Parents with two children may pay nearly half their wages for child care in Los Angeles County, even as licensed early care and education centers are only able to serve 1 in 7 working parents with infants and toddlers, according to a new report that explores the resources and gaps in the early care and education system within the county.
The findings are part of The State of Early Care and Education in Los Angeles County: Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee 2017 Needs Assessment, which identified a persistent and severe lack of affordable, high quality early care and education for infants, toddlers and school-aged children in the county.
Produced by Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee, the Los Angeles County Office for the Advancement of Early Care and Education and First 5 LA, the report prompted calls for significant state and federal investment and policy changes to address the chronic gaps in care parents of young children face every day. Research shows the early years of a child’s development lay the foundation for success and sets them on a path that yields long lasting benefits.
“There is an extreme gap between the number of working families with infants and toddlers and the capacity of licensed early care and education providers to care for those children,” said Michele Sartell, Child Care Planning Coordinator for the County of Los Angeles Office for the Advancement of Early Care and Education. “Our intention with this report is twofold: identify the magnitude of the problems parents face in accessing quality preschool and child care, and identify workable solutions for policy makers at the local, state and federal level to address these repeated gaps in our early care and education system.”
The countywide assessment, which is conducted every five years, focuses on three essential components of the early care and education system: access to (including affordability of) early care and education; quality in early care and education; and the early care and education workforce.
The report offers several recommendations for policymakers to consider, based on the expertise of Committee members. These recommendations are part of a larger solution that includes increased investment by the state and federal government.
Among the report’s key findings and recommendations:
Child Care is a Costly Expense for Many Families
A family’s average cost of care in the county is up to $10,303 a year per preschooler in center-based care. Parents with two children earning the county median family income of $54,194 would need to spend nearly half of their income (45 percent) on child care. For families below the poverty line, the situation is even more dire. Even though California minimum wage has increased, income eligibility for subsidized child care has not increased since 2011.
Recommendation: While subsidized care does bring relief for some families, eligibility requirements are frozen at 2007-2008 State Median income levels. The report recommends updating the eligibility guidelines to reflect the current State Median Income (SMI) and establish up to 12-month income eligibility for families up to 85 percent of the SMI.
“Income eligibility for subsidized care is a barrier for many low-income working parents in need of funded care programs and services,” said Debra Colman, vice chair of the Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee and senior program officer at First 5 LA.
There Are Not Enough Services for Toddlers and Infants
There are 650,000 children under age 5 in Los Angeles County, nearly a third of all children 0-5 in California, yet the current amount of licensed centers and family child care homes have the capacity to serve only 13 percent (or about 1 in 7) working parents with infants and toddlers, and only 8 percent of school age children. Similar shortages exist for families who qualify for subsidized infant and toddler care: only 15 percent of those infants and toddlers who qualify are currently receiving subsidized care in Los Angeles County.
Recommendation: Increase State and federal investments in child care subsidy programs, especially for infants and toddlers. Advocate for additional funding for subsidized infant/toddler care through increases in State programs like California Center Based Programs (CCTR) for Infants and Toddlers and Alternative Payment, as well as federal initiatives like Early Head Start.
Only 1 in 4 Child Care Sites Participate in a Quality Rating and Improvement System
Research has found there is a direct relationship between child care quality and child academic achievement and cognitive and language development. The Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) was established to assess the quality of provider services, including child development, social readiness, teaching and environment, and help providers improve the quality of their programs. Yet, in Los Angeles County, only 4 percent of family child care homes and 18 percent of center-based programs participated in the rating program in 2016.
Recommendation: To ensure the needs of Los Angeles County’s children can be served by high-quality programs, public funding to support local QRIS efforts is needed to reach more providers and help them improve their programs.
Workforce Earns Low Pay, Needs More Education Opportunities
Teaching infants, toddlers and preschool age children requires the equivalent level of skills and knowledge as teaching older children, yet the pay for the early care and education workforce is less than half of what kindergarten teachers make. Los Angeles County early care and education staff make an average of between $11.73 and $14.75 per hour. While research tells us that children develop better when cared for by higher-skilled workers, only 24 percent of workers in Los Angeles County have an associate’s degree, and 21 percent have a bachelor’s degree.
Recommendations: Raise regional market rates and standard reimbursement rates for early care and education providers and advocate for state lawmakers to adopt a single statewide reimbursement rate for all providers that covers the true cost of care. For higher skills, expand free and low-cost professional development opportunities and pathways to pursue higher education to improve quality.
The findings and data presented in The State of Early Care and Education in Los Angeles County: Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee 2017 Needs Assessment were gathered from a myriad of data sources at the national and state levels, as well as in Los Angeles County to provide the most comprehensive reflection of early care and education access, quality and workforce. To view the summary report, visit www.first5la.org.
About First 5 LA
First 5 LA is a leading early childhood advocacy and public grantmaking organization created by California voters to invest Proposition 10 tobacco tax revenues in Los Angeles County. In partnership with others, First 5 LA strengthens families, communities, and systems of services and supports so that all children in L.A. County enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life. Please visit www.first5la.org for more information.
About The Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee
To guide the early care and education field throughout California, every county has a local child care and planning development council. The Los Angeles Child Care Planning Committee (Planning Committee) serves as the local child care and development planning council for Los Angeles County as mandated by state legislation (AB 2141; Chapter 1181, Statues of 1991). One of the responsibilities of each Local Child Care and Development Planning Council is to conduct an assessment of child care needs in the county no less than once every five years. The mission of the Planning Committee is to engage parents, child care providers, allied organizations, community and public agencies in collaborative planning efforts to improve the overall child care infrastructure of the County of Los Angeles, including the quality and continuity, affordability, and accessibility of child care and development services for all families.
About the Los Angeles County Office for the Advancement of Early Care and Education
The Los Angeles Office for the Advancement of Early Care and Education (the Office) envisions a high quality early care and education system accessible to all families that nurtures children’s healthy growth and early learning, fosters protective factors in families, and strengthens communities. It shapes policy recommendations, facilities planning, and provides a range of services aimed at improving the availability, quality and access to early care and education programs. As a part of its work, the Office staffs the Los Angeles County Child Care Planning Committee, as well as the Los Angeles County Policy Roundtable for Child Care and Development.