California lost about 2 percent of its licensed child care slots over a recent two-year period, with the biggest decline in care providers who offer more affordable services by operating out of their homes, according to a new statewide report.
The California Child Care Resource and Referral Network on Thursday released its biennial portfolio, outlining the availability and cost of child care statewide and by county in 2014.
Child care costs make up more than half of the budget of families, about the same as in 1996, when the network issued its first portfolio. Since then, full-time child care costs have risen between 23 and 26 percent when adjusted for inflation, depending on the age of the child, according to the network.
The average cost for an infant in a center was $13,327 a year in 2014.
“These are exorbitant costs that families have to pay in these counties for licensed child care in a center,” said Rowena Kamo, the network’s research director, in a webinar. “We continue to see that these costs are rising and it’s unaffordable for families.”
Child care providers who operate out of their homes, known as family child care homes, are typically more affordable than child care centers. Family child care homes charge an average of $8,462 a year for infants. For preschool-aged children, the average cost was $7,850 for family homes, compared to $9,106 for center care.
While the number of center slots increased by 1 percent from 2012 to 2014, the number of family child care home spaces dropped by 7 percent. Overall, the number of licensed slots declined by 18,000 over those two years, with decreases in 39 of 58 counties.
For family care homes, 46 counties saw a drop in the number of spaces. The number of family care slots has dropped 18 percent since 2008, when availability was at its peak.
Family care homes are often more attractive to families not only because they are less expensive but because they offer more flexible times, such as nights, weekend and part-time hours. But many providers in family-care homes fell on hard times during the recession, losing their homes or failing to get enough payments from families or reimbursements from the state to cover their costs, Kamo said.
Many of the counties that lost spaces had high poverty and unemployment rates: Because the families didn’t have jobs, they weren’t putting children in child care or they couldn’t find jobs because they lacked child care.
“Despite it being less expensive than center-based care, it’s still an unaffordable option for families,” Kamo said.
Licensed child care spaces in California are available for about 25 percent of children ages 0 to 12 with parents in the workforce. With limited slots available, families turn to relatives, friends and babysitters or have flexible work schedules to accommodate child care needs.
“What we are finding is that people are making do by relying on their social networks,” said Linda Asato, the network’s executive director.