The Status of Preschools and Childcare in Santa Cruz County
by Sita Moon, Coordinator, Child Development Resource Center
For those not familiar with the Child Development Resource Center, we are here to help families looking for child care or a preschool program.
Funded by the State of California our free services have been available for more than 40 years as we maintain the list of all licensed programs in Santa Cruz County and offer support to families and providers.
A quick phone call or a visit to our website can help you begin the child care referral process. https://cdrc4info.org/. Our experienced referral counselors will offer information about programs in your search area as well as information on choosing a child care program and how to recognize indicators of quality and safety.
Now, more than ever, this invaluable assistance is needed. As families navigate the uncertain territory of returning to work and children returning to school how can we be comfortable with the idea of letting our little ones enter into a child care setting? And what’s happening with child care and preschool anyway? Are they even open? Is it safe?
Our child care system in Santa Cruz County, as in other places across the country, has really gone through some tough changes due to the pandemic. While the number of child care centers remained consistent over the past 10 years, (around 110 centers serving families county-wide), the number of licensed family child care homes has seen a steady decline.
It was typical for Santa Cruz County to have about 330 child care providers serving children in home based programs. In the years just before the pandemic our numbers had dropped to 275 local providers. This is quite a drop in available child care slots and we were working to recruit new providers.
When the Shelter in Place order came into effect, all programs shut down for about two weeks. We were fortunate in our county, to see that the majority of family child care homes reopened and served essential workers. Then as the Health Orders lifted, the providers were allowed to serve more and more families as they worked to balance the group size with the stable cohort of children in their care.
The allowable group size matched their license capacity and they were not so badly affected by the restrictions of COVID. The child care centers were not so lucky. Every child care program that was located on a school campus was closed and many are still waiting for the chance to reopen. The reduction in numbers due to the small group size imposed by the Health Orders has caused many centers to struggle, hoping that things will change any day.
Our list of open centers dropped as low as 40 sites at one point.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Yes! It looks like we are on the verge of big changes. As our county moves out of the purple tier (and hopefully the red tier) the restrictions are loosening up.
Is it safe? Licensed centers already have a space requirement of 35 square feet per child indoors, and 75 square feet outdoors. The groups of children are limited, consistent and highly supervised. With the amazing efforts of the teachers and child care providers the safety standards put in place by the child care field would rival those of hospitals and clinics. It has been a huge amount of extra work and expense for each program, whether they are home based or center based, and the focus on health and safety is always the motivating factor. And now that the state is having discussions about group size, we believe that things will start to return to normal standards very soon.
The State of California has done its part to support our child care field. Through donations from First 5 California and the Department of Social Services, we have held 5 distribution events to ensure that providers receive the necessary supplies to maintain safe and healthy environments. Money for cleaning supplies as well as many items like hand sanitizer, disinfectant, paper towels, gloves, masks, hand soap and even no-touch thermometers and diapers have all been shared with the programs offering child care services.
The effort to see that all teachers and child care providers in our county receive the COVID-19 vaccination is ongoing, but thanks to the tireless efforts of our County Superintendent of Schools, child care providers have been included in these vaccination clinics along with all other educators, and now the majority of people working with children in our county have received the vaccines.
What advice do we have for families who need child care or preschool?
- Now is the time to begin your search. Get a list of referrals from CDRC.
- Contact the programs of your choice. Get on the wait lists so the programs know they will have enough enrollment to allow them to reopen.
- Help support these programs by letting your local, state and federal officials know how important these vital services are to you.
And if you are fortunate enough to have found a child care provider or preschool, let those people know how much you appreciate them!