Mother and daughter reading a book in a day care.
Nallely Perez shares a book with her daughter Barbara in child care classes at Grail Family Services. File photo.

A national survey ranks California among the top five states with the least affordable child care. Local officials say Santa Clara County is worse.

California ranked third, second and fifth for least affordable nannying, babysitting and infant day care in 2023 respectively, based on a national survey of 2,000 respondents with children under age 14 conducted by On average, Californians doled out $890 for a nanny, $197 for a babysitter and $304 for infant day care per week. States with the most affordable child care include Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Child care in Silicon Valley is even more costly, with the average annual cost of infant child care at $26,830 or roughly $516 weekly, and $20,500 or roughly $394 weekly for preschoolers in 2022, according to the 2023 Joint Venture Silicon Valley Index. The index identifies Silicon Valley as Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and parts of Alameda and  Santa Cruz counties.

Heidi Emberling, executive of community impact at FIRST 5 Santa Clara County, a child advocacy group, said she routinely sees families pay 40% or more of their income on child care, far above the 7% the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines as affordable. According to 2023 U.S. Census data, 5.1% of residents in the county are age 5 and under and 20.3% are under 18.

“Child care provides the solid foundation for all other sectors of the economy,” Emberling told San José Spotlight. “Without access to child care, working families cannot go to work in any sector.”

Claudia Rossi, former president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, sees the effects of unaffordable child care every day as a registered nurse, especially within the immigrant community. She said parents rely on family for child care, a responsibility some members struggle to take on.

“When it’s not affordable, parents are still going to work, but it’s the older siblings, it’s the elderly parents that are also filling that void and that is not good for anybody,” she told San José Spotlight.

Unaffordable child care was exacerbated during the pandemic when more than 300 day cares closed in Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Susan Ellenberg is trying to fix that, as one of her priorities mentioned in her State of the County speech.

She helped allocate $15 million from the American Rescue Plan to reopen shuttered centers, renovate old ones and open new ones last year. The board also allocated $10 million to workforce development in 2022, some of which funds a two-year apprenticeship program for child care workers. The program could add roughly 100 workers by 2025.

“There’s such a gap between what it actually costs to provide the care and what providers need to earn so that they themselves are not living in poverty, and what parents can pay,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight.

Emberling said increased subsidized day care vouchers, which are granted to families needing assistance, could help address the issue. Third party assistance organizations, such as Choices for Children or Go Kids, Inc., grant families a voucher through the California Alternative Payment Program and submit payments directly to a day care on a family’s behalf.

Some facilities don’t accept vouchers and sometimes families with a voucher can’t land a spot in a day care due to a shortage of  locations.

In Santa Clara County, a family of four can make a maximum of $8,025 a month to qualify for the alternative payment program, according to data from the county’s Childcare Resource & Referral program, leaving some families who earn just above the income limit stranded.

To combat the subsidy issues, Ellenberg said the county needs to invest more funding into child care infrastructure and develop the workforce, in collaboration with businesses providing child care to employees. She said better child care will lead to a better economy and take the stress off families’ shoulders.

“If people are able to go to work, they are more housing stable, they are living with reduced stress, they’re able to care for their families and their children,” she said. “It’s literally all connected.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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