Strong Families, Strong Kids

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

At First 5 Orange County, we know that strong families support healthy, resilient children. Parents and caregivers who have internal and external resources can withstand the pressures of life’s challenges and recover from stressful events. 

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.


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.

Home Visiting

Children thrive when they have secure attachments with adults, and stable, loving interactions.

Home Visiting is a powerful, evidence-based approach to promote family resilience and connection. Home visiting matches parents with trained professionals who provide tailored, one-on-one parenting and health care education along with connections to community resources.

Orange County’s current home visiting system has the capacity to support one in three families with home visiting related services. The capacity of the home visiting system is insufficient. There is a gap of about 10,000 moderate to high need newborns annually in OC who could benefit from home visiting related services.

The Facts

Home visiting is designed to support families where they are and be responsive to the needs and challenges that the families identify as most important. As a result, home visiting programs have far-reaching benefits including:

Pregnant women are more likely to access prenatal care and carry their babies to term.

Women are less likely to demonstrate symptoms of depression and report an improved mental outlook.

Children show improved language development, school performance and attendance, and gross motor skills.

Families have fewer Child Protective Services reports and show more positive parenting practices and interactions with their children.

“Home visiting has helped me identify the stages of development, my child’s needs, the changes that occur because each child is different and, lastly, how to deal with daily challenges. There can be instances when you experience different things and they [home visitors] are there to support, listen to you, and let you know that you are not alone.”

OC Home Visiting Participant

“Orange County home visitors provide a lifeline into a whole world of resources that families don’t know are available, building lasting connections and walking along- side each family on their unique journey.”

OC Home Visiting Provider

Home visiting has a return on investment of $1.80 to $5.70 for every dollar spent

(Michalopoulos et al., 2017)

California recognizes home visiting as a critical component of the state’s comprehensive early childhood system.

Since 2019, California has expanded access to home visiting through creation of the CalWORKs Home Visiting Program, dedication of state general funds to match federal funding, and the inclusion of home visiting as one of the evidence-based models in the California Prevention Act, California’s answer to the federal mandate under the Families First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).

The Need

According to the Roadmap for Resilience, the best-supported interventions for improving child and family outcomes are high-quality, voluntary home visiting programs for new parents to ensure they have the community support and services they need during a significant time of transition. Even with the significant expansion in state and local funding, home visiting remains a challenge for some families.

30% to 40%

of all births in OC are moderate to high risk when considering an array of social and economic factors.

Source: 2021 Strong Start Index (based on 2019 data and available community data.)

1 in 3

Orange County’s current home visiting system has the capacity of those families with home visiting related services.

Source: First 5 OC staff projection based on available data.

Home visiting provides pregnant women and families, particularly those considered at-risk, necessary resources and skills to raise children who are physically, socially, and emotionally healthy and ready to learn.

To reach more families with the services they need, home visiting programs must be coordinated and integrated into other child development and family support systems.”


OC Home Visiting Provider

Strategies and Solutions

First 5 Orange County is working with partners to:

Support shared messaging to increase recruitment and marketing activities to broaden awareness and access to home visiting.

Elevate the voice of families in communicating the value of home visiting.

Recruit, train, and retain a quality workforce.

Invest in workforce training and development to meet the diverse needs of Orange County families.

Promote coordination amongst home visiting providers to build a county-wide home visiting system that can match families to the program best suited to their needs and evaluate countywide impact.

We need your support in the following:

Renewal and continued funding of the CalWORKs Home Visiting Program.

Continued investment in home visiting across multiple state programs (e.g., California Home Visiting Program, CalWORKs, Mental Health Services Act, California Youth Behavioral Health Initiative, etc.).

Expansion of eligibility criteria to reach families that cannot access services due to eligibility barriers (e.g., based on income, geography, age, and/or risk profile).

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:


Parental Resilience

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

Social Connections

Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental and spiritual support

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

Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development

Understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development

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
1 in 1

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:

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).


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.


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.


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).


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