In summary

Andrea Golloher, San Jose State University: California policymakers must strive to ensure that members of the early childhood workforce earn a worthy wage, have incentives to expand infant and toddler care, and receive the necessary support for quality improvement and training to meet the needs of each and every child, from the start.

By Andrea Golloher, Special to CalMatters

Andrea Golloher is an assistant professor at San Jose State University, and associate director of the Early Childhood Institute at San Jose State, andrea.golloher@sjsu.edu. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

Support for each and every child from the start: A call for affordable, high-quality care and education for babies and toddlers across the state

Gov. Gavin Newsom has drawn increased attention to early childhood care and education in California. And for good reason. 

Research shows long-term benefits of high-quality programming, such as fewer placements in special education, improved graduation rates, and ultimately, increased earnings by 1.3 to 3.5%.

These benefits are more pronounced for the most vulnerable children and their families, including people experiencing poverty and other stressors, such as immigration threats, community violence, and housing insecurity.  

While some working parents rely on family, friends, or neighbors for child care, many seek options for licensed infant/toddler care in either center-based or family child care programs.

Finding high-quality infant and toddler care, however, is a major challenge for California families. The capacity of centers and family child care homes is insufficient to meet demand. 

As of 2017, the number of available slots in Santa Clara County, for example, was approximately 28,000 fewer than the estimated number of children under age 2 in need of care.

Meanwhile, parents who are able to secure a spot for their child will spend on average $19,000 per year on care until their child turns 3. That is more than the cost of tuition at public California universities. 

In addition to expanding access to subsidized child care and state-funded preschool to meet demand, the state needs to invest in changes to the early learning system to ensure all young children receive high-quality care and education. 

High-quality infant and toddler care requires high teacher-to-child ratios so that teachers can meet the individualized needs of each child. 

These critical personnel expenditures, in addition to basic forces of supply and demand, increase the cost of care and, by default, limit the number of slots that programs can offer.

Without incentives to offer spaces to infants and toddlers, parents will continue to face seemingly endless waitlists and high expenses for care.

Knowledgeable and professional caregivers, who are at the heart of high-quality infant and toddler care, have tremendous responsibility in their work. They must be prepared to establish safe, inclusive, and engaging environments that are critical during this time of rapid brain development.

They must recognize and respond to each child’s unique needs, while being sensitive to the linguistic and cultural diversity of the families they serve. These teachers also must partner with parents and other service providers, to identify children in need of specialized support during the years when the brain is most malleable.

What many of us may not realize is that teachers in infant and toddler classrooms are paid less on average than teachers in preschool classrooms, making it difficult to recruit and retain the skilled practitioners needed to care for California’s youngest children. 

To build a pipeline of qualified child care providers prepared to support this highly vulnerable population, we must offer a worthy wage for their work and expertise.

The heightened focus on expanding preschool and transitional kindergarten in California is exciting and promising for all who care about the well-being of young children and their families.

But we cannot afford to look past children in their first very important years of life. 

Policymakers ought to consider how new resources can be targeted to increase access to well-funded, high-quality care and education for the entire birth-to-five age range. 

California policymakers must strive to ensure that members of the early childhood workforce earn a worthy wage, have incentives to expand infant and toddler care, and receive the necessary support for quality improvement and training to meet the needs of each and every child, from the start.

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Andrea Golloher is an assistant professor at San Jose State University, and associate director of the Early Childhood Institute at San Jose State, andrea.golloher@sjsu.edu. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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