Report: Healthy Babies, Toddlers Must be Higher Calif. Priority

A new report recommends ways that California policymakers could improve outcomes for the state's children and toddlers. Photo Credit: ulkare/istockphoto

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Less than 10 percent of California toddlers and infants who are eligible for subsidized child care actually get it. That’s one statistic in a new report that spells out ways to improve the growth and development of the state’s youngest residents.

The research is from the nonprofit group Children Now, where managing director and co-author Stacy Lee says the state’s complex web of programs is disjointed. She says that makes it difficult for families to enroll, and the report calls for a more comprehensive approach.

“So, it’s taking more of an equity lens and prioritizing those who are most vulnerable first, making the systems more streamlined and coordinated,” she explained. “And then, we obviously need to find some additional revenue, because this age group is pretty poorly invested in.”

The researchers found that 62 percent of California’s two million babies and toddlers were born into low-income families. The state ranked 47th out of 50 in the most recent Kids Count report for economic well-being, affected by factors such as numbers of children in poverty, parents with unstable employment and high housing costs.

Lee says the state cut a billion dollars from childcare and preschool programs during the Recession and still hasn’t fully restored the cuts. She’s convinced that Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t made this issue enough of a priority.

“We are at the bottom tier of a lot of measures when it comes to access and quality of services for children in the early years,” she said. “And that’s unfortunate because, with a state that has such a robust economy, with innovative leaders across many sectors, it’s a problem we can solve.”

Lee says she hopes that agency heads across state government will follow the recommendations in the report to improve coordination and make the system easier to use, so it can reach more children in need.