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Toddler programs get $8.5M in funding through 2016

First 5 Placer announces grant money for the next three years
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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A new cycle of grants will pump $8.5 million into local childhood development programs over the next three years, serving more than 11,000 children and families in Placer County.

The First 5 Placer Children and Families Commission recently approved $8,475,159 in funding to be distributed among its growing list of partners. Executive Director Janice LeRoux said the money will go to 21 programs administered by 31 agencies in the form of several large and small grants, available July 2013 through June 2016.

“Over the last rent cycle, we had allocated $7.5 million, so the commission put out another million dollars to the community," she said. “Through our really prudent fiscal stewardship, the commission decided to put more money out, because the need right now is so great.”

First 5, a self-governing body appointed by the county board of supervisors to subsidize local health programs for children prenatal through age five, is funded by a state tobacco tax. It acts as a steward of that money, making decisions about how to funnel it into local agencies – mostly schools and non-profits, said LeRoux, but also businesses and government organizations.

“Currently, those dollars serve about 20 percent of the children 0-5 in the county,” she said. “In the past we’ve reached almost half of the teen moms in the county, well over half of the children in the county that have identified special needs.”

Chairman Lt. Calvin Walstad with the Roseville Police Department said the bump in funding since the last three-year cycle came from a new lack of legislative restrictions.

“In the budget crisis that was happening a few years ago, there was a proposition through the legislature where they were going to take down First 5 funds, so those First 5 funds were held until it could be determined what was going to happen with those funds – whether they were actually going to First 5 California or whether they were going to go for other programs,” he said. “Once those funds were released, then we knew exactly how much we would have for this funding cycle.”

Some of the partner programs assess developmental delays or general health, and others enroll toddlers in health insurance and link them to care providers or preschools. LeRoux said almost all of them have seen consistently high and increasing demand, which she suspects is a residual effect of the nationwide economic downturn.

“We’re seeing increased demand for preschool slots because parents just can’t afford it. I think there are 600 families on the waiting list. Our family resource centers, which provide really critical services from food and housing assistance, utilities assistance, through job training and parent education, and prevention of abuse and maltreatment … the demands on those family resources have gone through the roof,” she said. “In some cases, it’s a unique demand. We’re seeing a lot more fathers receive services than we have in the past … But also people who had not received support in the past, a lot of families who find themselves … in situations where they had to ask for public assistance, and they don’t know how to navigate that system.”

A teacher with the Expectant and Parenting Teen Program at Chana High School, Laura Barhydt, said money from First 5 has allowed the program to afford additional staff, a van and a building to expand its services. She said the program, which is intended to help teen parents avoid repeat pregnancies but also get them to graduate, live above the poverty line and possibly go to college, may not exist without grant subsidies from First 5.

“It has really enriched our program and the lives of these young parents,” she said. “It has made those opportunities possible, because with that extra funding, we’ve been able to work together with other agencies and really get a lot of bang for the buck. All the other funded partners help each other out.”

Walstad estimated more than 11,000 children, families and caregivers in Placer County benefited from First 5 funding last year, but the long-term goal is to strengthen partner programs until they no longer depend on the grant money.

“It’s part of our strategic plan to taper the funds down and then hopefully, as time goes by, the programs that we fund will have some self-sustainability so they will be able to function on their own and not necessarily need the outside funding source,” he said.