Dewan: Child care is essential infrastructure
Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan write that the best public investments ensure all children have access to high-quality child care, early care and education. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County Office of Education.

    Economic development starts with early childhood development. Decades of evidence shows access to high-quality early learning and care programs has short- and long-term benefits. The best public investments ensure all children have access to high-quality child care, early care and education. Child care is essential infrastructure for our economy.

    Many child care providers are small business owners who face many of the same challenges as small business owners in other sectors, including finding and retaining staff.

    The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated clearly what many of us already understood: child care is the work that enables all other work. COVID-19 destabilized the child care sector and many child care providers closed.

    A lack of affordable, reliable child care has a negative impact on our economy, economic recovery and development.

    According to the First Five Years Fund, working families across the United States lose more than $8.3 billion in wages annually due to inadequate child care access. A 2019 report described that access to stable, high-quality child care helps parents improve their productivity by increasing work hours, missing fewer work days and pursuing further education. Child care increases parents’ participation in the workforce and contributes to overall economic productivity.

    Families with low incomes spend about 35% of their earnings on child care. The impact of these significant costs causes them to balance child care against other essential needs, navigate multiple providers or rely on less safe and nurturing environments for their children. Child care deserts—areas where there are too few child care spaces to meet demand—are more common in low-income areas.

    Parents looking for child care can contact Childcare Resource and Referral of the Santa Clara County Office of Education at or by calling (669)  212–5437. Childcare Resource and Referral helps families access child care that meets their specific needs and also supports early learning and care providers to access a system that supports their programmatic and financial success.

    Last week, Susan Ellenberg, president of the Santa Clara County Board of  Supervisors, announced a significant investment in child care through a Childcare Expansion Grant Program. The program is being administered by the Valley  Health Foundation through a contract with the county. Applications opened this month.

    The grant program allocates $15 million of federal Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds under the American Rescue Plan Act. Funding will support local child care providers serving communities negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to open, reopen or increase the total number of affordable child care spaces.

    Child care providers eligible for infrastructure funding may include licensed Family Child Care Homes (FCCH), center-based and other community agencies and FCCHs that expect to obtain a license within six months of submitting an application. Priority will be given to child care providers who meet select equity criteria to serve communities in greatest need of child care and to reflect the geographic and cultural diversity of Santa Clara County.

    Child care providers can learn more about this funding availability by visiting program.html.

    Increasing access to affordable child care in Santa Clara County can strengthen our economy, help working families, make our communities safer and give children an opportunity to thrive and succeed. Child care is essential infrastructure for our economy.

    San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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