By the time a child turns five, 90% of their brain is developed. The first five years of a child’s life are critical for developing lifelong social, emotional, and learning skills.
Equipped with this knowledge, First 5 Ventura County (F5VC), an independent public agency largely funded through a tax on tobacco products, works to ensure children are born healthy, thrive in nurturing environments, and enter school prepared and eager to learn.
F5VC staff are leaders and experts, improving outcomes for Ventura County’s 55,000 children age five and under.
F5VC’s Vision is that all Ventura County children are born healthy, thrive in nurturing environments, and enter school prepared and eager to learn.
F5VC’s Mission is to strengthen families, communities, and systems of care for children prenatal to five years through investments, expertise, and leadership so all children reach their full potential.
The first five years of a child’s life are the bricks and mortar of brain development. Research shows that when we invest in the first five years, infants and toddlers become healthy children who are confident, empathetic, and ready for school and life — and our communities, workforce, and economy become stronger and more productive.
F5VC centers Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (REDI) and incorporates a racial justice lens in our work. It is particularly important to invest in services that reach high-need families. When children grow up in poverty or experience other ongoing traumatic stress, their brain development can be negatively impacted. Among the families F5VC serves, non-white families (of which over 80% were Hispanic) were seven times less likely to have any college education and 15 times less likely to earn more than $30,000. Research shows that, without intervention, these children will know fewer words at age three, have lower reading scores in 3rd grade, and have lower rates of high school graduation. By focusing on REDI, F5VC aims to create a more equitable system for current and future generations.
Staff designed a REDI poster that is displayed at the Neighborhoods for Learning sites to prompt transparent discussions with families during Parent and Child Together (PACT) classes. F5VC fosters inclusion and awareness by celebrating the diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds of local families through classroom decorations, educational posters, and incorporating keywords and phrases into PACT classes.
After 20 years of contracting with local partners for the delivery of the nationally recognized First 5 Ventura County Neighborhoods for Learning (NfLs), F5VC brought all operations and implementation of the initiative in-house.
The NfLs offer any family in Ventura County with a child 0-5 years old the opportunity to participate in our signature Parent and Child Together (PACT) classes, receive developmental and health screenings, gain assistance accessing support services, engage in parent education, and connect with local families.
After exclusively providing virtual services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Spring 2021 F5VC re-opened NfL sites across the county, ensuring equitable access to services for families. In-person Parent and Child Together classes and family support services are being offered at the following locations.
First 5 Ventura County Administrative Offices
2580 East Main Street #203,
Ventura, CA 93003
Pleasant Valley SEA
550 Temple Ave.
Camarillo, CA 93010
Many Mansions, Shadow Hills
227 E. Wilbur Rd.,
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
Justin Early Learners Academy
2245 N. Justin Ave.,
Simi Valley, CA 93065
451 E. Olive St.,
Oxnard, CA 93033
Mar Vista Elementary
2382 Etting Rd.,
Oxnard, CA 93033
Rio Plaza Elementary
3300 Cortez St.,
Oxnard, CA 93036
3334 Santa Clara Ave.,
Oxnard, CA 93036
Julien Hathaway Elementary
405 E. Dollie St.,
Oxnard, CA 93033
627 Sespe Ave.,
Fillmore, CA 93015
Blanchard Community Library
119 N. 8th St.,
Santa Paula, CA 93060
111 East Ojai Ave.
Ojai, CA 93023
Sheridan Way Elementary
573 Sheridan Way,
Ventura, CA 93001
Ruben Castro Center
612 B Spring Rd.,
Moorpark, CA 93021
Rancho Verde Apartments
10503 Los Gatos St,
Ventura, CA 93004
PACT classes, an evidence-informed playgroup model, offer a dual-generational approach that is carefully designed to allow parents and children 0-5 years of age the opportunity to play and learn together with other parents, while teachers model positive parenting skills. PACT classes are offered at all of the NfL locations in 15-week sessions.
PACT classes are designed to ensure that parents and caregivers:
These classes are overwhelmingly successful in meeting these goals.
F5VC launched the first Parenting Ladder Evaluation to document the impact of PACT classes in the lives of parents. Studies show that parents who attend our PACT classes increase their knowledge of child development, learn effective parenting skills, improve their ability to access support services, and increase their social support networks.
Note: PACT Parenting Ladder Survey (2021, 2022). Items measured on a scale of 1 (low)-7 (high).N = 205 – 209.. *** indicates statistically significant differences at p <0.001.
When families know about what to expect in their child’s development and can incorporate positive parenting strategies, their children are more likely to thrive. Low-income families typically have fewer opportunities to access quality family support services. Among the families F5VC serves, non-White families were less likely to have any college education or earn more than $30k annually. Participating in PACT minimized gaps in knowledge surrounding local supports, early childhood development, and positive parenting techniques. Our program evaluation illuminated the PACT program’s effectiveness in narrowing education- and income-related racial disparities that affect parenting. The Neighborhoods for Learning have a powerful potential to promote equity in diverse communities.
“I’ve noticed I’ve been more forgiving to myself and patient with my child.”
“Todo enconjunto desde clases en linea y ahora presenciales en cada caso la forma en que se han llevado acabo las actividades tanto de juego, cantar, bailar, leer la actividad todo a contibuido sin olvidar la buena actitud y desponiblidad de las maestras.”
“I’ve picked up techniques I use almost daily. “Smell your flowers, blow out your candles.” Counting for transitions. Seeing what piques her interest in class helps me plan activities for home. We often reflect on our school time together too.”
“He is more mobile. Walks more confidently, has learned how to share or observe how others want a certain toy, gathered skills using his hands more. Improved mobility skills in coloring, sorting, curious to how others participate in the activities.”
“She LOVES school! Never wants to leave! This program has fostered an early love for school and the classroom. And, the socialization has been huge for us, especially after Covid, and as an only child.”
Help Me Grow Ventura County (HMG) is building an integrated, countywide early childhood system to promote early identification of children with developmental and social-emotional needs, and to connect them to community resources and interventions.
F5VC increased awareness about available services among parents and providers when we launched a new HMG website. The new website is easier to navigate and allows parents, providers, and the community to access relevant information, including online developmental screenings and referrals.
The key to a successful HMG network is collaboration across the early childhood, health, and basic needs communities. HMG staff expanded collaborations with medical clinics, preschools, and childcare providers to champion developmental screenings and interventions to decrease entry point barriers for children.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events in a child’s life that can include abuse, neglect, divorce, caregiver mental illness, and household violence. Encouraging community-based approaches to address ACEs and toxic stress with partners across the state, HMG continued to support the ACEs Aware Network of Care and the ACEs Referral Pathway Pilot.
Ventura County is home to an estimated 20,000 Mixtec and Indigenous migrant community members. F5VC partners with MICOP, a nonprofit organization working to strengthen the Mixtec and Indigenous migrant community to bring relevant services to this vulnerable population. MICOP staff delivers culturally-informed Parent and Child Together classes, screenings, and family support services to families who speak Mixteco, Zapotec and Purépecha.
Children, families, and communities thrive when parents are engaged partners in decision-making. That is why Parent Leaders and the NfL Parent Advisory groups play a critical role in F5VC’s programs. Parent Advisory Groups meet monthly to offer input to improve programs. F5VC Parent Leaders participated in the Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) training, which aims to empower parents and caregivers to become leaders of change. F5VC Parent Leaders developed a bilingual bookmark, which allowed Parent Leaders to initiate conversations with other local parents who may be interested in NfL services, and to provide encouragement from one parent to another.
Approximately 2/3 of the families we serve don’t speak English at home.
Throughout Ventura County, many organizations and agencies support the wellbeing of families with children prenatal to five years old. F5VC works with early childhood providers, health plans, food banks and more to meet families where they are and efficiently meet their needs. F5VC continually develops new relationships with a diverse array of partners offering young children and their families timely and seamless access to supports and services.
The earlier families begin to “Talk, Read, Sing!” to their children and access available resources for their family, the better the outcomes. F5VC provides free Kits for New Parents to reach families as early as possible during pregnancy. The Kit is a comprehensive parenting resource that includes useful information about the importance of the early years, practical activities and tips parents can easily incorporate into their daily routines, and a bilingual children’s book! More than 100 local partners distributed 3,613 Kits to expectant and new parents – reaching 42% of Ventura County’s newborns.
The Triple P Positive Parenting Program is an evidence-based parenting program that offers families simple, effective tools for positive parenting. Triple P providers are now able to bill those services to private or public insurance, which led F5VC to change our funding strategy. New Challenge Grants funded the cost of training clinicians or para-professionals to deliver the Triple P program as well as purchase necessary program materials. F5VC funds also covered the cost of services for families who do not qualify for other existing funding sources, reaching more than 100 families. Advocating at the state level resulted in this new, sustainable funding model for Triple P services.
F5VC funds 2-1-1 Ventura County to provide information and referral to callers and 2-way-texters, and offer families with young children a referral to their local NfL. Families with children 0-5 are identified and linked to F5VC NfLs, Help Me Grow, and other resources.
When children are read to daily from an early age, they learn to read sooner and are more successful in school and life. F5VC continues to promote early literacy through multiple partnerships and events. NfLs distributed more than 15,000 bilingual books provided in part by the Dollywood Foundation and Barnes & Noble to children in underserved areas to build their home libraries. These bilingual books, in addition to F5VC’s Reading is a Prescription for Success bookmark, were disseminated through WIC, local preschools, medical clinics, and other community partners throughout the County who share the goal of increasing early literacy.
With limited revenues, if F5VC continued to primarily invest in individual direct services, only a relatively small number of families and children would be helped, and only for a limited time. F5VC can support a larger number of children over many years if we improve the early childhood system as a whole. F5VC works to improve the system through our investments, collaboration, and advocacy efforts. In 2022, F5VC advocated for early investments in young children and their families and policy change to address economic, racial, and health disparities.
Our society thrives when our children are supported, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder for many young children and families in California to flourish. F5VC advocated for elected officials to support funding for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) and maintain continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children up to age five, ensuring they have uninterrupted access to needed medical care. Experiencing Adverse Childhood Experiences or trauma during early childhood can cause toxic stress in children with long-lasting impacts on health and well-being. Investing in IECMH services presents a unique opportunity to support mental health in early childhood by helping families overcome access barriers and connecting families and educators with more intensive early intervention services.
F5VC, in partnership with First 5s statewide and early childhood organizations, successfully advocated for legislation that will improve outcomes, particularly for low income families of color, by increasing paid family leave and reducing suspensions.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was designed to address disparities exacerbated by the pandemic by providing direct relief to governments to make critical economic investments. Due to the pandemic’s significant negative impact on families with young children, F5VC advocated for investment of local ARPA funds to be dedicated to the first five years. F5VC mobilized community voices to urge the County of Ventura to prioritize young children and early learning and care when budgeting ARPA funding. F5VC successfully advocated for the allocation of $3.5 million to expand Neighborhoods for Learning services, strengthen F5VC’s network of care coordination, and pilot a light-touch home visiting program, Welcome EVERY Baby, in South Oxnard beginning in 2023.
Family childcare providers who excel at supporting healthy child development often struggle with the financial aspect of their business. F5VC, in a partnership with the Ventura County Office of Education and the Economic Development Collaborative called the Shared Services Alliance of Ventura County, is working to strengthen business practices of family child care providers. Thirty-two participating providers are utilizing the Wonderschool platform, and received a $500 technology stipend and business coaching.
Among F5VC’s greatest assets is our team. We take pride in the expertise and passion each employee brings to our goal of achieving positive and sustainable outcomes for Ventura County’s children prenatal to age five. Our ongoing role is to identify, develop and retain a high-performing and diverse workforce to drive long-term goals. Focusing on reflecting the communities we are serving, half of our employees are bilingual.
We are rooted in a collaborative culture that fosters a healthy, safe, and productive work environment for employees and their families. F5VC’s commitment to being an employee-centric, family-friendly employer has allowed F5VC to be recognized, yet again, as one of the best places to work in the tri-county region.
F5VC is thankful to have received ARPA funding that will allow us to expand our Neighborhoods for Learning, particularly focusing on the high-need Kamala-McKinna neighborhood. Knowing that we can make the greatest impact when we reach the youngest children, F5VC is also piloting a Home Visiting program for pregnant women and families with newborns, Welcome Every Baby. As a voice for our youngest children, we are advocating for a continued focus on the importance of prenatal to five as we come out of the pandemic and address disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.
The recent ban on flavored tobacco products may decrease available revenues when children’s needs have only increased. First 5s statewide are seeking sustainable investments in early childhood. F5VC will continue to deepen our partnerships and strive to improve the overall early childhood system, so that all children can be born healthy, thrive in nurturing environments, and enter school prepared and eager to learn.