Budget cuts, low salaries and staff reductions are depriving Humboldt County families of needed child care, leaving preschoolers short-changed and making it harder for employers to fill jobs, according to a new analysis by Humboldt State University’s California Center for Rural Policy. The report was commissioned by the Local Child Care Planning Council.
The CCRP’s "Child Care Needs Assessment" found that about half the approximately 30,000 families in Humboldt County—11% of them single-parent households—were in the workforce. Those parents potentially require child care, and preschoolers are the largest group in need.
Yet the county’s licensed child-care facilities are shutting down in considerable numbers despite steady growth in child population over the last decade. Seven facilities shut down last May alone, according to the CCRP. Caregivers, already low paid and buffeted by high turnover, are burdened with mounting state budget cuts that force care centers to lay off staff and reduce hours of service.
"We need to make sure decision-makers are aware of old rules that block new child care facilities,” said Jeanine Canedo-Moncrief, chair of the Local Child Care Planning Council. “Our communities need child care addressed in local general plans. This assessment shows us all that the economy is affected by what happens in child care and that child care is a necessity."
"The CCRP needs assessment illuminates a serious burden for working families—and a challenge for our economy,” added Wendy Rowan, executive director of First 5 Humboldt, the Humboldt County Children and Families Commission. “As child care capacity in the county decreases, employers will struggle with keeping the workforce they need."
The assessment also found that Humboldt County families are disproportionately affected by the cost of child care, already among the highest of family expenses. Full-time infant care in a licensed center averages 15% of income. Put another way, the average price of full-time infant care is nearly double the cost of college tuition.
But for a Humboldt family, the cost is 19%. And the high cost is the main barrier to care, according to the CCRP.
"As a council, we want the community to understand that although child care seems expensive, child-care providers have experience and education that warrant a living wage,” Canedo-Moncrief said. “What is more, child care providers help prepare our children for school."
Monthly child care fees are often higher than a family's food expenses, and California is one of the most expensive states for child care, data show.
The CCRP analysis, approved by the Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools and signed off recently by the county’s Board of Supervisors, also concluded that more and better child care data are needed. They should be collected frequently enough to detect trends amid the diversity of Humboldt County families, the study showed.
"It is difficult to find all of the necessary data in one place,” said Melissa Jones, CCRP health policy analyst. "It's clear that child care is something the community depends on, and if we could show progress over time, it would be useful for advocates locally and statewide.”
The Local Child Care Planning Council has 10 members drawn from providers, consumers, public agencies, administrators and the community. It is required to perform or commission a needs assessment every five years.
Canedo-Moncrief said the council will focus the results on educating various economic sectors and decision-makers on the importance of child care and the challenges it raises. “In light of program cuts and the reduced number of new licensed facilities, the time is now to help families in our community," she said.The assessment is available in full at https://www.humboldt.edu/ccrp/blog/humboldt-county-child-care-needs-assessment.