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First 5 Sonoma County's Investment Strategies 2018-2021: Sustaining First 5 Sonoma County's Impact

Girl at Table 300x389The adoption of the 2017 Update to the 2010-2020 First 5 Sonoma County Strategic Plan occurs at a point in time when major changes in government policy and funding streams may have profound negative impacts on children and families. Yet, most impacts are still uncertain, creating a unique challenge for identifying priorities and planning investments. First 5 Sonoma County will need to remain flexible and responsive to emerging needs, to be able to direct resources where they are most needed

It is critical that First 5 and our stakeholders seek, generate, and seize opportunities to support the sustainability of cross-sector systems of care for children prenatal to five. The grant making process itself can be utilized as a tool to drive better integration and coordination of service delivery. Indeed, the context of declining revenues necessitates that First 5 gradually shift from funding direct services aimed at participant level impact to a deeper focus on systems-level change and community-level impact.

Looking toward the Future

A shift in a major funding stream stresses the overall system of care and requires community leaders to be resilient, flexible and creative. As we enter the last phase of the 2010-2020 Strategic Plan, a window of opportunity exists for Commissioners, staff and stakeholders to work together towards long-term sustainability of the critical systems that First 5 has helped to build. Although Prop. 10 revenue is declining, the next several years provide a chance to proactively pivot to a model of community investing that optimally maximizes dollars and supports a thoughtful transition toward 2021 when deeper reductions in expenditures will be necessary.

First 5 Sonoma County’s investment strategies for the next three years constitute a balanced blend of investments that will support a smooth transition into the next phase of stepped-down funding. The strategies are informed by research on system sustainability and aligned with the strategic plan guidelines, stakeholder input and recent data. Additional guidelines were created to guide the transition to significantly reduced funding levels.

Leveraging Community Assets

The 2017 update to the strategic plan was developed with the recognition that sustaining impact with First 5 funding alone is not feasible. Sonoma County is fortunate to have a broad array of existing community assets that can be creatively leveraged to sustain systems and programs and ensure that the successes of First 5 and its stakeholders continue to have an impact. Community assets include:

  • Lasting impact and institutionalized practice of nearly two decades of First 5 investing in robust 0-5 systems of care and service networks
  • Culture of collaboration across providers and key system stakeholders
  • Commitment and leadership of community-based organizations that serve children and families
  • Local public/private partnerships that maximize impact through pooled and aligned funding
  • Development of innovative financing mechanisms, such as Health Action’s Catalyst Fund
  • County’s investment in collective impact initiatives that have advanced evidence-based policy, cross-sector engagement and a culture of prevention (Health Action, Cradle to Career, Upstream Investments)
  • National visibility of Sonoma County as an innovative, collaborative leader in the health and human services sectors has brought outside private investments, such as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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Guidelines for a Sustainable Transition

  • Prioritize existing programs and approaches that have shown strong outcomes, are scalable and sustainable and are foundational to critical systems of care for children 0-5 and their caregivers
  • Gradually scale down operational costs, while sustaining organizational human capital and institutional knowledge
  • Strengthen the infrastructure and operational practices of local Community Based Oorganizations to support their long-term sustainability
  • Intensify advocacy efforts and leverage First 5 Association’s advocacy agenda to effect legislative change at the state and federal levels
  • Seek local public and private funding partnerships to align and leverage investments whenever possible
  • Require grantees to match cash and in-kind resources to First 5 funding
  • Support the development of innovative financing mechanisms and initiatives that may generate dedicated revenue for children’s service
  • Expand community engagement and communication efforts to increase public awareness of the critical first five years

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