Cradle Fall

“We really felt like we had created a community there with the other families,” Kim Smith says of her daughter Nixie Smith-McKrill’s time at KinderCare.

The sound of young children’s voices filled the Monterey City Council chambers the evening of Aug. 20, as the council conducted its business. Instead of being annoyed, Mayor Clyde Roberson was joyful. “I just love having the children here,” he said. The parents that night were harried, however. They pleaded with the city to save their child care center on the Presidio of Monterey.

On Aug. 12, Portland-based KinderCare informed families of about 100 children that it would cease operations in December, after 23 years—originally as Children's Creative Learning Centers, a KinderCare brand which changed to the KinderCare name within the last couple of years—citing increasing difficulty supporting the center “given its distance from our other centers.”

Parents began what one described as a “mad scramble” to find alternative care. “As you can imagine, on Tuesday 8/13, the first business day after we received the news of the potential closure, the other local daycare centers were inundated with calls from parents of [KinderCare] students,” Emily Hickok wrote on behalf of parents to Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar. Uslar wrote back, assuring parents the city was doing all it could to find another provider to step in to avoid a gap in care. (The city leases the building from the U.S. Army, with the express purpose of providing child care services to workers who work at the Presidio, for the city and the community at large.)

Some parents, like Kim Smith, mom of a 3-year-old who had been attending since she was 3 months old, doubted the city could finalize a contract in time and has already found a spot at another center starting in September. “I just couldn’t wait in limbo,” Smith says.

It’s a familiar feeling for thousands of Monterey County families in need of child care, especially for infants. Waitlists for infant care can run up to two years. Some families can’t afford it, with licensed center infant care charging up to $16,000 a year and preschool care up to $13,000. Even if parents can afford child care, there aren’t enough spaces available to accommodate every child. Only 47 percent of working families have access to child care, says Francine Rodd, executive director of First 5 Monterey County.

It’s a statewide challenge due to the high cost of doing business, according to early childhood advocates. Land is expensive and regulations meant to safeguard children when it comes to student-teacher ratios or playground safety drive up costs. There’s also a shortage of qualified care workers to hire.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is tackling the issue with about $250 million announced earlier this year for building or renovating centers and family child care homes. Nonprofits, foundations and government agencies are addressing other challenges. First 5 is advocating for change at the state level, as well as collaborating with other groups, like the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, which with several agencies launched a referral and resource website, montereycountychildcare.org, in 2018. A grassroots group called Salinas Mamás, through nonprofit Bright Beginnings, is lobbying for more access for children ages 3-5 in Salinas as part of its Preschool for All campaign.

Janna Aldrete, Monterey’s property manager, says she is in talks with other companies to take over the Presidio center and has asked KinderCare if it would consider extending its lease to cover a potential gap in service.

“We’re certainly open to working with the city to avoid a lapse in care if they find another operator before the end of the year,” KinderCare spokesperson Colleen Moran says in an email.

Editor's Note: The print edition indicated that KinderCare had been operating inside the city's Presidio building for 23 years. This post has been updated to reflect that the original operator was Children's Creative Learning Center, which later became a KinderCare brand. In 2016 all CCLC locations underwent rebranding to KinderCare on a national level, according to a spokesperson. The print edition also indicated the building was owned by the city of Monterey, but it instead leases it from the U.S. Army.

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