Families across California can now search for open child care programs on a new state website — though essential workers are the only ones who can take advantage under the state’s shelter-in-place orders.
Creating one online “portal” where families all over the state can search for open child care programs has been a goal of the state for a long time — “almost two decades in the making,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during his Thursday press briefing.
“These challenges, you know, they birth necessity and innovation,” he said.
In the past, families searching for care either had to contact individual programs or go through local child care resource and referral agencies to find out what options were available in their area.
Under the state’s shelter-in-place order, children should currently be attending child care programs only if they are the children of essential workers or are homeless, in foster care, are at risk of being neglected or abused, or have disabilities or special health care needs. Children of essential workers are now eligible for free child care during the shelter-in-place order.
Newsom said that 63% of the licensed child care facilities have been “impacted” because of the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of programs have closed; others have lost many of their students. He said that the state and counties have worked with hospitals and other employers to open up 432 pop-up child care facilities to serve hospital workers and other essential workers.
Families who need child care can search the website by zip code to see what homes and centers are open. They can also find out how many slots they have open for children, hours of operation, as well as information about complaints and reports on health and safety made by Community Care Licensing, the agency that oversees child care licensing and operations in the state.
The website does not appear to include all child care centers or homes, and may not be completely up to date. For example, it shows at least some child care centers with open spaces that have actually closed. The website states it will be updated twice a week.
Newsom acknowledged that the portal may not show many child care centers available in some neighborhoods.
“That’s on us to do more and do better in that space,” Newsom said. “The constraints with so many of these facilities shutting down makes that more challenging, but that’s our responsibility to work through and figure out.”
Newsom announced that the federal government’s coronavirus stimulus bill, the CARES Act, includes $350 million to help California bolster child care during this time. He said he would give more details in his revised budget proposal in May.
Some early education advocates applauded the efforts to get the portal up and running.
“Families in California often struggle to find access to child care that meets their needs,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a research and advocacy organization based in Oakland. “This is exacerbated much more right now as essential workers try to find open spaces that meet the demands of their work, as well as the social, emotional and developmental needs of their children.”
Finding child care will be crucial, as the shelter-in-place order is revised and more people are able to go back to work, said Kimberley Johnson, director of the California Department of Social Services.
“We’ll continue to take thoughtful approaches to ensure the safety and well-being of children as we look at our roadmap to modify the stay-at-home order,” Johnson said.
She highlighted the department’s health and safety guidelines for child care programs that are open during the coronavirus pandemic. The guidelines call for child care providers to do activities outdoors as much as possible and to keep children separate from each other by using carpet squares, tape, or string to create individual spaces for them to play or sit. They also require providers to keep cots for naptime 6 feet apart and change the way children are dropped off or picked up, to prevent families from congregating with each other.
Similar health and safety guidelines for child care issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been criticized by some advocates as being unrealistic and difficult for most child care programs to follow.
“The sheer breadth of recommended routines requires a level of staffing and space — placing children six feet apart at naptime for example! — that programs typically do not have and that actually run counter to how children and their teachers interact in group settings,” reads a statement written by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley, which researches and proposes policies for improving conditions for the early education workforce.