We are proud to share our 2021 annual report!
In a year that fluctuated between high hopes and continued struggles, strong relationships served as the backbone for communities across King County as we navigated the ongoing dual pandemic of COVID-19 and systemic racism. Building on deep connections, Best Starts for Kids’ partners critically supported communities as they navigated the challenges of 2021 in the face of grief and uncertainty.
In 2020, Best Starts quickly pivoted to provide what community leaders said they needed most to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, including flexible emergency funds, technology, and resources for social emotional well-being and mental health. In 2021, Best Starts and our partners leaned into our established community ties to draw lessons from the first year of the pandemic. Our partners strengthened and adapted community-led approaches to best support the emotional well-being and behavioral health of children, youth, and families. Our unwavering commitment to centering the voices and lived experiences of communities has and continues to be critical to our ability to advance racial, geographic, and economic equity.
As Best Starts enters into the second levy and King County communities begin recovering from a long and difficult pandemic, we will continue to reinforce and expand our commitment to strengthening community ties, supporting the well-being of children, youth and families. By maintaining our current investments in promotion, prevention, and early intervention, and deepening our investments to address critical needs in our community, we are working towards ensuring a better, more equitable King County, where all can thrive.
Children have the best start in life when their families and communities have supports to help kids develop trusting relationships, grow up healthy, and thrive.
Led by and working with our community partners, Best Starts for Kids cultivates connection between families navigating their child’s earliest years and King County’s vibrant community of early childhood professionals. Our emphasis on promoting positive elements and preventing negative factors keeps healthy children healthy and allows for additional support to be provided for children and families who need it. Backed by a growing body of evidence, the Best Starts approach results in positive outcomes for the rich diversity of our region’s children from birth to age five.
Best Starts Investing Early strategies reached more than 285,000 children, families, and their trusted providers in 2021. Many of these programs intentionally reach communities that historically and currently have lacked access to health and early learning services. These investments produce positive results across King County, including the creation of community-led systems to foster healthy childhood development for our youngest residents and those who take care of them!
Sustaining the Gain
As children transition through adolescence and into adulthood, their futures are transformed by the opportunity to stay connected and engaged at school and in their communities.
In 2021, as young people’s lives continued to be disrupted by COVID-19, ongoing social isolation led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Best Starts’ community partners responded to this challenge by creating a support network, building on established trust between community partners and the young people they serve to help cope with changes throughout the year.
Best Starts for Kids’ funding for programs aimed at ages 5 to 24 sustains the gains from early childhood investments. In 2021, 27,000 young people and youth-serving adults participated in programs that assist young people as they grow into healthy, happy, and thriving adults through Sustaining the Gain Strategies. Community partners build resilience in youth, amplify youth voice, encourage youth leadership, and foster a sense of belonging both within communities and deepened family engagements.
This work is essential to address young people’s increased mental health and social emotional needs associated with the pandemic. Best Starts’ continued focus on programs led and designed by BIPOC ensures that this support reaches those who are most vulnerable to these effects.
Communities matter if children, youth, and families are going to be healthy and thrive. COO supports community-led efforts in King County to build safe, healthy, and thriving environments for people furthest from health, housing and economic justice. As a network of residents, decision-makers, and funders, COO approaches social change through partnerships that work to shift policies, systems, and relationships toward a just and equitable future. Since its launch in 2014, COO has invested in initiatives to change conditions in communities through collaboration with more than 180 organizations to create more than 450 new partnerships and develop leadership in more than 2,000 community members.
The continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the call for transformational change from movements for racial justice brought new urgency to respond to the immediate needs of those most affected by systemic inequities. Increasing power within communities matters now, more than ever, to effectively respond to COVID-19 and deepening health and economic disparities. In 2021, Best Starts COO investments centered community strength through robust partnerships that innovatively addressed community needs, advanced equitable policies and practices, and provided flexible support to community partners.
The best opportunity to end homelessness in King County is preventing it.
COVID-19 and systemic racism exacerbated inequalities in housing and economic stability, straining many households already concerned with making ends meet. Best Starts for Kids’ Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative provides critical resources to help youth and families at risk of homelessness stay housed and safe, with long-term benefits that strengthen and stabilize our communities.
Through Best Starts, King County is investing $21 million towards preventing homelessness for children, youth, and their families. To date, of the more than 11,000 youth and families served by the Youth and Family Homelessness Prevention Initiative, 94 percent who exited the program did not need homelessness services within the next year. This investment is vital to how King County recovers and rebuilds together, fostering a healthy, thriving region where no young person or family lives in fear of housing instability and homelessness.
Best Starts meets King County residents wherever they are, at every stage of life. In 2021, our investments served children, strengthened communities, and delivered impact.