Santa Clara County announces inaugural children’s budget and child care funding
Santa Clara County Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Cindy Chavez announced the county's first Children's Budget Monday. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Nearly a quarter of Santa Clara County’s population is under the age of 18, but until recently, the county didn’t have a way to measure the full span of services it provides to support its youngest 450,000 residents.

Supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Cindy Chavez, who announced Monday the inaugural Children’s Budget, also proposed allocating $3 million to improve child care facilities — which was unanimously approved during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Joined by County Executive Jeff Smith, County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, nonprofit First 5 CEO Jolene Smith and retired Superior Court Judge Leonard Edwards, leaders hope the first annual report will highlight current spending, show gaps of coverage and aid plans of future support.

“Santa Clara County needs to prioritize children, because doing so is the single most vital investment we can make in the future of our community,” Ellenberg said Monday. “We are unable to accomplish that goal without knowing first where we stand today.”

There wasn’t a central place to find this data before the county started compiling numbers this summer. But now that the first ever children’s budget is done, Chavez said there are two big next steps: looking at outcomes of the invested money and to seek additional funds to support youth countywide.

“Gov. Gavin Newsom this year is investing a lot more money in child care than we’ve seen in previous years,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “So, now that we know what we’re spending today and what our program gaps are, it’s going to … perhaps give us an opportunity to get more money through matching sources because, broadly, we’re helping to set the pace of what we’re investing in kids.”

Essentially, knowing these numbers can further leverage funding from not only state and federal sources, leaders said, but also philanthropic and private-sector sources – similar to the upcoming 2020 Census.

The county spent around $170 million – 2 percent of its general fund budget – on services and programming for children and youth, according to the 2019-20 fiscal year report. That spending amounts to 10 percent when state and federal funding is added in. Those dollars spanned 17 different county departments, with the Social Services Agency and Behavioral Health Services receiving the most money, at $500 million and $150 million, respectively.

Judge Edwards said Monday’s announcement is an exciting new beginning, especially compared to the 1950s and 60s. He said kissing babies was a politician’s way of showing advocacy for children back then – not through budgets or political actions.

“Children were not the top of the agenda for the Board of Supervisors,” said Edwards, who founded the Juvenile Court Judges of California, Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council, Kids in Common and Child Advocates of Silicon Valley. “This is just the beginning. The Children’s Data Book and the Children’s Budget, together, are the foundation for the future. What we’re trying to do is to build a better world, and the only way we can build a better world is to have better investments in our children.”

Smith said creating the report wasn’t easy. While officials had some trouble distinguishing every single dollar or service the county provides to children and youth, Smith said he expects the report’s list to continue to grow.

President Joe Simitian noted that he hopes efforts to institutionalize support for children in the county will remain in both good and bad financial time, unlike a former “Children’s Czar” position, which coordinated similar programs and services in 1999, but was cut after tough budgeting.

Ellenberg and Chavez on Tuesday also requested setting aside $3 million in a child care facilities reserve. Those dollars from the general fund will be used to tackle improvements of the facilities and environmental health of existing child care centers and family child care homes.

There are 631 licensed child care centers and 1,510 family child care homes in Santa Clara County, but Ellenberg said there are 28,000 children between the ages of birth and 2 years old who do not have access to affordable, quality child care due to shortages in the workforce, facilities and programming available.

“The facilities, frankly, was the one that was the most tangible of those three,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight. “We saw there’s a direct fix, and the money can do this.”

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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