A resource team in Santa Monica has identified nearly 30 children who are eligible for subsidized childcare but won’t be able to get it because there isn’t enough funding, according to a new City staff report.

Right now, Connections for Children supports 50 children – ages zero to five – who will receive local subsidies through the fiscal year for qualifying daycare programs. But with twelve children already on the waitlist and fifteen more identified by a City resource team as needing assistance, the money has simply run out.

“The brain science over the last 20 years is so clear that the first five years of a child’s life makes a huge difference in their development,” Connections’ executive director Patti Oblath said. “It is incumbent on us to provide enriching experiences so we are setting the state for children to thrive.”

The City estimates keeping up with the demand for help requires an additional $468,450 a year in subsidies, bringing the annual budget to $1.3 million. Connections estimates a local subsidy of about $17,350 per child. The local non-profit helps an additional 125 families apply for state and federal subsidies.

“There are not currently sufficient resources to leverage to provide these families with identified need for child care subsidies,” said the report compiled by senior administrative analyst Hazel Larimer.

The City has made early education a priority through two recent programs. The Cradle to Career Initiative brings together service providers, civic institutions and community partners. In 2015, the City established the strategic goal “Learn + Thrive” to increase kindergarten readiness.

“Research demonstrates a positive association between high-quality early care and education and the school readiness of children, especially those that are low-income and show developmental vulnerabilities,” the staff report says.

However, finding funding for those kids is proving difficult. While some children may qualify for Head Start and California Preschool Programs, inclusion is limited by strict income requirements. For example, in order to qualify for the California Preschool Program, a family of four must make less than $50,000 a year. Families are finding they make too much to qualify for support but not enough to pay the escalating costs of daycare.

Connections strives to bridge the gap. A family can make up to 120 percent of Area Medium Income (around $100,000 for a family of four) and still be eligible for subsidies, according to the report. The cost of childcare continues to climb – with the City’s new minimum wage ordinance, many daycares have increased their prices. However, Oblath says an early investment pays dividends.

“It’s really important that we start young when we can make the most difference and prevent later learning difficulties, social and emotional behavior issues,” Oblath said. “We can do so much at that early age that we are wasting an opportunity if we don’t.”

“In pure economic terms it us much more cost-efficient to provide this when the children are young than to remediate later.”

Connections has some funding through a 2015 Human Services grant and from new development projects. However, while some development agreements in recent years have contributed to Connections, the money is limited and sporadic. While the City has banked nearly $2.5 million in Child Care Linkage Fees from development projects, those funds are restricted to capital projects such as brick and mortar buildings.

kate@smdp.com

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