SAMOHI — A program at Santa Monica High School that supports teen parents and faculty with new children is using innovation to shore up an uncertain funding future, but could use a little help from the community.
The Teen Parent Program at Santa Monica High School gets most of its money from the state, funds which allow Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District employees to provide daycare, education and counseling to teen parents in the district and the Westside.
Many travel by bus to see their children and get the services offered at the Infant Toddler Center, tucked away behind the language building on the Samohi campus.
“I tell them they could write a crazy book about their experiences on public transportation,” said Gizelle Graves, the facilitator for the Infant Toddler Program.
The Infant Toddler Program serves 26 children, and another two expected to enroll in the next two weeks will bring it to capacity.
Like so many social services, it has taken hits over the past several years, holes officials have filled with a patchwork of creative solutions like opening its doors to paid clients in the district and inviting federal programs in to open up spots for new babies.
Still, there is a budget shortfall estimated at $20,000 for the current year as well as costly equipment needs.
When a visitor walks into the center, they first see the main room kept clean by hospital-type booties slipped over dirty shoes to avoid tracking contaminants near the children. To the right is a smaller play area, and to the left a kitchen and nursing station complete with the ever-necessary coffee maker.
Though well-appointed, the program needs at least four more cribs by fall 2012 to replace ones that new state laws deem a danger to children, all of which are expensive and require special licenses.
That means they must be bought, not donated.
New play equipment falls into the same category, like a loft for infants to climb which would ring in at approximately $1,000.
Graves lights up when she talks about the loft.
“It’s just what they want to do,” she said. “They have a drive to explore.”
Not only do the babies like to climb, adults want them to as well if it can be done in a safe, controlled environment.
The movement helps build muscles and gives the little ones a feeling of achievement and self-esteem when they manage to move on their own, Graves said.
But the big purchases add up in the face of a constant need for sanitary supplies, wipes and name-brand diapers — only Huggies and Pampers at the center — and the occasional laundry machine catastrophe.
That’s bad news for a program that relies on the state’s California School Age Families Education program (Cal-SAFE) for childcare funding, monies that have been slowly whittled away through cuts since California fell on hard times.
It wasn’t just the state. Students with children that graduated from high school and went on to Santa Monica College used to get their childcare covered by the college via City Hall.
That was how it worked, but no longer, said Judy Abdo, director for Child Development Services at the district.
Instead of closing up shop, the program got scrappy.
A few years ago, the center expanded its clientele from teen parents to the staff and some city employees who could pay the full cost of childcare — $700 a month for toddlers and $1,100 a month for infants.
Two years ago, officials invited the federal Early Headstart program to the party, opening up an additional eight funded spots.
The program still runs a $20,000 deficit, though it is difficult to guess what it will be in the coming year, Abdo said.
Though the center has been able to cobble together solutions, things could get worse.
Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday that state officials had been overly optimistic when estimating the government’s deficit. What was expected to be a $9.2 billion gap turned into $15.7 billion.
According to the State Assembly Budget Committee, Brown’s strategy for closing the deficit includes another $452.5 million in cuts to childcare and development programs.
No one knows how this will affect things in Santa Monica because each source of funding is so targeted, Abdo said.
“They look at the macro picture, and this is very micro,” she said. “When they say they’re going to reduce the amount of money spent on childcare, they’re talking about these giant numbers in the hundreds of millions. When it comes down to an individual family, it’s really impactful.”
Each dollar spent on childcare impacts at least two lives — the mother trying to get through high school and the child who will rely on the parent for years to come.
According to a report released in 2010, 98,000 students and their 62,000 young children have enrolled in the program statewide.
Those enrolled showed lower rates of high school drop out, low birth weight children and repeat pregnancies than the national average.
Although the last decade has given plenty of statistics about the program’s success, it’s the anecdotes that remind people why it’s so special.
“You go in there and see the student parents and the faculty parents talking to each other because they have the same issues going on,” Abdo said. “They have an infant or toddler child and yet one of them could be the teacher of the other.”
To donate to the program, write a check to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District with a memo to the Teen Parent Program or Infant Toddler Center. Checks can be sent to the Child Development Services office at 2802 Fourth St., 90405.