Grounding Whole Child Policies in Family Voices

Grounding Whole Child Policies in Family Voices

By: Catalyst California and The Children’s Partnership

Under the leadership of Governor Newsom and early childhood development champions in the California legislature, we have seen investments and policy shifts in early care and education (ECE) and early childhood health services aimed at increasing access to equitable, quality and coordinated services. During this back to school season, we must not lose sight of the needs of our youngest Californians – our babies and toddlers. Supporting babies to thrive means supporting their families, caregivers and communities through culturally and linguistically affirming services.

The research is clear: The overall well-being of our babies and toddlers is directly connected to the well-being of their families and communities.

As we look to support the whole child, families must be connected to the holistic resources their babies need to reach their fullest potential. This includes streamlined access to:

  • Childcare
  • Health and mental health services
  • Education
  • Supportive built environments
  • Community safety
  • Economic well-being
  • Addressing childhood adversity

Unfortunately, the stark reality that many families face is the continued presence of barriers when seeking access to resources.

“I have tried looking and asking (for resources), it’s taken an extensive amount of effort, I can’t imagine that any farmworker family has time to look for resources.” – Latinx Central Coast parent

In Spring 2023, the Whole Child Equity Partnership (WCEP), a multi-racial, multi-sector coalition of organizations, advocates, community organizers, direct service providers and issue area experts, engaged over 70 families through five statewide listening sessions. Participants included families of Asian American, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous backgrounds from the Bay Area, San Diego, Los Angeles, the Central Valley, and the Central Coast. The intent of the listening sessions was to learn directly from families with children from birth to age three about their experiences and gain a deeper understanding about how to ensure California is the best state to have, raise, and be a child. Supporting babies to thrive means supporting our families and communities to thrive.


Families’ experiences varied widely by region and background. They voiced their hopes and dreams for their babies and shared what resources were most supportive. Many also elevated challenges when seeking access to resources, including culturally affirming resources, needed to support their babies’ healthy development and growth. The following are highlights from all five listening sessions.

  • Culturally Affirming Perinatal Care:  Birthing people shared about their need for culturally affirming perinatal care that is provided in the weeks before and after their child’s birth through a two-generational approach where their needs are prioritized as much as their newborn babies’ needs. San Diego families shared appreciation for the San Diego Community Birth Center that provided such care and served as a community wellness hub that facilitated peer support.
Postpartum support feels scarce for birthers and their partners.” – Black San Diego parent Postpartum depression has happened in all my pregnancies and I would like to see more resources for moms to be.” – Central Valley parent

Support must go beyond coverage. Some mothers acknowledged they had experienced postpartum depression and anxiety but did not receive mental health support to address their well-being. Black mothers in the Bay Area expressed the need to connect with providers that reflected their backgrounds and could provide culturally affirming care and services unique to Black families. This includes access to healthcare providers such as doctors, pediatricians, nutritionists, midwives, doulas, and breastfeeding specialists, that are culturally and linguistically competent and congruent. 

  • Basic Needs: Families overwhelmingly shared that they needed support accessing basic needs like nutritious food, stable housing, healthcare, diapers, formula and safe early care and education programs. Families emphasized that federal, state, and community programs like La Leche League, Medi-Cal, WIC, SNAP, and food pantries were critical, especially during the pandemic.
For prenatal care, I got information from WIC but I got support from my mom giving me herbs and stomach wraps along with my friend who had a child and gave me advice and emotional support.” – Indigenous Central Valley parent   Definitely child care, food, transportation… I live in east Oakland. It’s an area that is lacking in many resources and greatly in need […] housing. It would be wonderful to have a universal basic income.” – Black Bay Area parent

However, many of these supports available during the pandemic have now subsided while many communities continue to face hardships. Although many highlighted how indispensable Medi-Cal was for their babies’ health, families across the state are navigating Medi-Cal renewal and may become uninsured, compounding hardship. Already, California has reported troubling numbers that indicate about 65,000 children lost their Medi-Cal in June 2023.

  • Navigation Support for Families: Families needed timely, language accessible navigation assistance to better understand what resources existed in their communities. They also found application eligibility requirements burdensome to navigate.
My son is 3 years old, and they stopped giving him therapy at the regional center. They told us that the school would provide therapy, but they have been unresponsive. I need resources to find help. It is a lot of time to wait. He doesn’t speak or use sign language and he only walks a limited amount. If I don’t help him now, he won’t advance.” – Latinx LA parent

To access resources, families shared that they learned of programs by word of mouth, but many families were still unable to find the necessary resources in a timely manner.Families from the Central Coast shared that it took a significant amount of time to find and apply to programs. Young parents who were students shared their struggles as institutions of higher education did not have the infrastructure needed to support them in accessing resources.


“Our community lacks learning opportunities. How can we as a community maintain our finances […] that the government supports us so that we as a community can contribute … so that (we are) part of the solution.” – Latinx Central Coast parent

It is critical that the state intentionally centers whole child, whole family policies and resources for our babies’ and toddlers’ healthy development and growth. For our youngest Californians to thrive, the adults surrounding them need to have access to the resources they need to thrive as well. This includes providing resources for their families, caregivers and child care providers. The state must build on pandemic-era policies that allowed for increased resources, flexibility, and continuity. For example, WIC services became remote, work requirements were paused, and food benefits increased, which reduced housing and food hardship (RAPID survey). More importantly, the state legislature should design culturally and linguistically affirming policies and programs that facilitate and maintain enrollment in critical supports for California’s children and their families.It is essential that the state prioritizes partnering with families during the design and implementation of policy solutions grounded in their lived experiences. In 2024, the Whole Child Equity Partnership (WCEP) looks forward to working with state leaders and inviting community and statewide partners to join us in our work to make California the best state to have, raise, and be a child. 

Many thanks to the Whole Child Equity Partnership for supporting the process to learn from families, and to the families who shared their stories.

Blog Contributors:
Catalyst California Team: JunHee Doh, Karina Suzette Hernandez, Manuel Fierro, and Vickie Ramos Harris

The Children’s Partnership Team: Mayra E Alvarez and Eva Rivera