights, resources and expertise that First 5 LA brings on the safety, health, family and educational needs of children and parents reflect our commitment to speak truth to elected officials and decision makers whose actions can change the lives of our young kids.

For example, to dive a little deeper on state funds for Home Visiting programs, our work alongside the First 5 Association and other First 5s was informed directly by L.A. County’s pilot program partnership between the Department of Public Social Services and First 5 LA to address expanding quality, access, sustainability and availability to families. The state’s pilot initiative to test the impact of Home Visiting programs upon families will be funded through 2021, with the intent to expand the program to serve more families pending the pilot’s success. This first ever state-level commitment is a major victory for First 5s and young children alike and an example of how many short-term efforts lead to significant long-term systems change successes.

We thank our partners, grantees, elected officials and other decision makers for the external fuel they bring to our children. They are helping to multiply shared goals by delivering direct services and programs, leading at the community level, and elevating awareness, policy and legislation to bring about systems and policy change and scale access and resources so that children flourish and families grow stronger.

As we move forward we will determine the systems we will work to change, how the agency is contributing to systems improvement, to what degree we are or are not making progress, and ultimately – for children and families throughout L.A. County – what success not only looks like, but feels like.

Buckle up. We want to drive change, faster.

I invite you to share your feedback on Connecting Points. Your input helps make this new communication tool the best that it can be.

Always wishing you and our kids the best,

Kim

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