California children deserve a better start in life

Joaquin Garcia, 6, gives his mother, Yvonne, a bouquet that he made while staying with Rosie Ramirez, at Giving Tree Family Childcare on April 14 in San Jose. More than 570 day care centers have closed in the region since 2020. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Silicon Valley is a place of immense wealth, yet nearly half of the children here live in households that can’t afford basic necessities like rent, food and health care, according to the 2023 Silicon Valley Index.

These children are our future. We must refuse to accept this status quo where hundreds of thousands of children, disproportionately children of color, struggle while there are more than enough resources to help. California lawmakers, advocates, and philanthropists must dramatically increase investment in early childhood development to ensure children receive the care they need to thrive. We have to do it now.

Despite the proven impact of early childhood development programmes, governments chronically fail to invest in them. The United States spends about $500 per child per year on early childhood care, compared to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average spending of $14,436 for other countries. Philanthropic investment is also lagging behind. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation surveyed 150 Bay Area foundations and philanthropists and found that only 15% donated to support early care and learning. No wonder the San Mateo County Office of Education recently discovered that there is a shortage of more than 17,000 child care spaces for children under the age of 12 in the county. And in Santa Clara County, 570 child care businesses have closed since 2020.

Child poverty has well-documented effects and is related to food and housing insecurity, lack of access to health care, poor academic performance, and decreased income throughout life. But investing in early childhood development can break this cycle. Studies have shown that children who experience high-quality learning and care in their first five years of life are 25% more likely to graduate from high school and four times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher. One study found that early childhood intervention led participants to have 37% higher average earnings as adults.

In SVCF’s survey of Bay Area donors, we found that the lack of funding for early childhood development was due, in part, to a lack of donor awareness. But philanthropy will never replace sound public sector funding, nor should it. Solving this crisis will require state and federal legislative efforts to address the root causes of poverty. One promising development is the recent approval by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to invest $20 million of American Rescue Plan funds in the county’s child care infrastructure. In the meantime, local philanthropists and legislators can help:

• First, philanthropists can support advocacy efforts that lead to increased public sector funding and/or new policies that invest in programs at scale. For example, organizations like Build Up San Mateo, Parent Voices California, and the Child Care Law Center advocate for the importance of public investment and policies that support young children and those who care for them.

• Second, they can finance programs that meet the most urgent needs. Community organizations like Izzi Early Education and Educare California in Silicon Valley provide care and learning programs for children facing the most vulnerable circumstances. These organizations depend on philanthropic support.

• Local legislators can update policies to support family child care providers, such as ensuring city policies reflect that a family child care home is a residential use of property, waiving all fees, and local fees to operate a home-based child care business; and to simplify and support the permit process for opening child care businesses.

• And local legislators can take a page from the South San Francisco playbook and create an “Adopt Child Care Master Plan,” which outlines the role child care plays in the community and identifies gaps and needs and offers recommendations for filling them out. Once we identify the needs, we can begin to implement strategic solutions.

Lawmakers and philanthropists must mobilize on behalf of children in California. With all the wealth and prosperity in our state, and especially in Silicon Valley, there is only one number we must accept when it comes to children living in or near poverty: zero. In Silicon Valley, we must invest in our future by supporting our children.

Gina Dalma is executive vice president for community action, policy and strategy at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.