Choosing care for your child is a complex and often challenging task for families. The high cost of care and lack of choices limit a family’s options. This is particularly true for lower-income families and those who work nontraditional schedules (evenings and weekends). Add to this the fact that California’s child care system is strained as we have lost over 20% of the child care supply in recent years due to the low wages earned by providers. Recent reports by the UC Berkeley Center on Child Care Employment emphasize that many earn incomes so low that they qualify for public assistance. Together, these issues add up to a lack of care options, particularly for infants and toddlers as well as school-age care during the summer months when school is out of session.
As many know, recently a cell phone video captured a disturbing incident involving a child care provider who appears to be shoving a child. Along with everyone who has seen the video, we are troubled by the images and have been reflecting on what factors contributed to the incident.
One of our roles as a child care resource and referral program is to support parents in their search for child care with information on what questions to ask providers and ways to identify a quality environment. We also provide parents with information on why and how to contact Community Care Licensing at the state Department of Social Services to review the background of the providers that they license and oversee. We know many families feel a great deal of anxiety when trying to secure a place for their child, with the lack of supply and resources to pay for services exacerbating the search.
Currently, neither Community Care Licensing nor agencies like ours are funded at a level to provide the day-to-day monitoring that could avoid such incidents leaving parents on the front lines of identifying problems. State investments in the past decade have largely been in expansion of center-based preschool programs, not in the broader birth through age 12 child care system that supports working families. The lack of investments include lagging reimbursement rates in the state subsidy system, which do not keep up with the market rate. This year’s state budget brought no relief to the rates paid to child care providers and also failed to make necessary adjustments to meet the current market costs.
In addition, these caregivers are working long hours with little support to strengthen their practice and improve their quality of care. Providers often do not have the skills necessary to address special needs issues. Prior to the Great Recession, agencies like ours received funding to support child care providers who were working with children with special needs. This allowed us to conduct trainings and provide individual supports to providers to develop necessary skills and strategies to provide individualized and quality care. These funds were cut and have never been restored.
We work throughout the year to make the case for needed investments to strengthen this vital system, which supports California parents to work and earn a living. It is critical that parents and other concerned community members raise their voices to ensure adequate public investment in both the quality of care and the wages to ensure the recruitment, retention and training of a qualified workforce to care for our children. Our children deserve it.
President/CEO, Child Care Resource Center