A Closer Look at the Need for Early Care in Monterey County

Recently, Nobel Laureate and University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman returned to our community to highlight the importance of investing in early care and education. According to Heckman, “The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five… ”1 The Bright Futures Education Partnership is committed to improving the learning and development experiences of all children and youth in Monterey County, and we are collaboratively centered on improving outcomes in seven cradle-to-career goals with two cradle-to-career goals specifically addressing the critical areas of early care and education:

Goal 1 – Children have access to quality, affordable early care and education
Goal 2 – Children are prepared for kindergarten

Bright Futures partners with many individuals and community organizations to support these two goals. We work closely with the Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Development Initiative, who leads many of the collaborative efforts in early care and education. Together, we aim to double the number of children in Monterey County prepared for kindergarten by 2025 through systems transformation.2    

It is essential to support children in their early years because 90% of a child’s brain development occurs in the years from birth through age five.3 Providing quality early care and education experiences in the first years of a child’s life is instrumental in supporting social, emotional, cognitive and physical well-being — all of which are key to success in learning and development. Yet, in Monterey County, the availability of child care is low – only 28% of families with children ages 0 to 5 have access to licensed care.  

In addition to the important developmental role of early care, providing safe, affordable, quality care for all children benefits the community and the economy. The COVID-19 Pandemic highlighted the difficult decisions parents face in accessing affordable, quality child care. Although many in the community have long recognized the critical role of high-quality early care experiences, when essential workers were needed in the workforce, it became more apparent that access to child care was not only a concern for children’s healthy development, but for employers and the economic vitality of our community as well. Eighty-four percent of families report seeking child care because of employment.5 When faced with the pandemic, families found it even more challenging to find early care for their children. As a result, many working parents found themselves having to reduce their work hours or leave their jobs to care for their children. When the demand for early care in a community is not met, it has a ripple effect on all sectors of the economy.  

Affordability is also key to access. The cost of full-time child care averages more than $10,000 per year for one child in our county. This is a greater expense than many spend on college tuition! The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that a family should only be spending 7% of their income on childcare.6 With a median household income of approximately $76,943, the cost for early care is well above that recommendation.7 A family earning the median income with two children in full-time care could be spending as much as 29% of their income on care!8

There are many efforts taking place in Monterey County to address these challenges. For example, to support access several community partners worked together to address the challenge of finding available child care. This collaborative effort included Bright Beginnings, Bright Futures, First 5 Monterey County, Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, Monterey County Child Care Planning Council, Monterey County Department of Social Services, Monterey County Office of Education, Quality Matters Monterey County, and United Way Monterey County. As a result, in 2019 they launched www.MontereyCountyChildCare.orgwhich includes resources for parents seeking child care as well as child care and early education providers.9 

During the Pandemic, partners in Bright Beginnings worked together to help child care facilities stay safe and open by ensuring the distribution of personal protective equipment, financial aid, vaccine clinics and weekly news digests to child care and education providers. In addition, they were able to secure $1.5 million in county American Rescue Plan funds for emergency stipends for teachers and child care stipends for families. Analyses are also underway on the infrastructure needed in Monterey County to expand access to child care. The inclusion of child care in the county’s emergency response plan was a huge win for our community.   
For those who are interested in helping to support early care and education in Monterey County, there are ways to get involved. We know that there is a strong need for additional early care facilities, more teachers and increased financial assistance for families. Finding solutions will take the collective work of our whole community. The large geography and other complexities of our county means that our solutions will need to be both broad-based and localized to address the particular needs of individual cities. This effort will “take a village,” encompassing support from business leaders, parents, providers, and city and county administrators, working side-by-side to collaboratively seek and champion solutions to increase safe, accessible, affordable early care and education experiences for our children.
You can support the effort by:

1) Following the work of Bright Futures at https://brightfuturesmc.org/
2) Signing up for the Bright Beginnings newsletter at BrightBeginningsMC.org/stay-up- to-date/ 
3) Learning about Measure Q, the “Safe, Affordable, Quality Child Care Act”
4) If you are an employer, consider providing child care and learn how to be designated as a Family Friendly Employer.
5) Consider becoming an early care provider. Our local higher education institutions all provide degrees to prepare you for a career in early childhood education: Monterey  Peninsula CollegeCabrillo CollegeHartnell College, CSU Monterey Bay
6) Staying informed about policies, ballot measures and legislation that supports early child care 

1) Heckman Equation. (2012) Invest in Early Childhood Development: Reduce Deficits, Strengthen the Economy. Retrieved September 20, 2022 from https://heckmanequation.org/resource/invest-in-early-childhood-development-reduce-deficits
2) Bright Beginnings Monterey County (n.d.). Transforming Systems to Better Support Every Child and Family in Monterey County. Retrieved September 26, 2022 from https://brightbeginningsmc.org/indicators-of-early-childhood-development-2/ 
3) First Things First (n.d.). The First Five Years. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/  
4) California Child Care Resource & Referral Network. California Child Care Portfolio 2019. Monterey County Family & Child Data. Retrieved September 22, 2022 from https://rrnetwork.org/assets/general-files/Monterey-04-20.pdf
5) California Child Care Resource & Referral Network. California Child Care Portfolio 2019. Monterey County Family & Child Data. Retrieved September 22, 2022 from https://rrnetwork.org/assets/general-files/Monterey-04-20.pdf
6) Vega, N. (February 21, 2022). Child Care Now Costs More Than $10,000 Per Year on  Average -Here’s Why That’s a Problem. cnbc.com. Retrieved September 22, 2022 from https://www cnbc.com/2022/02/21/average-cost-of-child-care-is-now-more-than-10000-dollars-per-year.html
7) United States Census Bureau. (2020). Quick Facts Monterey County, California.  Retrieved October 10, 2022 from  U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Monterey County, California
8) California Child Care Resource & Referral Network. California Child Care Portfolio 2019. Monterey County Family & Child Data. Retrieved September 22, 2022 from https://rrnetwork.org/assets/general-files/Monterey-04-20.pdf
9) Monterey County Child Care. (n.d.) About Us. Retrieved September 22,2022 from https://montereycountychildcare.org/about-us/