Strong Families, Strong Kids

a woman works on her laptop while her young son does school work

At First 5 Orange County, we want all children to reach their full potential, and that means ensuring that every child, parent, and caregiver has the tools they need to thrive — even while navigating difficult and challenging situations.

Research shows that children in crisis during their formative years can experience negative effects throughout their lifetime, even as an adult. Stresses sustained as young children are linked by research to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in their adult years.

Right now, thousands of Orange County families with young children are in crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which increased the strain on these families that are dealing with job loss and underemployment, lost wages, reduced hours, lack of affordable quality child care, health concerns, and other difficulties.

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53% of 4- to 6-year-olds showed clinically elevated symptoms related to their emotional well-being during the pandemic

A pandemic survey conducted by the Orange County Health Care Agency found that 53 percent of surveyed 4- to 6-year-olds were showing clinically elevated symptoms related to their emotional well-being; families are leaning hard on family members, friends, and social networks for support; and few of those with distressed children — just 13 percent — sought professional help.

This problem isn’t new. Pre-pandemic data show nearly 1 in 5 women living in Orange County are affected by a form of depression or anxiety either during pregnancy, up to 12 months after birth, or both. Nationally, 1 in 10 men are impacted as well.

The chance of experiencing depression or anxiety increases among parents experiencing multiple stressors, such as racism, poverty, and adverse childhood events during their own childhoods. Left untreated, depression in parents and other caregivers can strain relationships and have a negative impact on a child’s development.

Strong Families Make all the Difference

The good news: there is hope. We know that strong families can withstand the pressures of life’s challenges and recover from stressful events. And we know that healthy, resilient children and families are vital to our future.

First 5 Orange County is helping families with young children through research-informed approaches that build strength and resiliency, enhance child development, and reduce the potential for child abuse or neglect. The Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework™ from the Center for the Study of Social Policy highlights five key protective factors that are critical for building a strong family:

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Parental Resilience

Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma
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Social Connections

Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental and spiritual support
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Concrete Support in Times of Need

Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges
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Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development

Understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development
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Social and Emotional Competence of Children

Family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions and establish and maintain relationships
a mom comforts her young baby, holding him on her chest
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Orange County women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy or up to 12 months after birth

Children and families may have potentially traumatic experiences — that’s the unfortunate truth. However, when a traumatic experience happens, protective factors allow the family to withstand the stressors and ultimately recover. Protective factors provide a buffer against the toxic stress response that can cause long-term disruptions to normal brain and body development.

Supporting the protective factors and building family capacity in these areas strengthens families and impacts young children and their future. In order for all children to reach their full potential, they need every tool available to give them the best chance at a happy and successful future. As we’ve mentioned, babies can’t wait. We must support strengthening families now.

a mom hugs her young son, looking weary but relieved

First 5’s Action Plan

In the next few years, we plan to support strengthening families throughout our strategic initiatives, and particularly through the following activities:
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Improve the diagnosis of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and linkage to treatment and dyadic care models (in which children and parents are treated together).

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Expand home visiting through coordination and advocacy. Home visiting matches parents with trained professionals to provide tailored, one-on-one parenting and health care education along with early childhood development and support.

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Expanding opportunities for families within Engaged Neighborhoods to access concrete supports, grow parent knowledge, build resilience, increase social connectivity, and strengthen children’s social/emotional competencies.

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Improve coordination, linkage to, and expansion of services to special populations (for example, children at risk for abuse and neglect, infants who have been substance-exposed, foster youth who are parenting, and families experiencing homelessness).

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Support community efforts to increase awareness of and access to financial supports, including addressing barriers, streamlining application processes, and identifying advocacy opportunities.

If you are interested in helping to build strong families in Orange County, please contact Leticia Casillas-Sanchez at leticia.sanchez@cfcoc.ocgov.com.