Santa Clara County wants to give children and families the necessary tools to succeed in life. To accomplish this, officials have created a new office.
The Office of Children and Families Policy will support and manage a diverse set of priorities that focus on children, youth and family programs. These priorities will monitor the effectiveness of various programs through data and reporting. The office will also partner with a network of local, state and community-based organizations to evaluate funding resources. Although the program is aimed at children ages 0 to 18, it will assist individuals up to age 24, including foster youth.
Rocio Luna, deputy county executive, said the county invests heavily in children and families, providing over 180 different programs. During this past fiscal year, the county spent $1.05 billion on youth, including children’s advocacy, health care and emergency housing, she said. The new office will be funded by the general fund and run through the Office of the County Executive.
“Having an office at the highest-level doubles down on our efforts to support children and youth,” she said.
That support is needed in Silicon Valley, where wealth disparity is growing and approximately 46% of children live in households that don’t earn enough money to cover basic needs, according to a recent report.
The new department is led by Chief Children’s Officer Sarah Duffy, a children’s program analyst, strategist and manager. Among her priorities is the creation of a child care workforce and creating a sustainable model for wellness centers to meet the mental health needs of students on campus.
Duffy said expanding wellness centers in schools is essential, as they’re the best place to reach young people who may be experiencing challenges and need support.
“As we grapple with the impacts of COVID, there’s an even more intense need for behavioral health services and emotional wellbeing services,” she told San José Spotlight.
Duffy said the mission of the office involves listening to youth and families about what they need, particularly in communities that may not usually be heard, as well as taking a data-informed approach into investments and maximizing resources.
‘A workforce crisis’
Jennifer Kelleher Cloyd, CEO of FIRST 5, said she anticipates partnering with the new department immediately. She said child care was decimated during the pandemic. FIRST 5 supports the healthy development of children from prenatal through age 5.
When schools began shifting to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the child care dynamic changed radically. Parents pulled their children out of school and day care due to concerns of COVID exposure. In one month, from March to April 2020, 344,300 jobs were lost nationally in the child care field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To date this sector has not fully recovered. There were 10% less child care workers last April compared with pre-pandemic numbers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kelleher Cloyd is concerned more workers will leave for better paying jobs working in transitional kindergarten, which will be offered to four-year-olds across California by 2025. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for child care workers in 2021 was $27,490 per year while kindergarten teachers earned $61,350 per year. Kelleher Cloyd said investing in better wages and supporting those small businesses is a double win for families and the local economy.
“We have a workforce crisis,” she told San José Spotlight. “At the same time, we have this depleted child care field, which is an additional barrier to parents returning to work post-pandemic.”
Santa Clara County Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Susan Ellenberg led efforts to create the Office of Children and Families Policy, which include elements of their Children’s Roadmap to Recovery, such as expanding wellness centers at schools and building up the early childhood workforce.
Ellenberg told San José Spotlight investing in a child’s first five years relieves future pressure on the criminal justice system, safety nets and hospitals. She said focusing on early prevention and intervention will create a more stable and successful population.
Chavez said having safe, reliable, quality affordable child care is crucial for the community and not having it is why many people haven’t been able to return to work.
“It’s a family issue, human development issue and a significant economic issue,” she told San José Spotlight.
The Office of Children and Families Policy will assess departments and policies countywide, Chavez said, from public health to public safety and the criminal justice system, to determine whether children are receiving the assistance they need to succeed. Chavez said if youth aren’t given proper support when they’re younger, they end up in the county’s systems when they’re older.
“This was an opportunity to dig in and really recognize that the most critical investments we can make in government are really investments in children,” she said.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]