The Time to Fix Orange County’s Child Care is Now

Child care has increasingly been in the spotlight as the pandemic forced to light massive flaws in the child care system in Orange County and nationwide. First 5 Orange County Children and Families Commissioner Susan McClintic speaks out about our child care system, how it affects families and businesses,  and how First 5 Orange County is working to address this critical need.

By Susan McClintic

Child care has come under intense focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as tens of millions of children across the nation suddenly found themselves on extended breaks from regular child care and parents were thrust into a life-altering dilemma: working from home while simultaneously educating and supporting their young children.

The pandemic closed schools and child care programs, drawing increased attention to an already existing challenge. Even before the pandemic, recent studies (in states including Maryland, Washington, and Louisiana) revealed that businesses in each state lose more than $1 billion in productivity and revenue each year as a result of breakdowns in child care options available to working parents.

Two studies in San Diego earlier this year drew a direct line between economic growth and child care availability. The studies’ follow-up reports stressed the critical importance of all sectors of the community stepping up and playing major roles in supporting working parents by expanding child care options.

The studies also revealed the additional challenges first responders, health care, hospitality, and retail workers face in seeking child care for their children, due to often unpredictable and nonstandard work schedules.

The takeaway is clear: Inadequate child care and the enormous emotional and financial toll it exacts on families has a huge impact on local economies.

Working parents have long been aware of the compromises faced while balancing career and child care challenges. Now, with early care and education settings shuttered, business and philanthropic leaders also recognize that the profound lack of quality child care makes both returning to, and staying in, the workforce difficult – if not impossible – for many working families.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light what these studies show, that our existing child care system has been fragile and all too susceptible to economic injury for a long time and cannot survive the additional stressors created by the pandemic without community support.

That’s why First 5 Orange County is currently helping spearhead a major study to uncover the severity of the problem locally. Working with our community partners including the Orange County Business Council, First 5 Orange County will use the findings to chart a strategic course to expand high-quality child care options. Child care is an essential, foundational, necessary step to rebuilding the local economy.

Thankfully, growing numbers of local employers, government leaders, school districts, labor experts, CEOs and community organizations have already begun exploring ways to ease the child care crisis.

One resource to help families currently struggling to find child care is this database of open child care centers created by First 5 OC partner Early Childhood OC.

I hope these collaborative efforts will trigger a silver lining of this tragic pandemic, by a building laser-focused commitment to finally addressing the child care crisis across Orange County and the nation.

Susan McClintic is a First 5 Orange County Commissioner and seasoned early childhood educator who advocates for Orange County’s most vulnerable populations.