The pandemic has given us an opportunity to see many things in a new light and appreciate what was often overlooked. Child care is one of those areas.
For our economy to thrive, we need child care to enable our workforce to return to work. For there to be quality affordable child care, we need facilities and well-trained educators. For the long-term well-being of our children, we need quality child care.
Yet, the state of our child care system is troubling. In Monterey County, the mean hourly wage for an early childhood educator is $13.94, making it difficult to attract and retain teachers. Also, child care facilities and homes are difficult to open and operate. In California, 33 percent of licensed care centers shut their doors, as did 14 percent of licensed family child care homes due to Covid-related provisions. Retrofitting spaces for health and safety, plus high real estate costs, make opening new facilities difficult.
Parents – mainly mothers – who left their jobs to care for their children or were working remotely at home, are now finding there is no one to watch their children. Graciela Alfaro, a single mother of three in Monterey County says, “I work in the field and have had to stop working because I have no one to care for my children.”
The cost of child care is high. According to the California Department of Education, the average cost of care for infants and toddlers in a Monterey County center costs $13,900 per year per child.
Everyone has a role in helping mend the state of child care and I’m pleased to see the tide start to turn. More substantial support for child care is expected to be announced in the state budget. However, given the long history of neglect and the state of our local system we know: 1) it will not be enough; and 2) it will come with its own timeline, restrictions and requirements.
I’m proud that locally, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors is helping lead the way. Bright Beginnings, an early childhood development initiative of the Monterey County Children’s Council, submitted a collaborative request outlining how the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds can address some of the needs for child care in Monterey County. While the cost of a more comprehensive plan to support children and families holistically would be over $14 million, Bright Beginnings prioritized short – and long-term child care infrastructure needs to a total $1.5 million request. The ask involves three things: teacher retention incentives; planning for facilities and business start-up; and child care stipends for families in need.
Increasing child care to the levels our county needs to thrive equals a win for the economy and for families. Providers can keep their jobs to pay the bills; parents will find care and return to work; and children will benefit from the expert care and socialization that child care provides. Child care is the backbone of our workforce and is vital to our community’s infrastructure.