early intervention santa cruz
March 2019

Thrive by Three: Youngest Residents

By Ryan Coonerty, County Supervisor

Santa Cruz County has launched an effort called Thrive by Three to achieve break-through outcomes for local babies and toddlers facing adversity.

The first three years of life provide the greatest window of opportunity to build a strong foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing. Exposure to chronic stressors like poverty or adverse childhood experiences such as abuse

early intervention santa cruz

and neglect, parental substance abuse, or family violence can disrupt healthy brain development, creating lifelong negative impacts on learning, behavior and health. Too many young children are starting life at a disadvantage, leading to poor health and education out- comes which make life much harder for the individuals and create high long-term costs for society in the form of complex physical/mental health is- sues, substance abuse issues, and criminal justice impacts.

Scientists and economists agree that investing in high-quality early childhood programs – such as early care and education, developmental and behavioral health services, and parenting and family support produces the greatest benefits to children, families and society, yet public investment in very young children has been low. I worked with dedicated knowledgeable local child advocates to establish and secure funding for a Thrive by Three Fund which will help our most vulnerable babies, toddlers and their families.

The Thrive by Three effort is dedicated to achieving the following out- comes for Santa Cruz County’s youngest and most vulnerable children and their families:

  • Increased percentage of young mothers getting prenatal care in the first trimester
  • Decreased percentage of babies being born preterm and low birth-weight
  • Decreased percentage of mothers and fathers reporting hardships and emotional distress during pregnancy and the child’s first three years of life
  • Improved parental confidence, parenting practices, and parent-child relationships
  • Decreased rates of substantiated child maltreatment and entries into foster care among infants and toddlers
  • Increased access to high-quality care and early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers

The Thrive by Three investments are realistic, sustainable, and results-driven. During this process, County staff and partners have identified additional opportunities for leveraging Thrive by Three resources and helped turn the initial investment into an even bigger investment in support of local at-risk babies and toddlers!

A significant portion of the Thrive by Three funding is expanding the capacity of effective home visiting programs such as the Nurse-Family Partnership to serve more high-risk families. The Nurse-Family Partnership program, which pairs public health nurses with low-income first-time expectant mothers, has a long track record of decreasing rates of abuse and neglect, reducing emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings, significantly reducing behavioral and intellectual problems in children and reducing later rates of arrest.

A portion of the Thrive by Three funding is being used to create a local Early Learning Scholarship that will help a number of high-risk families by providing a “gap subsidy” intended to close the gap between the cost of high-quality care and available subsidies. In addition, the County is actively supporting the work of First 5 and other partners to integrate local resources for infant and toddler care with available state subsides, maximizing all available public resources to ensure affordable, quality care for our low-income children and families. The Human Services Department has also been actively working to secure additional funds to improve local child care facilities.

Investing early is an investment in our collective future. Prevention efforts often get short shrift, but future mental health issues, addiction struggles, homelessness and other high- risk conditions can be averted when

we give babies and families the tools they need to be healthy, well-educated, and resilient. I’ve been proud to work with amazing child advocates to secure funding for a Thrive by Three Fund which is helping our most vulnerable babies, toddlers and their families.

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