Ventura County's $142-million-a-year child-care industry needs more public and private investment in order to keep up with increasing demands on its services, according to a study released Monday.
Although supporting nearly 7,700 jobs, the county's child-care industry is plagued by low wages and high turnover and must fight a "baby-sitting" image that keeps it from being taken seriously by policymakers, says the first-ever detailed report on child care's local economic impact.
City planning commissions, businesses and developers need to give child care the same attention as education to meet demands, says the report by the Oakland-based National Economic Development & Law Center.
Government and private employers also must help parents and child-care providers solve the challenge of high child-care costs and the industry's chronic problems: a shortage of qualified workers, meager pay and benefits, and an inability to get financing for construction and expansion, the report says.
"This is not baby-sitting," said Patty Zoll McWaters, a county child-care program assistant who is coordinating the study's release. "This is an industry that is needed to support the economic wheel of the county."
The report's release kicks off a campaign by the county's Child Care Planning Network to increase the supply of quality affordable child care in Ventura County. In May, network officials--along with the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. and the Ventura Council of Governments--will hold a child-care "summit" at Cal State Channel Islands.
While Ventura County parents have a solid stock of child-care options, there are troubling gaps, said Supervisor Kathy Long, who serves as chairwoman of the Ventura Council of Governments.
More spaces are needed for infants, special-needs children and youngsters whose parents work odd hours, Long said. And with welfare-to-work programs underway, special attention must be given to low-income women who need child care they can afford, she said.
Officials plan to use the study to persuade cities and the county to give financial breaks to providers of child care, Zoll McWaters said. For example, cities should reduce permit fees charged for setting up a large child-care business in the home, she said.
And builders should be required, as they currently are for schools, to make allowances for increased child-care demand that will result from residential and industrial development. A developer could pledge, for instance, to set aside land for a child-care center, Zoll McWaters said.
The county, which paid $5,000 to be part of the study, is working with the Oakland group to improve the state's child-care industry through public and private partnerships. Ventura was one of nine California counties to be analyzed.
Elected officials and business leaders need to understand that there are countywide benefits for investing in the child-care industry, the report says. Employment in Ventura County is expected to increase by nearly 50% in the next 20 years, adding 178,900 new jobs.
Studies show that worker productivity increases along with the supply of licensed child care. But supply will fall short of demand unless barriers to growth are addressed, said Long.
"We want to take this report to every city council so that the information trickles down to the decisions they make," Long said. "And if you have a big business being built and it brings 300 employees, we should look at making child care part of the overall environmental impact study."
Across Ventura County, direct child-care employment is comparable in size to the agricultural services industry, the report says. Some 54% of the 7,692 jobs supported by child care are the providers of care. The remainder are made up of accountants, construction workers and others who provide services to the industry.
Child-care workers' wages in Ventura County, averaging $8.40 an hour, are slightly higher than the state average. But they are low compared to median wages for other jobs that require the same or less training, the report says. Clerks, for example, receive $9.73 an hour and temporary office workers earn $12.23 an hour.
Low wages contribute to high turnover at child-care centers. County child-care coordinators say they need a central registry of temporary child-care workers who can fill in when teachers and aides call in sick or go on vacation.
Despite the wages, the county's child-care costs are among the highest in the state, according to the report. Full-time care costs an average $4,762 a year in home-based child-care businesses and $6,102 a year at centers. Infant care is the costliest, averaging $8,375 at centers.
Some cities have already begun investing in child care. Thousand Oaks recently opened its first city-owned child-care center, said Carol Williams, the city's special projects manager. The city bought a building at 110 S. Conejo School Road, refurbished it and brought in a contractor to run the program, Williams said.