The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors plans to spend $2 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding on local child care, hoping to expand and support providers serving infants and toddlers.

When surveying local families and providers, First 5, United Way of Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Barbara Foundation found that the lack of affordable infant-toddler spaces “has and continues to have influence on family career decisions,” First 5 of Santa Barbara County executive director Wendy Sims-Moten said during a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

About 1,500 families responded to the surveys, and 67% of them said they spend 25% or more of their monthly household income on child care. Almost half of those families would qualify for subsidies, but 90% of respondents said they are not accessing the subsidies or don’t know if they qualify.

Local child-care providers reported that the average monthly cost for full-time care is $1,481 for an infant and $1,194 for a toddler, according to the United Way survey.

Even with the high cost, there are thousands of parents on waitlists for spaces.

Sims-Moten told the supervisors that there are about 18,085 licensed and licensed-exempt spots for the approximately 46,759 children under 12 who need some type of child care outside the home because parents are working.

“The biggest gap in the supply in demand is with infants and toddlers, with 1,627 spaces available for 9,967 who need care. This is a gap of 8,089 spaces,” said Michelle Robertson of First 5 Santa Barbara County.

Providers reported that their biggest challenge is to keep qualified staff members.

Many of them did not seem interested in expanding to infant-toddler care (ages 0-3), even with universal transitional kindergarten being implemented, according to First 5. By 2026, all 4-year-olds will be able to enter the TK-12 school system.

After universal transitional kindergarten, “there’s not going to be enough kids for the preschool programs, and there will be too many kids for the infant-toddler programs, the relatively small number of infant and toddler programs,” First District Supervisor Das Williams said.

The supervisors also considered giving the money directly to families to subsidize child-care costs, or directly funding local providers, but decided to work with First 5 to develop a request for proposals for funding infant-toddler expansions and supporting the existing spots.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann called the shortage of spots “a major structural problem that affects all employers and families in this county.”

State staffing ratios are higher for infant care, so providers “don’t get back every dollar in tuition that that additional staff investment requires to take care of infants,” Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said.

“It makes business sense for people not to be in the business of taking care of infants, which is a terrible public policy outcome.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at