Early Learning Initiative

Children from Birth through Age 8

Just a few days old, baby Danette began experiencing difficulty sleeping and eating. Her mother, Jackeling explains, “We worried all the time because we did not know what was wrong with her. I was so worried and depressed. I felt like a bad mother.”

Mentally and physically exhausted, Jackeling enrolled in the Safe Passages Baby Learning Playgroups. Through the program, Jackeling received assistance finding a medical specialist for her daughter. The family learned that Danette had an undiagnosed breathing dissorder that was not allowing her to nurse or sleep properly. The case manager helped Jackeling with enrolling for health benefits so that the baby could get the surgery she needed.

Jackeling explains, “After the surgery, Danette is a much happier baby. I stopped feeling guilty and now know that I am a good mother.”

During the Baby Learning Playgroup, Jackeling also learned of the services provided by Early Head Start. “I learned how important it is for babies to learn to play with other children and to have caring adults around them, so I enrolled Dannette in daycare. It also gave me an opportunity to go back to school to gain more skills and improve my English.”

Because Jackeling was able to enroll baby Danette in Early Head Start, she was able to return to school. She is now a certified Dental Assistant and is completing her service hours.

Danette, now one year old, is expressive, happy and healthy.


Healthy brain development is mediated by the emotional health and availability of parents and caregivers and the quality of interaction between parent and infant. Programs that increase caregiver emotional availability to infants and young children significantly improve brain development and learning readiness.

Additionally, exposure to violence undermines young children’s basic sense of trust in the world. They may perceive adults as harmful or as unable to keep them safe. Further, a growing body of research has shown that exposure to habitual violence can permanently alter brain development predisposing children to violent impulsive behavior and has a negative impact on brain development, leading to lower intelligence scores in young children.

Safe Passages has for the last ten years convened city, county, school district, and community agencies to assess resources and identify gaps in services for children 0–5 living in poverty and exposed to violence. The Early Learning Initiative promotes collaboration between multiple public systems and non-profit providers to create a citywide safety net for children, from birth through age five. Programs developed include:

  1. Training of childcare teachers in Oakland to implement a social skills and violence prevention curriculum;
  2. Identification and referrals for children exposed to violence;
  3. Mental health consultations at pre-school sites;
  4. Case management services;
  5. Parent/infant psychotherapy;
  6. Police training in Oakland on referrals and how to work with children at scenes of violent crimes.

Currently, Safe Passages implements the Baby Learning Communities Program. a partnership between the local public systems and community based providers including: Through the Looking Glass (TLG)Jewish Family & Community Services (JFCS)Central American Refugee Committee (CRECE), Oakland Unified School District, and the City of Oakland Fund for Children & Youth (OFCY).

Families with young children participate in community playgroups, parent education, and case management. The program focuses on low income families exposed to community and domestic violence. The Baby Learning Program targets vulnerable families exposed to community and domestic violence living in high need communities in Oakland, California that have young children and babies, including new immigrants and those families with children and/or parents with disabilities and delays.

The program design was developed based on research and best practices and seeks to provide the necessary supports through community play groups, parent education and targeted case management to increase the emotional bond between parents or caregivers and infants; as well as provide parents support around parenting challenges.

The goals of the program include:

  • Families involvement in their child’s learning and growth is increased
  • Children and their families have access to development support services when needed and which may otherwise be unavailable
  • Parents gain awareness of practices for promoting social and emotional wellness for infants and toddlers and early learning
  • Parents are able to identify child developmental milestones
  • Parents learn of services and are connected with appropriate supportive services for health, child care/education, and family stability
  • Children experience early learning opportunities in a structured playgroup setting
  • Children are connected to more structured high quality early care and education, improving kindergarten


Safe Passages has implemented the early learning initiative through several private and public grants Including the Robert Wood Johnson Urban Health Initiative (2000-2005), the US Human Services Agency Early Learning Opportunity Act (ELOA), the Oakland Safe Start Promising Practices (SSPA) four year grant awarded in 2005 by the US Department of Human Services, the current Measure Y Mental Health collaborative grant also administered by Safe Passages, and the most recent OFCY 2009-2013 grant for the BLCCP.

The continuum of programs developed by Safe Passages have been evaluated by a wide variety of respected national evaluation firms including UCSF, and local evaluators including See Change and Public Profit). Significant findings by UCSF included:

  • 63% of parents attending literacy workshops under ELOA reported spending more time looking at books or doing other educational activities with their children compared to 27% before attending ELOA funded workshops
  • Researchers also found that children participating in the programs demonstrated reduced anger and aggression, and reduced anxious and withdrawn behavior
  • Additionally, in 2009, over 3,000 children were being taught the curriculum at 57 public childcare sites, nearly 2,000 children and families had received mental health services and/or participated in workshops and over 600 police officers had been trained across the county
  • 97% of parents who completed the Baby Learning Program said they have learned new things about activities and play to help their child grow and develop


Alameda County Early Childhood Policy Committee

To further facilitate coordination across public and private entities, in February 2008 several Early Childhood focused committees and collaborations combined. These included the following: the Safe Passages Early Childhood Policy Committee (ECPC), the Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) Policy Collaborative, the Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) Committee, and the ECMH Community Services Collaborative. These groups consolidated into one overarching committee structure now known as the Alameda County Early Childhood Policy Committee (ACECPC), representing over 30 private and public agencies with special focus on the needs children ages birth to five in Alameda County.

The Mission of the ACECPC is to work collaboratively on behalf of infants and young children to develop and implement a culturally responsive, community-based, county-wide system that supports the social-emotional well-being of Alameda County’s young children and their caregivers.

The functions of the ACECPC are as follows:

  • Advocacy
  • Education and Outreach
  • Policy/Systems Development
  • Resource Development
  • Leveraging Opportunities
  • Evaluation of Efficacy of Programs and Practices
  • Public and Private Community Partnerships

The ACECPC members have successfully advocated for the following:

  • Reauthorization of Measure K, Kids First! Oakland Fund for Children and Youth (OFCY) for another twelve years and continued funding for an Early Childhood category
  • Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Proposition 63 funding for mental health consultation in Alameda County based pre-schools

Sponsoring Agencies:

Safe Passages, First 5/Alameda County Every Child Counts, Alameda County Child Care Planning Council, and Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services.