Contra Costa Times, “Budget cuts threaten child care as parents battle costs” (Aug. 13, 2010)
“I’ve been to three ‘Stand for Kids’ marches in Sacramento (to save CalWORKs),” said Loomis, a graphic designer for a sign company in Antioch. “(Providers) want $180 to $200 a week per child, and that would be my entire paycheck if I had to pay it all myself.”
The cost of child care in the Bay Area can be daunting, and the problem is getting worse, according to the Contra Costa Child Care Council, a nonprofit contractor that places subsidized and nonsubsidized clients in child care countywide.
Full-time care for a child younger than 2 ranges from $860 to $1,500 a month in the East Bay, depending on the provider and location, according to the council.
Providers charge from $625 to $900 a month for preschoolers and somewhat less for school-age children.
“When you have more than one child, the costs, of course, multiply,” said Susan Shiu, communications director for the council.
Even parents with two healthy incomes are feeling the strain.
Christine and Rick Helmer, of Concord, pay $1,900 a month for three days a week of child care for their 3-year-old daughter, Fienna, and their nearly 2-year-old twin boys, Brennan and Devin.
Christine, a middle school history teacher in Pleasanton, and Rick, a lab technician at Electronic Arts in Redwood City, make too much money to qualify for help.
They feel lucky that Christine’s parents and Rick’s mother live in Concord and can take the kids twice a week.
“The expense has been difficult, and it’s difficult to find good child care,” Christine Helmer said. “(We found one provider) who showed the kids an hour of TV a day, and I didn’t think that was appropriate at all.”
Sources that provide child care subsidies include the federal Head Start program and CalWORKs, both of which target families with very low incomes or no income.
Money is also available from county programs and First Five, a statewide organization with dedicated funding from tobacco taxes that pays for preschool and other programs for children younger than 5, Shiu said.
Most subsidies pay a flat rate on a sliding-scale based on income, and parents can spend more money if they want to enroll in more expensive child care, Shiu said.
Many families qualify for subsidized care but can’t get it because there is not enough money to go around, said council Director Kate Ertz-Berger.
At the end of June, 3,347 families and 4,101 children were on the council’s waiting list for subsidized care. At the same time, 30,000 children were in child care countywide, with 6,714 openings available.
“There may be more than 6,000 child care slots available, but clearly there are families who need care now but can’t afford it,” Shiu said.
Ertz-Berger called the chances of those on the waiting list getting help from the state or federal government “slim to just this side of none.”
“These programs cost more than government is willing to entertain,” she said. “There just isn’t enough money to go around.”
There are 7,210 children and 5,478 families on the waiting list for subsidized child care in Alameda County, according to Oakland-based Bananas, one of three contractors in Alameda County that help families provide subsidized care.
About 25 percent get off the waiting list, said Bananas’ Kim Kruckel.
Being on that waiting list is often “a terrible, stressful” experience for families, she said.
Many parents try to find a temporarily solution while waiting for child care to become available, Kruckel said.
“They ask neighbors or family members to look after their kids, but these people often turn out not to be very reliable,” she said. “And then the parents have to start taking days off work.” Delores Blackman, of Pittsburg, has been on the Contra Costa Council’s waiting list for financial aid for two years for her 3-year-old son, Joseph Casely-Hayford.
She has been paying $140 a week for child care during the school year, and relies on her two teenage children to take care of Joseph during the summer.
Blackman said she wants Joseph to interact with other children his age, but the cost has been a burden.
“It’s been a huge financial sacrifice,” said Blackman, a mental health consultant. “It’s gotten to the point where there are no reserves, and I can’t afford to pay for anything.”
Help may be on the way. Now that Joseph is 3, the council has told Blackman he’s eligible for the First Five preschool program, which is not tied to the overburdened state or federal budgets.
With the older kids about to return to school, the prospect of free preschool is a tremendous relief, Blackman said.
“My understanding is that (First Five) will pay the whole (tuition),” she said.
Visiting journalist Andras Szigetvari contributed to this story. Contact Rick Radin at 925-779-7166.
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