As someone who grew up in San Francisco, I know what an amazing City this is to be a kid in. I benefitted from our public schools and the strong community networks that helped lift me out of poverty and set me on the path of going to college. I also saw where our City too often falls short, by failing to connect people in need with programs or providing the basics to support our families.
We must be a city that puts children and families first. Of course, that starts with public education, but it also requires us to make investments in early education and services. The pandemic was devastating for our kids. We will be dealing with the fallout from learning loss, socioeconomic impacts, and mental health trauma for years.
In February of last year, I published my Children and Family Recovery Plan. My goal was to identify how the City can support children and families in recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.
We created this plan by working with the community. Thousands of kids and families from across San Francisco contributed their thoughts and ideas about what types of additional support they need. Their recommendations helped us craft the Recovery Plan.
Now a year in, we’ve made some real progress in launching these specific strategies to successfully address the needs of San Francisco’s children and families. The work we’ve already started includes:
- Established the new San Francisco Department of Early Childhood (DEC)
- Initiated the Early Care and Education Workforce Compensation Initiative
- Provided financing for dozens of early child care facilities
- Distributed additional early child care vouchers to target populations, such as parenting transition aged youth and low-income families
- Expanded parenting support, trainings, and classes for parents of young children
- Hosted another year of expanded free or low-cost summer programming
- Funded enriched after school programming for 10,000 children
- Increased mental health services at schools and mobile rapid mental health services in the community
- Increased the number of housing options available for transition aged youth
This work is possible because of our network of strong community-based providers and City staff coming together to do what’s best for our kids and families. It is also possible because of the ballot measure passed by the voters of San Francisco in June of 2018. Often referred to as Baby C, this measure provides dedicated funding for quality early care and education and compensation for child care professionals. This measure was championed by leaders like Former Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, who was a tireless advocate for children and families when he served on the Board.
Below are more details on the initiatives we’ve launched and are continuing to work on to support Children and Families in this City:
Launched the new Department of Early Childhood: We created this new Department — the first of its kind in the state of California — to streamline services for children under the age of six so that programs are easier for families to identify and access. Under the legislation I authored with Supervisor Myrna Melgar to create this new Department, services and programs that were previously spread out across the Office of Early Care and Education, the First 5 Commission, and the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families have now been consolidated. DEC dedicates nearly $300 million per year to support our City’s youngest children, their families, and early educators.
Increased pay for early educators to recruit and retain staff. The Workforce Compensation Initiative for City-funded early educators is an ongoing program launched last year that increases salaries for more than 2,000 City-funded early educators by anywhere from $8,000 to $30,000 annually. With this initiative, we are working to ensure that early educators are paid fairly for their crucial work, and that we both attract and retain educators in the field.
Provided financing for 24 early child care facilities. In addition to needing to recruit and retain educators to provide childcare support, we need space for childcare facilities enabling young children to have safe places to learn and play. By investing in facilities across the City, we can expand opportunities that are near where families live.
Distributed childcare vouchers to more than 10,000 recipients: These vouchers allow families to have greater access to care and purchasing power to choose high-quality early learning programs for their children. I also made it a priority to expand childcare vouchers to specific target populations — such as distributing an additional 550 vouchers to families with children under the age of 4, and 150 vouchers to low-income parenting transition aged youth who have children under the age of 6.
Expanded support for parents of young children: For our children to be successful, we must support our parents to make sure they have the tools they need. Many of our parents had been asking for more opportunities to learn parenting skills and support each other. That’s why we are administering additional parenting classes, trainings, and groups through San Francisco’s already existing network of Family Resource Centers.
Increased mental health supports for students: The pandemic had profound impacts on students’ mental health. In order to provide young people with the support that they need, we made sure that all middle and high school students have access to Wellness Centers, Beacon Centers, safe spaces, or trusted adults to turn to for help. When students need more intensive services, our network of school-based and community-based rapid response providers, which include mental health clinicians, are now able to respond and provide immediate support.
Continued to provide Summer Together: Launched during the pandemic when our kids had spent nearly two years out of the classroom and away from each other, Summer Together ensures that children can engage, as well as build and foster positive attitudes towards learning through enriched programming during the summer. Thanks to the leadership of the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families (DCYF) more than 30,000 children from across San Francisco have access to free or low-cost summer activities, ranging from outdoor recreation to academic support. DCYF also funds after school programming for more than 10,000 children, supporting them in their physical health, mental health, and recovering from learning loss that resulted from the pandemic.
Added new housing for young people: Providing stable housing for our transition aged youth is a critical part of our support for young people. To support this we have opened Casa Esperanza, which now provides Permanent Supportive Housing to 25 young people. In addition to housing, Casa Esperanza also offers onsite social services, ensuring that residents have access to any support that they need to flourish. We are in the process of acquiring more buildings to host programs like this creating spots for at least 80 youth to stabilize in housing.
As we head into the second year of pushing forward Recovery Plan initiatives, my focus is on continuing to provide childcare vouchers to those who need them, support early educators through recruitment, retention, and compensation initiatives, and finance child care facilities improvements.
We will keep expanding summer offerings and enriched after school programming, officially launch Our415 to provide a one-stop shop where families can learn about and sign up for City-funded programming for kids, as well as thoughtfully launch the Student Success Fund grant processes to provide additional individualized support for school sites.
Our Children and Family Recovery Plan is a roadmap for what we need to do to directly support our young people and their parents, but it’s not the only thing. We also need to build more housing for families, ensure our transportation system is efficient and safe, continue to support our world-class parks system, and prioritize safe neighborhoods for all. All of these issues impact how we as a City create better spaces for families.