Homelessness, child care, and the link to self-sufficiency

Parents and community leaders rallied together to advocate for the funding of family navigation services, emergency child care services, and improved shelter conditions for homeless families at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ Administration Office on May 22, 2017. The action, organized by Parent Voices, a grassroots organization which advocates for quality and affordable child care services for low-income and homeless families throughout California.

Lack of access to child care services within the homeless and low-income populations results in the inability to sustain a job, increased experience of stress, issues of safety, maladaptive child development implications, and the inability to obtain and maintain housing according Clarissa Doutherd, Executive Director of Parent Voices Oakland.

With over a dozen chapters across California including in San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda, Los Angeles, and San Mateo counties, the nonprofit trains parents to advocate for child care services on local and legislative levels.

Child care is a fundamental need for parents seeking to obtain or maintain housing for their families. However, homeless families are increasingly facing barriers in accessing affordable child care services due to high child care costs, child care providers’ limited schedules, which are often inadequate for the working parents of low-income and homeless families, and parents inability to meet eligibility criteria of subsidized child care services. If parents are not able to access such services, how can they truly become self-sufficient?

“Families cannot afford the Bay Area housing market, trauma in families, including in children due to homelessness and issues that led to the housing inability, lack of education and job skills, immigrants without access to benefits, and generational poverty” are prevalent issues among homeless families, according to Erica Kisch, Executive Director of Compass Family Services, one of the largest social service providers for homeless families in San Francisco.

Recently, government and community leaders have begun making attempts to address the profound need for child care services within the homeless population. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced an increase of $2.1 million towards the expansion child care services for homeless families. The increased funding for child care services would increase child care subsidies for families (up to $21,740 annually for in home child care), a shorter waiting list for the city’s existing child care program, and help alleviate parental stress, particularly amongst women and families of color, who are disproportionately impacted by homelessness.

Currently, the city’s child care program serves 150 children. The funding would nearly double that number to 290 children.

Still, the funding is far from adequate and would only serve children under five. Says Kisch, “There are 2,600 low-income children in San Francisco waiting for subsidized child care. The funding we’re talking about helps those that are homeless, but there will still be many, many children from low-income families waiting for child care, and most won’t get it. The subsidy from the California Department of Education cover about half the cost of a child’s education and care at our Compass Children’s Center, and we must raise the rest. This is a heavy lift, and part of why there are not more subsidized programs, despite the need, for infants and toddlers.”

Systemwide changes to child care are needed to address the issues Bay Area and California families are facing. Allowing families to lead, building better connections to the community providers, and addressing the intricate needs of each family are the foundations to creating positive changes within child care system, Doutherd said.

Even more broadly, Kisch also notes that “child care is not valued in our society, and even though being a child care provider or teacher is very hard work, and certainly very important work, the compensation for these jobs is pretty unacceptable, certainly not enough.”

Although Mayor Lee’s proposed budget increase for child care services is a great stride to affordable and accessible child care for homeless people, it’s evident that systemic issues surrounding child care remain problematic. While there is a demand for services, there continues to be a lack of funding. We must start by creating safe environments for children to learn, giving child care providers decent wages, and providing homeless parents with the supportive services and child care that they need.