With First 5 San Francisco celebrating its 15 year anniversary and the New Year already here, we reflect on our successes and challenges in providing programs and services for San Francisco’s families and children ages zero to five. To do this, we focus on First 5’s universal approach – that is, First 5’s commitment to promoting healthy development in all children ages zero to five, regardless of household income, race and ethnicity. First 5 San Francisco believes that in order to effectively provide programs and services for children of all backgrounds, access must be open and universal. The social stigma of being on welfare; fear of sharing private information with the government; and difficulties in understanding complex eligibility requirements prevent many families from accessing resources that would otherwise be very beneficial for them and their children.

A review of enrollments in First 5’s Preschool for All program last year  shows that the universal approach is quite effective in reaching all children. Sixty-four percent of all enrollments were low-income children specifically. These were children whose preschool enrollments were being subsidized by federal, state and local childcare programs, like Head Start and CalWORKs. The remaining 36% or so went to families of other income brackets, indicating that the universal approach is also very effective in filling in the holes left behind by San Francisco’s high cost of living. For example, the income eligibility cut-off for most state and local childcare programs is a household income at or below $46,000.* According to the Economic Policy Institute, a family of four needs about $84,000 a year to live “comfortably but not extravagantly” in San Francisco.

It is estimated that about one-third of San Francisco families make between $46,000 and $84,000, making them ineligible for state and local childcare subsidy and voucher programs; and also, unable to comfortably afford preschool.** Given San Francisco’s rising rents, local estimates indicate that families may need more than $84,000 to live here, which further expands the number of families that are excluded from childcare subsidy and voucher programs and unable to afford preschool for their children.  First 5’s universal approach bridges this gap for many San Francisco families, ensuring broader access to resources and programming that ultimately becomes a firm foundation for academic success and well-being.

*Based on the document, “Family Fees for California’s Subsidized Child Care,” California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, 2013.

** Based on figures from the 2012 American Community Survey Data Release.