In Fresno County, California, effective collaboration, community engagement and data use are leading to better outcomes for kids and families, with racial and ethnic equity at the center.
Cradle to Career Fresno County has reached a new milestone in its work to build equitable systems and inclusive economic mobility. The Cradle to Career Network member earned the designation of Systems Change along the StriveTogether Theory of Action™.
Supporting children and families in early childhood
Cradle to Career Fresno County works to improve early childhood outcomes so every child has a strong start. The team supports networks that are addressing challenges such as pre-term births and maternal depression to reach better, more equitable outcomes.
One of the networks supported by Cradle to Career Fresno County, the Home Visitation Network, works to increase home visitation services to effectively serve all qualifying children and families in Fresno County. The group is made up of community-based organizations and the Fresno County Department of Public’s Health Maternal Wellness division. It provides professional development for home visitors and developed an integrated data system to measure outcomes across the county.
This work is leading to policy shifts, too. The network met with California Congressman Jim Costa to request his support for the reauthorization of Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, and he became a co-sponsor after the meeting.
Another network, the BLACK Doula Network, is a project informed and designed by Black women, doulas and birthing persons to train and increase the number of Black doulas for pregnancy support and hospital stay advocacy. The BLACK Wellness and Prosperity Center is developing the network and working with Fresno City College to kick off a training program with input from doulas and Black lived experience. These practitioners will provide emotional and physical support to reduce maternal death and depression rates, which will in turn support better outcomes for Black children and families.
The BLACK Doula Network has taken a central role with a statewide doula network to secure Medicaid/Medi-Cal funding for doulas. Cradle to Career Fresno County supported that effort through letters and emails, and members of the BLACK Doula Network testified. Legislation passed in 2022 to make Medicaid/Medi-Cal funding for doulas available January 1, 2023.
Increasing connections and resources to support K-12 students
Cradle to Career Fresno County is improving K-12 outcomes by narrowing education gaps for Black students. Their work addresses issues like access to mental health services, sense of belonging in school and digital equity.
Gaps in reading and math inspired the Fresno Unified School District to create the Office of African American Academic Acceleration (A4). A4 supports summer and after-school students to work with academic advisors based on their math or reading level, and parents are involved in the process.
A4 also incorporated cultural awareness training at the school district level, leading to better relationships between students and staff and more belonging and trust for Black students. A4 is advocating for more Black teachers and staff and has helped place more Black principals in the school system. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the work is expanding. One initiative has grown from a summer literacy pilot in one elementary school to offerings at 10 elementary schools. And an assessment tool that provides more individualized insight and instruction for students, parents and teachers is being adopted systemwide.
Another initiative, All 4 Youth, is a collaboration among 32 school districts, the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health and the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools. All 4 Youth designed a hub and spoke model for every school in the county to have access to either an onsite mental health clinician or to referrals for offsite providers. All staff — from teachers and administrators to bus drivers — are trained in trauma-informed care, and clinicians provide services in the home language of the child when possible.
Developed with student, parent and staff feedback, All 4 Youth has helped lower the stigma of receiving mental health services among students and families. For youth aged 0-17, the mental health services rate increased 34% from 2018 to 2021.
Another critical component of success in school and beyond is access to technology and the internet. Cradle to Career Fresno County convenes the Fresno Coalition for Digital Inclusion, a countywide coalition with more than 30 member organizations. Using data to target areas with the greatest need, Fresno Unified School District — a leading coalition member — created a 15-tower network using a “schools as towers” model. These efforts expanded internet coverage in underserved communities, providing access to 10,000 students around 25 schools. Coalition partners also use grant funding to bring fiber connectivity to rural school districts.
Using data and collaboration to open opportunities
Community partners are supporting postsecondary and workforce outcomes through innovative collaboration. In one new partnership, Fresno Unified School District works with Benedict College of South Carolina and three high schools with larger Black student populations. The HBCU Step Up Pathways program will allow students to earn up to 13 transferable college credits through live virtual instruction with Benedict College professors.
To guide postsecondary and workforce efforts, Cradle to Career Fresno developed a data collection method and data sharing agreement across several K-12 and higher education institutions. The team created dashboards to share student access and outcomes, providing robust data to practitioners, leaders and policy makers so they can make informed decisions and show results.
These community partners are shifting resources, practices, policies and power structures to help kids and families thrive. By supporting the collaboration of partners across the region, Cradle to Career Fresno County is creating lasting change.