First 5 Santa Barbara County is setting its sights on reaching each of the county’s 27,000 children who are 5 and younger.
The state-run program, which invests in childhood development, health and family support programs for young children, is seeking to expand its efforts by increasing outreach to parents and childcare workers in the coming fiscal year. The group is making an immediate goal of reaching half of the county’s children with its services, while trekking toward its long-term goal of reaching all 27,000.
The organization is just one of a number of county departments eyeing monumental goals in fiscal year 2021-22.
During the Board of Supervisors’ second budget hearing of the week, officials heard from leaders in the county’s Health and Human Services sector. Directors from each branch of the department presented their proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, while highlighting key achievements over the past year and goals for the future.
First 5 is proposing an operating budget of $3.8 million.
A portion of this budget will fund an ongoing Dual Language Learning pilot program that aims to beef up existing infrastructure for educators to support multilingual students. First 5 recently received more than $550,000 in state funding to institute this project, the department reported during Wednesday’s meeting.
These efforts to promote DLL within school systems align with the organization’s goal to promote equitable practices within programming, Executive Director Wendy Sims-Moten told supervisors Wednesday.
“We want all of our children and families to appreciate their diverse backgrounds and have access to high quality and culturally competent programs and services so they can reach their full potential,” Ms. Sims-Moten said.
Other branches of the Health and Human Services sector are also prioritizing services for families and children in the coming fiscal year.
The county’s Social Services Department is proposing a budget of more than $190 million for the next fiscal year, setting sights on improving IT infrastructure, creating a text reminder system to remind clients about important meetings and implementing a Santa Barbara Child Abuse Prevention Plan.
Social Services saw a 40% drop in child abuse and neglect reports associated with the COVID-19 lockdowns. Amy Krueger, the deputy director of adult and children services, called this statistic “extremely concerning,” explaining that a drop in reports does not mean child abuse rates are lower; rather, fewer cases are being reported.
Through working with community stakeholders and getting the message out about the need for continued reporting, Social Services did see a comeback in reporting and ended 2020 with approximately 12% fewer reports than in 2019. Ms. Krueger also reported a 6% increase in kids entering the foster system in the first quarter of this year, pointing to compounded factors contributing to this rise.
“Unfortunately, due to the effects of the pandemic, we’re seeing increased stress on our families who are already struggling and marginalized,” Ms. Krueger said. “We’ve seen increases in mental health needs, and increases in, unfortunately, domestic violence and substance abuse. So all of those drivers have impacted the really high needs of kids and families we’re seeing and caused more of them to be coming into our system.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, Social Services provided $35.2 million in CalFresh emergency assistance benefits and $1.7 million in emergency cash assistance, the department reported Wednesday.
Officials from the Behavioral Wellness Department also presented their proposed budget of approximately $148 million during Wednesday’s hearing. The budget is supported by more than $10 million in grants acquired by the department for fiscal year 2021-22.
The $10 million in secured grants includes one award that totals over $500,000 for local youth opioid response. With these funds, the department plans to construct a Youth Center in Lompoc within the next few years.
Dr. Alice Gleghorn, the department’s director, showcased a few of the department’s recent accomplishments, which included transitioning to telehealth as a primary service and increasing bed capacity to 118 new residential treatment beds in Medi-Cal facilities. During the pandemic, the department intensely increased its use of Zoom meetings, completing 20,000 telehealth and administrative meetings in the past month.
Ms. Gleghorn urged the board to keep an open mind during the budget presentation, explaining that the department receives funding from grants and partnerships, but will likely need help filling gaps.
“I ask you to keep in mind the process for bringing innovation with the county and how we get things done and how we sustain them,” Dr. Gleghorn said. “Things will go away if we don’t pay attention to how to keep the good stuff.”
The board also heard from Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, the director of the Public Health Department, regarding the department’s financial need to maintain its current efforts with the COVID-19 pandemic in the next fiscal year. Dr. Do-Reynoso proposed a budget of approximately $100 million to continue the sector’s COVID-19 response and to implement new initiatives aimed at promoting health equity.
In addition, the board heard a presentation from Child Support Services, which proposed a budget of more than $9 million for FY 2021-22. About two-thirds of the budget comes from the government, while the remaining is drawn from state funding.