BY KARA SHOEMAKER
Many children in Santa Barbara County are not receiving the quality child care they need to ensure kindergarten readiness and lifelong success. Why? For one thing, Santa Barbara County’s child poverty rate of 26.3% is the third highest in California. This means that thousands of families in our county are struggling to afford the high cost of living and afford good quality child care, which is a cost that can take up a considerable portion of a family’s income.
Meighan Parker, a former Santa Barbara resident who moved her family to Lompoc, where property and the cost of living is much more affordable, has experienced this dilemma. “Three months after my son was born I had to go back to work, and my husband was working part time at a hotel and going to school to get a degree in hospitality. We basically had one and a half incomes and couldn’t afford child care. It was crazy when we thought about it – are we both going to work full time, work our tails off, and spend little time as a family, just so we can put all of our money into rent and child care?” explained Parker.
Families across California face these challenges. Quality early child care is not a luxury; it has a real, measurable impact on a child’s future. That’s why the Santa Barbara Foundation invested in the Choose Children 2018 campaign, a statewide coalition to advocate for California gubernatorial candidates to prioritize child care.
“We had to go to the source of the problem and that’s getting the government, in this case the state, to prioritize child care as part of educational outcomes,” said Rubayi Estes, Director of Evaluation and Learning at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “We needed to make them understand that this is a bigger problem than just a child care problem, this is a lifelong problem.”
Throughout California, foundations and First5 organizations, including the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, sat down one on one with legislators to advocate for the importance of child care.
“The Santa Barbara Foundation was so key in lending their name and support to the Choose Children 2018 campaign because we wanted to avoid the perception that it was just Los Angeles and the Bay Area,” said Pete Weldy, Director of Policy for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. “We really wanted and needed representation from the Central Coast, the Central Valley, San Diego, to make sure the candidates knew that it wasn’t just Silicon Valley money driving this campaign, but that it was truly statewide.”
The Choose Children 2018 campaign succeeded in getting the attention of legislators and gubernatorial candidates. Gavin Newsom was elected governor, and his budget includes $5 million towards comprehensive, high quality, and affordable child care and preschool. “Investing in our youngest Californians is the best investment we can make, and I made a commitment to support the youngest Californians and their parents so that they can get a quality education, good health care, and other things they need to have successful lives,” said Governor Newsom.
While this is an enormous step in the right direction, there remain many obstacles to making child care more accessible. There continues to be a shortage of affordable child care centers in our county, infant and toddler care is still underfunded and in great demand, and there are few professional development opportunities for licensed child care providers to advance in their careers and make a livable wage.
As part of the Santa Barbara Foundation’s commitment to strengthening working and vulnerable families, we continue to engage with local partners to address the challenges of providing quality care for our youngest residents. We currently work with private and social sector child care providers to support increased access to affordable child care opportunities.
The Santa Barbara Foundation’s work to advocate for children would not be possible without the generosity of our donors. To learn how you can help working families in Santa Barbara County, please visit our Child Care page.