Loss Of Child Care Affects South LA

Although President Barack Obama’s announcement of across-the-board sequester cuts just recently sparked controversy. But low-income families in Los Angeles have been feeling the reverberation of federal and statewide budget cuts since 2008. In the past few years, Los Angeles County has lost 22,000 licensed child care slots.

According to a recent study by the Advancement Project, a policy change organization headed by Los Angeles activists Molly Munger and Connie Rice, just a 10 percent funding cut would eliminate an additional 59 percent of child care seats currently available for low-income families.

This lack of affordable and trustworthy child care can affect families in multiple ways. Parents who cannot work feel the most immediate impact. Young parents unable to acquire the proper skills to improve their job prospects also suffer, according to Jacquelyn McCroskey, professor in child welfare at the University of Southern California. McCroskey has dedicated over two decades to improving outcomes for families and children in Los Angeles County.

Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit organization, also hopes to help the families affected. The organization started 30 years ago with two mothers who wanted to improve the lives of families in Los Angeles. The nonprofit is part of an advocacy project called Community Voices that includes other child care service providers such as Pathways, Advancement Project and First 5 LA.

“In the area that we serve, there is multi-generational poverty,” said Jackie Majors, CEO. “We want to provide services so they can end the poverty cycle.”

Majors’ career in child care services spans 25 years, but most of the work was in the private sector, providing services to mainly affluent families.

“Although I loved what I did for 17 years, I really think that was all about preparing me for this work,” said Majors. “Those families were going to make it no matter what I did. The families that I serve now don’t have any other resources besides us.”

Majors said her greatest satisfaction comes from receiving a letter from a family saying that with a better paying job, they no longer qualify for Crystal Stairs’ services.

In addition to the immediate impact on parents, there are often more long-term consequences for children when there is a lack of child care services.

“It also has impact on the potential for children to be as ready for school as they could be,” said McCroskey. “They won’t be able to practice early learning skills and enhance their cognitive abilities.”

These negative consequences disproportionately affect low-income families. On average, each zip code in Los Angeles lost 170 child care seats beginning in 2008. However, many zip codes in South Los Angeles and Compton lost more than 300 licensed seats each.

When Majors became CEO of Crystal Stairs two years ago, budget cuts forced her to terminate 3,000 contracts for families. However, one of Majors’ goals as CEO includes diversifying the organization’s funding to better serve families. The organization has an annual fundraiser and strives for more outside funding.

Despite budget cuts, this summer Crystal Stairs added more child care services for residents in Compton and South L.A. Although this may seem like a step in the right direction, Majors does not rejoice in this success. She believes Crystal Stairs’ expansion is an indicator of the failure of other child care service providers.

Majors and McCroskey encourage child care service providers to unite rather than view each other as competition and act territorially.

McCroskey hopes that advocates, families and child care service providers can be more organized to fight back against state or federally proposed budget cuts.

Parents and teachers vent frustration at Head Start schools in South LA and Compton

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

“Can you tell me your name?”
“Ke-lonze James.”
“How old are you Ke-Lonze?”
“And what do you like better: going to school or going to work with your mom?”
“Going to work.”

imageKe-Lonze used to be a student at a Head Start preschool in Compton. But this year, things are a little different. His school is one of 21 schools in South LA that are under new management this year.

Head Start is a federal program, but at the local level it is run by other agencies. In June two organizations, Crystal Stairs and Volunteers of America took over South LA’s Head Start programs.

Parents expected their kids to start school in late August, but weeks later, a lot of schools still haven’t opened. Ke-Lonze’s school is open, but his mom, Takisha Collins says that because of limited staff and regulation changes at her son’s school, she now has to take him to work with her instead of leaving him there.

“I have no other options,” she says. He likes it, but Collins, a single mom with a full-time job, feels differently, “He bugs me the whole time, the whole eight hours he bugs me, so it’s hard.”

Today, Collins and her son weren’t at school or work, they were riding a bus around Compton with several other community members protesting the changes to the Head Start program.

The delayed start to the school year and sudden change in policies are not the only complaints the group has. For many, the biggest issue is that most of the teachers have been fired or replaced.

Pastora Alvarez-Munroa, who worked at Willowbrook Head Start in Compton until last year, said, “I received a letter through the mail after 29 years of service. It’s a slap in the face. We want our jobs back. We want to go back and work with the family and the community.”

Alvarez-Monroa came out today with other teachers, union organizers, parents, and community leaders to show her frustration with Head Start.

Volunteers of America in LA did not return our call, but the group’s organizer, Orlando Ward, told KPCC that his organization is asking parents to be patient while the schools transition to new management.

But the parents and community members at today’s event want Head Start to know that they’re not happy. Ke-Lonze’s mom, Takisha Collins said, “I just hope everything can go back to normal.”

Collins’ employer has told her she can’t keep bringing Ke-Lonze with her to work. So like many parents in the community, she hopes he can get back to school soon.