A state agency issued a report Wednesday concluding that there is a significant scarcity of child care for working-class families in Orange County.
The percentage of licensed slots to care for infants up to 2 years stands at just 5%, according to the report from the First 5 Orange County commission.
There are 107,870 children up to 2 years old in the county, but only 5,170 licensed slots, with 4,476 in licensed child-care centers.
For preschoolers aged 3 to 4 there are enough licensed slots for 70%, according to the report.
Throughout the county, 60% of families with children up to 4 years old have both parents working.
Some infants and toddlers do not require child care because at least one parent or another caregiver is at home to watch them. But “even if only one-third of infants and toddlers in Orange County required child care, there would still only be enough licensed capacity for one in seven children,” according to the commission.
The commission’s report concluded that there is high demand for full-day programs and that Head Start programs have wait lists for full-day care, but sometimes have vacancies for part-time care.
The price of child care is often a budget buster, the commission said. The average annual price in the county for full-time care at a center for one infant or toddler is $15,650. For two young children it is $26,150.
A full-time program for preschoolers averages $10,500. The share of median family income devoted for child care is 26%, according to the report.
Part of the problem is the high cost of providing quality care for infants and toddlers.
“Reimbursement rates do not cover costs and are a disincentive for providers, even if they want to serve young children,” according to the report. “Increases in requirements for teachers are often not matched by increased reimbursement rates. As a result, the sector relies on an underpaid workforce.”
The commission also characterized the child care system in the county as “fragmented, with different components not always coordinating with one another.”
The commission recommended improved access to data sharing on capacity, enrollment and wait lists.
“This gap became even more clear in March when the pandemic forced child care providers to close and there was not an easy way to find out who had reopened and their capacity to serve children of essential workers,” according to the report.
Another issue is the low pay offered to child-care workers, particularly for caregivers for infants and toddlers. That leads to a lot of turnover in the field, the commission said.
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, the vice chairman of the board, said he and Supervisor Doug Chaffee intend to propose dedicating some of the county’s share of federal CARES Act money intended for the COVID-19 pandemic “to assist child care providers and parents.”
Do added that “COVID-19 has placed a tremendous burden on child care. Parents may not be able to afford to pay; providers cannot afford to stay open; and children lose out on socialization and learning opportunities. We need to give the next generation of children the skills they need to thrive. The county is proud to be able to assist.”
Kimberly Goll, president and CEO of First 5 Orange County, said:
“We’re calling on all sectors of the Orange County community — parents, child care providers, business and civic leaders — to join us as we work toward finding solutions to an issue that ultimately impacts all of us as a community.”