According to the report produced by Child Care Aware, child care for an infant now costs more than public university tuition. In California, the average cost of full-time infant care in a center is nearly $12,000. Average college tuition is $9,022. California ranks seventh in the country for having the least affordable infant care.
Considering that many parents have two children under age five, annual child care costs can easily reach $16,000. That’s a huge chunk for a two-parent family (state median income is $80,766) and likely out of reach for a single mother (state median is $27,534).
Subsidized care is one answer. The federally-funded Head Start program serves about a quarter of all Contra Costa children in child care. Unfortunately, state funding for child care has been drastically reduced in the yearly efforts to control the state budget – more than $1 billion in the last three years alone. As of 2011, more than 2,500 kids were on waitlists to receive a child care subsidy in Contra Costa.
The irony is that research confirms that high quality child care has the greatest impact on low-income children – the kids least likely to get it.
So what choices do parents have? Some may choose not to work or might place their child in less than ideal child care situations, relying on friends, relatives, or other unlicensed caregivers. As the Child Care Aware report states, “Parent choice in child care is a national policy objective. But when the only choice parents have is among poor quality settings, that is not a real choice.”
One thing we’re doing locally in partnership with the Contra Costa Child Care Council and the Thomas J. Long Foundation is to improve child care quality in centers and child care homes located in the county’s lowest income neighborhoods.
We worked with 45 centers and family child care homes last year in our Preschool Makes a Difference Program (PMD), providing specialized teacher training, literacy programs, and facility improvements. These programs reach about 1,040 children.
Our goal is still high-quality early education that is available, accessible, and affordable for all. After all, affordability and quality are intertwined. Parents should start saving for college, but America should start investing in early education.