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.

Child care providers demand full pay from the state

imageAs of Thursday morning, Ruby Evans had only $18.65 in her bank account. She runs Evans Family Day Care in Compton, one of many centers contracted by the state of California to provide subsidized child care.

In December, she only received 20 percent of her paycheck and wasn’t paid for the months of July, August, September or November last year.

Evans joined about 50 other care providers and parents who haven’t received payment to protest the Center for Children and Family Services Thursday morning.

The agency is given money by the state to pay child care centers like Evans’ that serve low-income families in cities such as Compton, Lynwood and South Gate, where few people can afford private day care services.

“I had to pull out my retirement just to pay my utility bills,” says Evans, who is 63 years old. “I can’t pay my house, my gas, lights and water. I’m on the phone all day trying to get extensions and explain to them why I can’t pay.”

The agency has contracts with about 1,000 providers through South Los Angeles and the South Bay, and none were fully paid in November or December.

Evans received only $700 of the $3,700 she was due last month. A representative for the Service Employees International Union said all of the providers they have spoken to have either received 20 percent or zero percent of their paychecks and the agency hasn’t given them any explanation.

The group had signs demanding at least 80 percent of their pay and marched outside the agency’s headquarters in Carson for more than an hour, leaving notes of their grievances taped to the blacked-out locked doors of the head quarters.

imageNo one from the agency responded to the protest aside from a security officer who stepped out to take down the notes.

Vanise Valentine is the parent of a five-year-old and uses the subsidized child care while she works and attends school to become a teacher.

If her provider closes, the 29-year-old mother says she might have to cut back at work or school because she says she can’t afford private day care.

The agency would not comment on the issue, but fiscal problems aren’t new.

The Pasadena Star-News reported last fall that the agency’s Head Start program in Pasadena and Glendale was shut down after a state-run audit showed the agency had a $5.1 million deficit despite receiving a $12 million grant.

Since the audit, the agency has been put on a conditional contract with the state, says Jennifer Barraza of the Service Employee International Union, who has been trying to help the care providers get their paychecks.

She says one of the reasons the agency has been able to get away with cutting off their providers from any communication or payment is because there are no state regulations for child care.

In October, the California Legislature passed a bill that would allow child care workers to unionize but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it — just like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar bills in 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2004.

“We can not afford a broken child care system. The state cannot afford a broken child care system,” says Tonia McMillian, who runs Kiddie Depot in Bellflower and has rallied in Sacramento on behalf of child care workers.

“We want to have the chance to have some say-so in fixing the system,” McMillian says. “We need a voice or we are going to be forced to close our doors too.”

Speaker of the Assembly announces temporary childcare for the working poor

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Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez showed up at downtown Los Angeles Tuesday with, for many, a very welcome announcement. Despite Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger having used his line-item veto to cut all daycare for children of the working poor, the Assembly had managed to find the funds to keep such programs going.

But there was a catch. The $6 million the Assembly was able to squeeze out of its operating budget, by reducing expenses down to 15 percent, will only last through the holiday season.

One parent spoke movingly of her worries about finding daycare for her child. In tears as she tried to catch her breath, she said she was no longer on welfare, and she was grateful to be able to work. She blessed the CalWORKS program for having made it possible.

Holly Mitchell is the Democratic nominee for the state Assembly in the 47th District. She is also president of the Crystal Stairs Foundation, a major provider of childcare and early childhood intervention. She had to notify 6,600 parents that their children would no longer be subsidized.

Perez’s announcement was welcome news.

“It’s had a major impact on us,” Mitchell said. She also noted that, even if further finding does not come, at least she will be able to give her family a better heads-up. In the past, she had less than two weeks notice.

Thousands of children, and thousands of providers, have respite from the worry, but only until after the holidays.