Ben Romo: A hearty welcome to Joyce Stone, coordinator for the Santa Barbara County Child Care Planning Council, or CCPC. The council includes parents, child care providers, public agency representatives and the community to ensure broad-based representation.

What is the major role of the CCPC?

Joyce Stone: The Santa Barbara County Child Care Planning Council serves as the local child care and development planning council for Santa Barbara County. Each county in California has one. We work to:

» Conduct an assessment of child care needs in the county at least once every five years

» Analyze that assessment, public input and other data to determine funding priorities by ZIP code for infant and toddler care, preschool and after-school care

» Prepare a comprehensive countywide child care plan to mobilize public and private resources

» Collaborate with local child care providers, the county’s Department of Social Services and other agencies, employers and other interested parties to foster partnerships designed to meet local needs.

BR: I have been impressed with how united leaders in child care are in Santa Barbara County. I know having good data help focus people on what strategies and solutions work. and also help inform the decisions of legislators, local leaders, philanthropists and businesses who are investing in child care. How do you establish the funding priorities?

JS: Our goal is to determine which ZIP codes in our county have the greatest need for subsidized care for children from low-income families. The ZIP code priorities are established based on data gathered for our needs assessment.

We also focus on the need of children in families with household income at 70 percent or lower of the state median income.

We evaluate need for each of the three age groups (infant and toddler, preschool and school-age) to determine if a ZIP code is a Priority One, Priority Two or Priority Three. Funding from the California Department of Education is given first to programs serving families in Priority One ZIP codes.

BR: Some people might find this stuff complicated or mundane, but this is important work you are doing. This is how good government works ... when it is informed by the realities on the ground by local people who know their communities, not some distant bureaucrat in Sacramento. When will the next needs assessment data be released?

JS: The latest needs assessment data have been collected as of 2015. A summary report was released in June 2016. We expect to have the full report by the end of February 2017.

We want this data to be available for everyone to use, and to be aware of the challenges families face. Many are struggling just to survive, to cope with learning a new language, and with other challenges that affect all families, but particularly our lower-income families.

Santa Barbara County has a robust philanthropic base, but there are many unmet needs that need to be addressed. We hope the data and priorities invigorate conversations and remind the community that our children are our future and we need to invest in them.

Any community member can submit ideas for new initiatives or raise an issue to our council, and our meetings are open to all!

BR: What returns can the community expect to see from their investment in early care and education?

JS: Research by leading economists and social scientists confirms the fact that there is a very high rate of return for investments in early care and education.

In fact, a new paper released in December by University of Chicago professor James Heckman estimates a return of 13 percent per year. When we invest in high-quality child care we get future higher productivity and tax revenues and decreased costs for special education, social services and incarceration. It’s the best investment we can make!

BR: I have been lucky to get to know people working in the child care world in recent years through my job at First 5 Santa Barbara County. I don’t think our society always recognizes the critical importance of caregivers. Brain science now confirms they are critical to the success of our children.

JS: Our Planning Council members are amazing! They are the most generous, knowledgeable and committed group of people that I have ever had the honor to work with, in more than 20 years in the field of early childhood education. All of our members have extremely demanding “day jobs” but never hesitate to make themselves available to the council. They contribute their time and expertise on a very high level.

The biggest challenge facing our Child Care Planning Council — and all around the state — is the fact that our funding was cut by 50 percent in the 2010-2011 state budget. At the same time, our mandates and responsibilities have only increased, with added coordination and administration responsibilities — with the California Transitional Kindergarten Stipend Project as one example.

This has put increased pressure on the council members and staff to do more with less. Most people are surprised to learn that we accomplish all our work with barely more than $57,000 per year.

BR: We agree! Tell us a little more about the California Transitional Kindergarten Stipend Project. Transitional kindergarten has been a big question for many.

JS: The Stipend Project was designed by the Legislature to ensure that transitional kindergarten teachers have some higher education units in child development to teach younger children in a manner that supports child development. The project reimburses the educators for their higher education costs.

However, the legislation that created this program had some inherent flaws: many educators are exempt because it applies only to teachers new to a transitional kindergarten classroom after July 2015, district superintendents have the authority to waive the requirement, and funding could be ended by the time some teachers are assigned to transitional kindergarten classrooms.

Nevertheless, we have been able to bring transitional kindergarten and preschool teachers together to learn strategies and techniques from each other. Last summer, we held a five-day Early Learning Summer Institute for transitional kindergarten and preschool teachers, bringing in 10 different trainers on several different topics. We are holding the second one in June.

BR: At First 5, we often hear about the difficulty parents have in securing high-quality, affordable child care. When a child has special needs, it’s even harder. How does the Child Care Planning Council support providers in being more inclusive?

JS: Our Inclusive Child Care Action Team, or ICCAT, is comprised of early intervention specialists and community partners that support children with disabilities and other special needs, such as Alpha Resource Center and Tri-Counties Regional Center.

Joyce Stone, at age 4 on the beach in Santa Cruz.
Joyce Stone, at age 4 on the beach in Santa Cruz. (Stone family photo)

ICCAT shares information and training for providers on how to include all children in their programs. Many providers are concerned that they don’t have the skills to care for children with special needs, and ICCAT works to help them develop the skills and confidence to ensure all children have access to high-quality care.

We really want to support providers in their desires to provide excellent care to all children. Our Early Care and Education Leadership Series started many years ago to serve only staff in subsidized programs, but has since grown to be more inclusive of all child care and development programs in the county with funding from the Orfalea Foundation and then the Santa Barbara Foundation.

BR: One last thing, when we asked for a picture of you in preschool, you sent a picture of yourself at the beach.

JS: Yes! I’m 4 years old at the beach in Santa Cruz. Outdoors was my favorite place to learn! I did not attend preschool — it was not common at the time and I started kindergarten at age 4½.

My favorite part was being able to play with other children my age, sitting in little blue wooden chairs, doing art projects — especially using that white paste that smelled like peppermint to make collages — and getting milk and graham crackers before nap time!

BR: I heartily endorse nap times for all.

Click here for more information about First 5 Santa Barbara County.

— Ben Romo is executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.