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Program Area: Early Learning and Care

Children’s earliest experiences have long-lasting effects on their optimal development and potential to succeed in life. Research shows all children benefit from high-quality early learning programs–programs with proven effectiveness factors including warm interactions with qualified caregivers and teachers who are culturally and linguistically responsive. However, not all children arrive at school with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. Research shows children who enter school behind tend to stay behind while those who enter school properly prepared are 10 times more likely to meet third grade state standards.

Investments in high-quality early learning and care are essential to ensure kindergarten readiness and lifelong success. Families must have access to both high-quality early learning and care for their young children and to the information and support they need to promote and optimize their children's development and learning, both inside and outside the home.

First 5 county commissions, county offices of education, and other partners have partnered with First 5 California and the California Department of Education to develop a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) — a framework to guide the state’s early learning improvement efforts. First 5 California’s funding through First 5 IMPACT (Improve and Maximize Programs so All Children Thrive) supports more settings to achieve high-quality standards with proven effectiveness factors, engages more families in the early learning process, and helps ensure more of California's children enter school with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary to be successful. To that end, the First 5 California Commission approved $190 Million is funding to support First 5 IMPACT. Currently, 48 Lead Agencies (which includes all 58 counties) are participating in the multi-year program.

Early Learning and Care
What We've Learned

First 5 California has funded programs and research to improve the quality of early learning programs:

  • The Power of Preschool program increased child developmental assessment scores and parents indicated a high level of satisfaction with the program.

  • The Child Signature Program funded quality essential staff to ensure access to needed services by high-risk children and families in participating early learning sites. Sites met high standards for quality of physical environment and interaction between teaching staff and children. Children showed improvements in development, especially in classrooms with access to quality essential staff.

  • As of 2015, over 2,700 early learning sites have received quality ratings. First 5 currently partners with the California Department of Education on the CA-QRIS framework to assess quality in early learning centers.

  • Transitional Kindergarten (TK) students in California are better prepared for kindergarten than their non-TK counterparts. Specifically, TK students have better problem-solving skills, mathematics knowledge, and literacy skills. The TK program also greatly improved the English language skills for children whose primary language is not English. First 5 California co-funded a multi-year study examining the impact of TK on school readiness at kindergarten entry. 


Program Area: Effective Interactions and Teaching

Effective and high-quality adult-child interactions have life-long effects on a young child’s potential to succeed. Research shows children engaged in warm and responsive adult-child interactions and in positive experiences demonstrate greater social competence, fewer behavior problems, and optimal development.

Many factors contribute to a child’s development and learning, including individual characteristics and family and neighborhood experiences. Among school and early learning program related factors, effective teachers matter most, especially for children with high needs. Children with high needs who experience high-quality early learning opportunities with effective teachers are proven to be more likely to earn higher wages, live healthier lives, avoid incarceration, raise stronger families, and contribute to society.

First 5 California is dedicated to supporting teacher and provider effectiveness and high-quality early learning programs for children from birth to age five by providing professional development and coaching to support effective adult-child interactions, and support to meet standards for educational qualifications.

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What We've Learned

Positive, supportive teacher-child interaction is a key element of high quality early learning settings. First 5 California designed a program with higher education, training, and coaching to provide early educators with professional development. Training and coaching resulted in improved teacher-child interactions.

  • The CARES Plus program provided 16,000 early educators with multiple resources to help in their professional development. These resources included stipends, training, coaching, and higher education courses to facilitate teacher child interactions. The goals of the program were to increase teacher effectiveness and help them develop professionally. Participants receiving coaching and/or training showed the greatest improvements teacher quality ratings between the fall and spring.


Program Area: Positive Parenting

Families are their child’s first and most important teachers and role models, with critical relationship building and brain development occurring in those first few years. Yet, studies continue to show that many parents and caregivers have limited understanding of the importance they play in their child’s learning. How parents engage with their children is a more powerful predictor of their child’s success than other family background variables, including income, family size, and level of parental education.

However, too many of California’s families with young children are coping with enormous stressors that interfere with their ability to parent effectively, such as poverty, housing instability, or social isolation. Times of crisis can cut off families from essential family and community support systems, and as a result, deeply affect a child’s early development.

First 5 California’s investments promote strong families and thriving relationships while also optimizing children’s healthy development, including building bigger brains. First 5 California and First 5 county commissions support evidence-based family strengthening programs designed to build on communities’ existing values, strengths, and resources. These resources provide community-based supports for parents and caregivers to be emotionally healthy, maintain safe and nurturing environments, and participate in their child’s early learning and development. In addition, these programs support high-quality early learning experiences at home to ensure children enter school ready to succeed. First 5 California’s parent website provides families with vital information about their role in shaping their child’s future and links to early learning resources. First 5 California’s Talk. Read. Sing.® campaign includes messages geared toward parents, encouraging them to talk, read and sing with their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers in order to build warm relationships and stimulate brain development in the first years of their child’s life.

Positive Parenting
What We've Learned

Parents are the primary role model for young children. Parent-child interactions during the first five years of life affect all aspects of development: cognitive, social-emotional, and physical. First 5 California has addressed positive parenting by a media campaign and research.

  • The Talk.Read.Sing. media campaign encourages parents to increase communication with their children. 87% of parents surveyed recalled seeing or hearing a message about the campaign. Almost three quarters of the parents increased the amount of time they connected with their children, and nearly 40% used the First 5 website to obtain additional information.

  • Between 2003 and 2012, the percent of parents who sang, read, or went out with their children on a daily basis increased significantly and the number of children with health insurance coverage and access to dental care increased for low-income families. However, preschool participation rates dropped during this time. First 5 California has provided funding for California Health Interview Survey to assess well-being of the state’s children.


Program Area: Tobacco Cessation

First 5 California is dedicated to ensuring the health and well-being of children ages 0 to 5 and their families, and that starts even before they are born. According to the Surgeon General, smoking is the most preventable cause of poor pregnancy outcomes in the nation. Nicotine damages fetal brain cells making learning, attention, and behavior problems more likely as children grow. A fetus exposed in utero to tobacco products is more likely to be born small and preterm and is three times more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The good news is that quitting smoking and vaping can provide protection for developing infants.

Quitting smoking can also protect children from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, which is especially dangerous to babies and young children because of their developing lungs and its link to increased diseases like asthma and ear infections. There also is evidence of danger from third-hand smoke. While you can’t see it, third-hand smoke is a toxic residue that lingers and sticks on surfaces–from people’s hair to clothes to curtains, carpets, and furniture–long after someone has stopped smoking. Babies and toddlers are especially prone to damaging exposure from crawling on the floor and putting things in their mouths.

Another source of danger to young children is from vaping, which has gained popularity in recent years, particularly among youth and young adults. Vaping produces an aerosol, not just harmless water vapor, that contains nicotine and other toxins. Vaping devices include e-liquid, which is concentrated and can be dangerous to young children if they come into contact with it or ingest it. As a result, vaping represents a public health crisis that affects young children and their families. Despite the popularity of vaping, there are many people that find it difficult to quit and would benefit from cessation services provided by Kick It California.

First 5 California has been investing in tobacco cessation since 2001. Kick It California was formerly known as the California Smokers’ Helpline and continues to provide resources and support for pregnant and parenting caregivers of children ages 0 to 5 who smoke, vape, or are exposed to second-hand smoke; counseling in multiple languages; quit aids; and educational materials designed to help people quit smoking and vaping and protect children against second-hand exposure. Services include phone, text, or chat coaching, as well as mobile apps for smoking and vaping cessation.

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📞 1-800-300-8086 (ENG) | 1-800-600-8191 (ESP)
✉️ Quit Smoking & Quit Vaping Text Program
📱 Quit Smoking & Quit Vaping Mobile Apps

What We've Learned

A child’s brain develops more rapidly during the prenatal period and first few years than at any other time. Exposure to tobacco is dangerous in utero and during a child’s early development. Both second-hand and third-hand exposure can lead to negative health consequences for children. Helping a family member quit tobacco is the best way to protect children from their harmful effects.

Kick It California is a free program that helps people kick smoking or vaping using proven, science-based strategies. Through First 5 California funding, Kick It California (formerly California Smokers’ Helpline) has provided services to over 3,000 people each year who are either pregnant and/or have children ages 0 to 5 living in their home. Contact Kick It California for free, non-judgmental help for yourself and to support others on their journey to quitting tobacco.


Public Education and Outreach

Public education and outreach is one of the primary functions of the California Children and Families Commission. In fact, the largest percentage of funds (six percent) from the California Children and Families Trust Fund to First 5 California (state level) is allocated to a Mass Media Communications Account. These funds must be used for expenditures for communications to the general public using television, radio, print materials, and other innovative forms mass media on subjects related to and furthering the goals of Proposition 10.

First 5 California is currently underway with the Dragon Song campaign. As kids grow, they begin to recognize, name, and talk about their feelings. They can tell the difference between certain feelings, like sadness, anger, and fear. These feelings can get bottled up and come out as crying, screaming, or refusing to behave. By helping children learn about their feelings, and how to manage them while they’re young, we can help give them a great start to a happier, healthier life.

With the Dragon Song, children and parents/caregivers use a breathing technique to promote calmness during stressful times. This calming technique helps children have fewer tantrums, do well overall in school and have better relationships with their family, adults and their peers. In the long-term, calmness contributes to children’s overall physical health and educational success while helping them become happier people as they enter into adulthood.

The purpose of First 5 California’s work is to educate parents, caregivers, and others who interact with our youngest children about the importance of the brain development that takes place in the earliest days, months, and years of a child’s life. This critical brain development and growth is greatly enhanced through regular, ongoing language verbal interaction and engagement with caring adults. Engaging activities result in billions of neural connections that form in the brain – in tandem with foundational parent-child bonding – during these early months and years. This critical engagement can put children on a trajectory for lifelong success, and significantly reduces the risk of learning and health difficulties later on. This means that by the time they start school, children who have come from language-rich, positive, and engaging environments are prepared to learn and be successful in life.

Public Education and Outreach

Kit for New Parents

Another First 5 California flagship program to inform and inspire the public is the Kit for New Parents. Since its initial release in 2001, more than 5 million Kits have been distributed in partnership with First 5 county commissions. The Kits provide helpful information and resources for the well-being of newborns that new parents can have at their fingertips. Most of the Kits are sent home from the hospital with new moms and are free of charge to any interested families.

Past Campaigns:

Talk. Read. Sing.® and the First 5 Express

Talk. Read. Sing.®. is a statewide public education and outreach campaign funded by First 5 California. The purpose of the campaign was to educate parents, caregivers, and others who interact with our youngest children about the importance of the brain development that takes place in the earliest days, months, and years of a child’s life. The First 5 Express, in conjunction with Talk. Read. Sing.® was an education and outreach exhibit that visited all 58 counties in the state during any given year. The Express provided an opportunity for in-person engagement, educational activities, and communication of targeted messaging with young children and their families all over the state.

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Advocacy and Policy

First 5 California’s 2018 Children’s Policy Agenda

First 5 California annually adopts a Children’s Policy Agenda to guide and prioritize all Commission state and federal legislative and regulatory advocacy, aligned to our three Strategic Plan areas.”

Transforming the Workforce Policy Recommendations

First 5 California is a partner in a statewide systems change effort based on recommendations from the Institutes of Medicine and National Research Council’s report: Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation.

First 5 Town Hall Toolkit

First 5 California, building on the goals of our Strategic Plan, created a Town Hall Toolkit that enables First 5 county commissions to plan, create, and execute a town hall-type event designed to build public will and investment within with local and state partners within their communities.

Advocacy and Policy