UPDATE: Santa Clara County commits to millions in child care services
Santa Clara County is looking to approve $5 million for FIRST 5 to continue initiatives that will help grow the local child care workforce. Photo courtesy of FIRST 5.

    Santa Clara County is making a historic investment in child care services and workforce development in an effort to stave off an ongoing crisis.

    The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to spend $20 million to help fund three programs run by FIRST 5 and establish a grant program to help reopen day care facilities that shuttered over the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief package signed into law in 2021. Santa Clara County received $374 million from the package.

    FIRST 5, an organization that supports the healthy development of children from prenatal through age 5, will receive $5 million to continue initiatives to help grow the local workforce.

    County officials also hope to help bring back services decimated during the pandemic through the $15 million grant initiative. The county will prioritize facilities serving low-income families and those looking to increase services for infants and toddlers. Grants will cover the costs of construction and renovation of child care facilities and help pay operational expenses.

    “The urgency is now,” Supervisor Susan Ellenberg told San José Spotlight. “Our economy cannot recover from a worldwide pandemic unless we start to work from the premise that universal access to child care is good for the entire economy.”

    Supervisor Sylvia Arenas said child care has become the top issue for working families. Thousands of children in her district can’t access services due to the lack of providers, she said.

    “This childcare infrastructure is so vital,” Arenas said Tuesday. “This is just absolutely exciting (because) it means that we can now actually fill this pipeline, give people an opportunity for a job and keep our children in a safe place.”

    To address the crisis, the county launched a pilot program to help its employees pay for child care and created a new agency dedicated to children and family services. Elected officials voted last year to give FIRST 5 a $5 million contract to jumpstart three new programs to foster and support early education workers. The efforts include an apprenticeship where college students could gain work experience while still in school, a support system for family child care home providers and a program to train more transitional kindergarten teachers.

    Both of the education initiatives have a 100% success rate so far, FIRST 5 officials told San José Spotlight. The new $5 million contract will expand these programs.

    “The workforce issues are paramount, because even as you open up new child care spaces, if you don’t have teachers in those classrooms, then you have empty classrooms,” Heidi Emberling, interim chief program officer of FIRST 5, told San José Spotlight. “We’re building a pipeline that hasn’t existed.”

    More than a dozen community members expressed support for the investments. Grail Family Services Executive Director Veronica Goei said the funding will help ease the financial burden many families face. Grail Family Services has provided child care services for more than two decades.

    “There’s simply not enough slots available to meet the demand,” Goei said Tuesday. “These investments will have a tremendous impact in our ability to care for young residents, especially in underinvested communities.”

    The one-time fund comes as Santa Clara County struggles with a severe shortage of child care facilities and workers. Roughly 700 local day care facilities have closed over the past decade, with more than 300 closing over the pandemic, according to officials. Many child care educators are fleeing their jobs for other work with higher pay, such as fast food and retail jobs, county officials said. Others have left the area completely due to the high costs of living.

    Families in the region continue to struggle with the high cost of child care, which has risen twice as quickly as regional inflation since 2010, according to a 2023 Joint Venture Silicon Valley report. At the same time, approximately 46% of children in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties live in households that don’t earn enough money to cover basic needs. More than two-thirds of children who need care in Santa Clara County don’t have access to services, state data shows.

    County officials will provide quarterly reports to the supervisors about the spending of the fund. The county is also working on a report on potential new child care locations.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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