ACEs Aware Series

Investing in our Children / Invirtiendo en Nuestros Niños

Community Impact

First 5 Santa Cruz County Annual Evaluation Report, July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020 -
published October 2020


First 5 Santa Cruz County 2020-25 Strategic Plan


New Tool to Ensure California’s Babies and Young Children Get the Services They Need


First 5 Association of California and Children’s Data Network (CDN) launched a new tool to help service providers, policymakers, and government agencies more effectively support children and families and direct resources where they are needed most. The California Strong Start Index uses information collected at birth to understand the conditions into which California’s babies are born in a given neighborhood, county, or region. The index focuses on resources that promote resilience and shows wide variability in access to these resources among the half a million babies born in California each year. Visit to see how babies are faring in your community and how you can use the Strong Start Index to advocate for children and families across California.



Please view our 15-Year Anniversary video.


Brief Presentation:  "First 5 Outcomes and Children's Well Being" - published October 2013

Baby Gateway:  The First Year's Outcomes - published August 2011



First 5 goal is to serve the most vulnerable children ages 0-5 and their families in Santa Cruz County, including very low-income families, English language learners, and families who live in higher risk zones of the county.  

  • First 5-supported programs are wide-reaching

In 2013-14, First 5 partners served 6,840 children ages 0-5 (unduplicated), representing 36% of all children these ages in Santa Cruz County.

  • First 5 serves a high number of dual language learners

Of the children served by First 5, 77% were Latino, and 64% of participants spoke Spanish in their household.

Of all Latino children ages 0-5 in Santa Cruz County, 50% participated in services funded by First 5.

  • First 5 is serving children in the highest risk zones of the county

93% of children lived in the areas of the County that rank highest on a cumulative index of risk factors.

Overall Well-Being of Children in the County

  • Santa Cruz County has a growing and diverse population of young children

In 2014, there were 19,019 children ages 0-5 in Santa Cruz County, the majority of whom were either Hispanic (55%), or White (36%).

This diversity continues into kindergarten, where in 2014 almost 43% of children had a primary language other than English.

  • Unemployment has grown dramatically and still varies greatly across the county

The County’s falling unemployment rate reflects the slow recovery from the economic recession. With a current unemployment rate in the County of 9%, it is nearly where it was in 2008.

Within the County, the percent of unemployed residents differs greatly by area; the average unemployment rate ranges from 3% in Aptos to 19% in Watsonville.

  • Salaries are rising, but many are still living in poverty.

Although the median family income has been rising, it is still not enough for many in this County to make ends meet. Almost 15% of all people in the County are earning less that the Federal Poverty Level, and 20% of all children ages 0-5 are living in poverty.

When incomes are measured using the Self-Sufficiency Standard, which is a more comprehensive measure of income adequacy than the Federal Poverty Level, 58% of families in Santa Cruz County are not able meet their basic needs.

  • There is varying enrollment in public assistance programs.

Over the last five years, there has been a 63% increase in the number of residents participating in CalFresh (Food Stamps), and a 26% increase in the number of County students receiving Free and Reduced Price Meals.

Interestingly, over the last four years the enrollment in the Women, Infants, & Children Program slightly decreased (‑3%), and in the last five years the total number of County residents participating in CalWORKS decreased 12%.

  • Not enough young mothers are receiving prenatal care in the first trimester.

In 2012, the percentage of mothers who received prenatal care in their first trimester was high – 82% — which exceeded the Healthy People 2020 target rate of 78%. However, younger mothers (ages 24 and younger) tended to fall below this target rate, with only 70% receiving first trimester care.

Additionally, there were differences in receipt of early prenatal care based upon the mother’s source of payment for the care. In 2012, only 74% of mothers with Medi‑Cal began receiving prenatal care during the first trimester, compared to 92% of mothers with private insurance.

  • The percentage of births to teen mothers in the County is slowly decreasing.

In 2013, the percentage of births to teen mothers represented 6% of all births in Santa Cruz County, and there was a teen birth rate of 17 per 1,000 (ages 15-19). Between 2008 and 2013 there was a slight decrease both in births to teen mothers and in the teen birth rate.

Taken together, the two measures indicate a slowly decreasing proportion of teens in the County who are becoming mothers.

  • Over half of the births by women in the County were paid for by Medi-Cal.

In 2013, 52% of births, across all age groups, were paid for by Medi-Cal. However, Medi-Cal was utilized by 84% of the births to women under the age of 25.

Summary by Goal Area

First 5 Santa Cruz County is serving 36% of children ages 0-5 in Santa Cruz County, and they are serving the most vulnerable children, including those in families that are experiencing severe poverty and are living in areas of the County with the highest risk factors.

First 5 and its partners are achieving results in helping these very vulnerable children and families:

In the Healthy Children goal area, data show that children are insured and using preventative health care

  • Since 2004, 14,724 children ages 0-5 have been enrolled in public health insurance.
  • In 2013, 93% of children (ages 2-6) in Healthy Kids had a medical home, and 79% of children (ages 3-6) in Healthy Kids had a well-child visit in the last year.
  • In 2013-14, Baby Gateway assisted 69% of all County mothers with Medi-Cal births to complete a Medi-Cal application for their new babies. Of those assisted, nearly all (96%) had their new babies enrolled in Medi-Cal.
  • Foster children with neurodevelopmental needs are getting referred to supportive services through a coordinated and multidisciplinary system called the Stanford Neurodevelopmental Foster Care Clinic.

In the Strong Families goal area, families are becoming more healthy and resilient, and it benefits their children

  • Families who are at risk for child abuse and neglect are being helped to reduce that risk.
  • 98% of families who received services from the Families Together program had no substantiated allegations of maltreatment in the six months after their cases closed.
  • First 5 has implemented all five levels of Triple P in Santa Cruz County, from an expanded social marketing campaign to intensive and focused individual services.
  • Parents participating in the Triple P parenting program significantly increased their confidence in parenting, used more positive parenting styles, felt more supported, and improved their relationships with their families.
  • Parents who began the program with more serious parenting issues demonstrated the greatest improvements as a result of receiving in-depth services (8 or more sessions).
  • Parents in Teen Triple P tended to report more serious parenting issues than parents in Core Triple P, and demonstrated a greater degree of improvement by the end of the program.
  • Early mental health services are being provided. Of families that participated in 8-12 psychotherapy/counseling meetings and completed pre/post assessments, 100% reported improvement in their children's behavior.

In the Children Learning and Ready for School goal area, data show that First 5 is successfully improving the quality of early learning programs and building teacher skills to develop children's early literacy skills:

  • First 5 Cruz County has further developed its Quality Early Learning Initiative (QELI) in collaboration with local partners, with the goal of improving the quality of early learning programs in Santa Cruz County, and closing the achievement gap for vulnerable young children. Provisional baseline ratings and trainings have been conducted, and the common data system called the WELS Bay Area Regional RTT Database was further developed.
  • A model infant/toddler quality site is serving as a “learning community” that promotes early literacy and social/emotional skills critical for school success. Assessment results show that toddlers in the Starlight Children’s Center are being supported to develop social and interpersonal skills, and to develop a strong foundation for later literacy.
  • The SEEDS of Early Literacy approach is transforming early education settings in the County. In 2013-14, the percentage of preschool classrooms taught by SEEDS-trained participants assessed as providing high quality literacy support for children increased from 18% to 100%. Similarly, the percentage of family child care settings that were rated as having high quality support increased from 44% to 89%.
  • Children in classrooms taught by SEEDS-trained early childhood educators are developing skills in key areas of reading success. In 2013-14 the Santa Cruz Reading Corps placed 12 Literacy Tutors with SEEDS training in 23 state preschool and TK classrooms, serving 556 children. Children in these classrooms showed improvement in all five pre-literacy skill areas—in English—no matter what their primary language was, and Spanish-speaking children particularly demonstrated improvement in their English language skills.
  • The Child Snapshot supported 779 children with their transition to kindergarten by involving parents and preschool teachers in the process, and providing important information that helped kindergarten teachers prepare for their incoming students. Studies revealed some statistically significant relationships between certain family activities and improved school readiness skills.

In the Service Integration Goal Area (Leveraging Funds)

  • First 5 partners are maximizing First 5 funding by leveraging their funds to bring in an additional 2.3 million dollars. Because of First 5’s funding and this kind of additional support, Santa Cruz County children will continue to get the support they need to become healthy, strong, and ready for school.