Nearly a quarter of California’s young children live in poverty. If not for public assistance programs, that number would be far higher. Many families depend on support from public agencies to make ends meet and create better lives for their children. 

Federal, state, and local services give families access to free or low-cost health care, food and nutrition, early childhood education, parenting tools and supports, and financial assistance. However, these services are frequently difficult or burdensome to access and use—and barriers to receiving services are increasing for many families. 

To ensure every child is supported to be ready for school, it is important to examine how families understand the landscape of services that are available to them, access and use services, and engage with service providers. 

With support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, VIVA Social Impact Partners gathered stories from families of their perspectives, experiences, and opinions on navigating public services through focus groups and a series of family interviews in three California counties, Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Mateo. Families stories, gathered through focus groups and interviews, have been compiled online at

By capturing families’ lived experience in powerful quotes and videos, this compendium is intended to be a resource for those in a position to shape how public services are administered to ensure that California’s systems truly work for the families who rely on them to help to change the trajectory for their young children.

California Family Voices tells families’ stories, in their own words. Get to know each family’s experience on the Meet the Families pages, or explore different aspects of navigating public services on the Public Service Perspectives pages.

Cassie of Fresno County shares about her experience with public services as a child.

Key activities of this partnership:

  • Best Practice Research
  • Community Engagement
  • Focus Groups
  • Graphic Design
  • Photo & Video Documentation
  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • Systems Change
  • Storybanking