Child care is at the forefront of discussions about Santa Barbara County’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are at a critical juncture in our recovery from the pandemic,” said Holly Goldberg, project manager of the Santa Barbara County Emergency Child Care Initiative, which formed in April 2020 and is funded by the Santa Barbara Foundation and First 5 Santa Barbara County.
Several local organizations recommend that the county and cities each contribute 5% of their American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocation toward establishing a countywide emergency response system to address needs and increase access to child care to support the ability for parents to return to the workforce, as well as preparedness for future emergencies.
It’s estimated that the county has more than 33,100 children ages 0 to 5 years old, accounting for roughly 7.4% of the overall population.
Pre-pandemic, there were more than two children needing care for every space available, and nearly six children needing care for every infant-toddler space available.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the existing shortages of child care in the county, according to a presentation titled, “Rebuilding the Economy by Investing ARPA Funds Into Child Care.”
The Goleta City Council on Tuesday received information on child care issues facing the county. For the first time in about 16 months, all five members of the Goleta City Council sat inside the council chamber on Cremona Drive for an in-person meeting.
“We are here to ask you to join the county and other cities within our county to invest ARPA funds for child care recovery and emergency preparedness,” Goldberg told the Goleta leaders.
The City Council made no formal decision on the request.
The pandemic’s effects on child care in the county were crippling, but it could have been worse without the efforts of child care providers and the Santa Barbara County Emergency Child Care Initiative, according to Goldberg.
“If the COVID pandemic is not used as a catalyst to reimagine our current child care system, it will remain fragmented, inequitable, inaccessible and underfunded,” Goldberg said.
There is hope, she added.
“This group (Santa Barbara County Emergency Child Care Initiative) that has been on the ground working tirelessly in response to the pandemic has clear guidance and insight on what is needed for our cities and county to recover,” Goldberg said. “We must shore up the child care industry now in order for our economy to recover.”
Goldberg sent the Goleta council a letter on behalf of First 5 Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Santa Barbara County Child Care Planning Council, Children’s Resource and Referral of Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara County Education Office, Santa Barbara County Quality Counts, United Way of Santa Barbara County, the Audacious Foundation, the LegacyWorks Group and Eileen Monahan Consulting.
In the letter, Goldberg said funding from the state and federal governments will not be enough to recover the stability of the child care sector.
The proposal calls for the county and area cities to invest ARPA funds for developing and instituting a coordinated child care emergency management plan, integrating child care into local emergency response systems, creating a child care data sharing and communication system, and providing direct technical assistance to child care businesses to help recover and prepare for the next emergency.
The federal government allocated $250 billion to local governments across the nation as part of the ARPA. Goleta will receive more than $5.9 million in ARPA funding, according to a staff report. The total funds requested for the child care effort would amount to an estimated $296,700 over two years.
If the county and all cities invested, that would provide slightly more than $8 million over three years, Goldberg said in response to a question by Councilman Roger Aceves.
“Our intent is to use ARPA funds to address unmet needs from other funding sources,” Goldberg said.
A financial commitment from each city is needed in order for the county to continue prioritizing investment in a child care network, and to ensure equitable planning across the county, according to Goldberg.
“The proposed strategies are perfectly in line with what ARPA funds are meant for,” Goldberg said.
The county Emergency Child Care Initiative initially helped set up child care for businesses with essential workers in response to the pandemic.
Additionally, local foundations and child care supporting agencies joined to mobilize emergency response to the ever-changing public health crisis.
“The initial collaborations carried us through the pandemic,” said Taundra Pitchford, early care and education services coordinator at the Santa Barbara County Education Office. “However, in order to fully recover and prepare for the next emergency, further support is critically needed.”
The pandemic created unprecedented challenges related to child care, Pitchford said, mentioning that working parents struggled to fulfill job responsibilities when the schools closed and child care programs ended.
Child care issues affect everyone, including working families, businesses and the economy, Pitchford said.
“The current shortage cripples the ability to return to work and impedes on our local economic recovery,” Pitchford said. “The implications impact everyone.”
Pitchford mentioned some lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught.
“We learned how devastating it was to not have coordinated child care, emergency action and communication plans in place prior to the disaster, and the ripple effect of the lack of planning,” Pitchford said.
Child care providers “now need help recovering and keeping their doors open, so parents can get back to work,” Pitchford said.
Councilman James Kyriaco requested that the council receive the presentation on investing ARPA funds into child care.
“There is a lot of merit to the issues that are being raised,” Kyriaco said. “Child care infrastructure is something I personally raised over a year ago at the onset of COVID, and that was before we knew exactly how much local capacity we had lost.”
Children are the workforce of Goleta’s future, Kyriaco added.
“The more we invest in them, the more they’re going to learn and the more they’re going to grow,” Kyriaco said.
Mayor Paula Perotte asked whether other cities in the county have made any commitments.
Members of the county Board of Supervisors and the Santa Maria City Council heard a similar presentation, plus officials met with the Santa Barbara City Council, according to Goldberg.
“Each of the cities (Buellton, Carpinteria, Goleta, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Solvang) received the memo, and there has been lots of back and forth communication,” Goldberg noted.
— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.