CITYWIDE — Childcare is plentiful in the city by the sea but there’s a lack of transportation and programs for infants and toddlers, according to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, a Santa Monica-based think tank.
In 2012, City Hall and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District commissioned the study on the state of early and school-age care in Santa Monica.
“Santa Monica providers have more than enough (early childhood education) slots to serve the city’s preschool-age children,” RAND experts said. “However, there appears to be a shortage of infant and toddler spaces.”
Many parents are unaware of the public, early childhood care and out of school programs available to them. A lot of these programs are subsidized but navigating the funding system can be challenging for some parents, the study found.
Because Santa Monica has a relatively low child-poverty rate, few families qualify for financial aid, RAND officials said.
“At the same time, middle-income families may still find it challenging to pay the cost of full-time care in a licensed center or home with monthly fees of $1,000 or more for a preschool-age child and upward of $1,500 for an infant,” they said.
Parents are not taking full advantage of federal and state childcare income tax credits.
There are a couple federal and state grants that City Hall could be tapping into as well. Some Title 1 funds that are currently being used for elementary education in the district could be reallocated for preschool programs. There are two grants for afterschool programs that City Hall hasn’t applied for.
RAND officials said that a lack of recorded data makes it challenging to fully evaluate the quality of childcare.
Qualitative studies showed that some parents lacked faith in the quality of the afterschool programming in the city. There’s a feeling among parents that employees in some of these programs are disengaged or not well qualified.
“Parents need homework to be done during (out of school) program time, but this is not regularly provided,” Rand officials said.
Kids can often come and go as they please at these programs and parents worry about the safety of their kids when they have to take public transit by themselves to get home.
The childcare programs generally need to better aligned with the school system, RAND officials said.
“Many pointed to instances of programmatic nonalignment, both between (early childhood education) programs and elementary schools and between the school day and the (out of school) services that precede or follow it,” RAND officials said. “Alignment across preschool and the early elementary grades is hindered by having different agencies responsible for program oversight and delivery, as well as other institutional features that limit communication and coordination.”
RAND recommended numerous strategies for fixing some of the reported issues.
City Hall addressed several of the recommendations immediately.
To better align childcare and schoolwork, city and district officials will study the feasibility of providing neighborhood preschool for all — a program the district would lead. City officials would also continue to advance the kindergarten readiness campaign, which prepares preschoolers for school. City Hall, along with Santa Monica College, is looking to develop an early childhood education center with a teaching laboratory.
City Hall also hopes to improve childcare data collection by, among other strategies, introducing a uniform system for evaluating public and private programs.