Santa Clara County needs better child care, report says


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Universal child care in Santa Clara County could be a game changer for families trying to improve their quality of life and help level wealth disparity for thousands.

A report released by Joint Venture Silicon Valley today shows free, public child care from birth through age 5 equals money in families’ pockets. The report estimates universal child care programs could allow more than 31,000 people, or 7,000 households, the ability to afford basic needs without aid in Santa Clara County.

Expanding all-day services for child care is crucial for families, said Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, whose office funded the study. She said although California is phasing in free and public universal transitional kindergarten programs for all 4-year-old students, these programs do not provide the after-school care that families need.

“Let’s distinguish child care from preschool and after-school programs because neither of those cover the entire workday… My focus is on the full-day program for 0-5 year-olds,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight. “This matters to Santa Clara County because every one of our nearly 2 million residents deserves the opportunity to live a self sufficient life, one where they can build opportunity and wealth for their children.”

County efforts are focusing on infrastructure for child care, Ellenberg said, which includes building a child care workforce, upgrading facilities and scouting new child care locations.

Currently, California ranks as the least affordable state in the nation for infant care. A family living in Silicon Valley needs to pay an average of $26,450 per year for infant care and $21,900 for a preschooler’s child care, data from the report shows.

A previous Joint Venture study revealed nearly half of all children, or 46%, across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties live in households that struggle to earn enough to afford basic needs. The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the child care sector, increasing difficulties for families scraping by. More than 300 day care centers closed in Santa Clara County alone. Meanwhile, residents are facing the highest levels of inflation in decades, adding to their budgeting woes.

Unreliable, expensive child care can leave already struggling families stranded, said Heidi Emberling, interim chief program officer of FIRST 5, an early childhood group.

“This is a high cost county to live in,” Emberling told San José Spotlight. “Child care is extremely expensive, and families in low income households don’t have the resources to pay for highest quality care.”

The financial burden of child care has hit minority families especially hard. More than 22,000 Santa Clara County children ages 3 to 5 are not enrolled in any early child care or education program, the report reveals. This continues to disproportionately impact a child’s ability to attend preschool: only 46% of Hispanic or Latino students are enrolled in preschool programs compared to 60% of white students.

Ellenberg said increasing subsidized preschool slots is a county goal. Her office is working alongside the Santa Clara County Office of Education to expand access to preschool. Data from the report shows that only 23% of eligible students had access to subsidized preschool slots in 2020.

No-cost child care not only benefits families with children, but the community overall, said Rachel Massaro, vice president and director of research at Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Money saved means money that could be spent on other industries, like small businesses.

“The implementation of a universal (child care) program is certainly something which would have a ripple effect throughout our economy,” Massaro told San José Spotlight. “When families struggle, when children struggle, there are health outcomes or educational outcomes, but there’s also huge impact on the well being of our community.”

Free child care also allows families to go to work without worrying about leaving to pick up their child, said Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County superintendent of schools and San José Spotlight columnist.

“For working parents, they’re able to participate more in the workforce and earn higher incomes,” Dewan told San José Spotlight. “We also see that there would be decreased absenteeism and less staff turnover for employers when their employees have access to sustained, free or low cost child care programs.”

Free child care and education creates a positive cycle where students are more prepared for school and the workforce, while also benefiting the entire region, Massaro said.

“Silicon Valley is becoming a less conducive place to raising a family,” Massaro told San José Spotlight. “We wanted to show that there are additional holistic benefits to implementing universal preschool for our community health and greater economic health.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.


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