Holidays worsen child care crisis

Parents pick up their children from school early Dec. 15 when the Los Angeles Unified School District shut down because of a threat of violence.
Parents pick up their children from school early Dec. 15 when the Los Angeles Unified School District shut down because of a threat of violence. The Associated Press

Last week’s emergency closure of Los Angeles Unified School District schools after a security threat meant that 650,000 children needed care within hours. The district asked for cooperation from employers in letting parents leave work and pick up their kids.

For many Californians, this situation is not so unusual. The state does not have enough early childhood support for families, who struggle with lack of access to child care services, especially during the holidays when schools and preschools shut down.

The answer is not as easy as hiring a sitter for a couple of weeks. Child care rates in California range between $125 and $200 per week. For parents working full time and making $12 an hour, the added cost of child care can eat up nearly half of their weekly paycheck at the same time they’re buying holiday gifts.

To make matters worse, many parents actually work more hours during the holidays, not less. It’s busy season for hotel, retail, restaurant and transportation workers. It’s also when many parents take on a temporary second or third job to help pay the bills.

To every Angeleno who was forced to scramble last week to deal with child care for one day, think about having that problem for two weeks.

A lack of child care options impacts 1 million of our state’s 3 million young people. Child care is the second-largest expense, after housing, for low-income families. It is affordable for less than 20 percent of California families, and current subsidies aren’t enough to make up the difference for most families who qualify.

A recent poll conducted by Common Sense Kids Action found that 74 percent of California voters are concerned that the cost of quality preschool or daycare is out of reach for low-income parents and believe that all families should have access to affordable child care. There is clearly concern in California and clear support for action, so why aren’t our leaders doing anything, and what are the solutions?

We can start by creating a “one-stop shop” – both online and in convenient locations across the state – for parents to access available state resources to find and pay for child care services. Now those tools are scattered, leaving parents on their own in a confusing bureaucracy.

We also need to greatly expand the pool of support for families struggling to afford quality child care. For poor families, we need to continue full subsidies for child care. But we should also help families above the poverty line, yet still living paycheck to paycheck, with some level of subsidy determined by their income.

None of this is free, of course. It represents a significant investment in our state’s future. But it is a question of priorities. When something is a real priority, we find a way to pay for it. What could be more worthwhile than getting kids and families off to a good start with the affordable child care they desperately need?

James P. Steyer is the CEO of Common Sense Media, an advocacy group based in San Francisco. He can be contacted at