Pathway to Addressing Stanislaus County’s Childcare Crisis Gains Momentum
THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE
Stanislaus County already faced a significant shortage of licensed childcare before scores of home-based childcare providers shut their doors permanently over the last three years. This compounded the already critical shortage lingering from the 2008 recession.
The County now faces a two-fold challenge. It lacks sufficient childcare capacity, and the economics fail both would-be business owners and parents. Families who most need childcare to participate in the workforce fully can’t find licensed providers with openings they can afford and don’t know where to find help.
“Since 2008, with the great recession, we've lost over 600 childcare spots in our county,” says Tony Jordan, Executive Director of Child & Family Services at the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE). Additional closures during the COVID-19 pandemic drove the decline up to 900.
The ripple effect throughout the region’s economy has been palpable. Many parents have been slow to return to the workforce as childcare capacity dropped even further below demand. The financial obstacles to identifying and placing children in accessible childcare add to the strain.
California's childcare subsidy system also presents a unique set of challenges to scaling across the County: the state offers a labyrinth of resources for both providers and parents and navigating this complex landscape— as well as determining eligibility — can be overwhelming for families. Additionally, the cost of living and wages in the area can foster competition among families who do and don’t qualify for assistance and even among subsidies.
The ripple effect throughout the region’s economy has been palpable.
As one way to begin tackling these challenges, Stanislaus 2030 joined forces with Nurture, a non-profit dedicated to the expansion of in-home childcare entrepreneurship. The two created a pilot program to explore new pathways toward robust and accessible childcare throughout the County.
Three-quarters of California qualifies as a childcare desert with one (or less than one) licensed space for every three children. The shortage of licensed care is driven by a sector-wide workforce crisis in addition to the impacts of the 2008 recession and pandemic. Low pay, lack of benefits, and long hours for jobs with significant responsibility have made working in or owning a childcare business unattractive.
The shortage of care is greatest for infants and toddlers. Yet, ages zero to three are the most important for lifelong mental health, well-being, educational outcomes, and long-term economic prospects.
The program’s initial step toward building an effective childcare solution is to fully understand the problem. Stanislaus 2030’s earliest data analysis and public-private collaboration identified this age as well as in-home childcare as the two interventions with the greatest potential impact over the shortest timeframe.
Jennifer Brooks, Nurture’s founder and CEO, is helping Stanislaus 2030 assess the local childcare landscape. She shared new data findings with the working group at a September status meeting.
The research combined datasets from Stanislaus County Office of Education, Stanislaus County Workforce Development, Stanislaus Child & Family Services Child Care Resource and Referral program, First 5 Stanislaus, and the United States Census Bureau, which included data on individual income levels, employment rates, and neighborhoods with varying in-home childcare shortages by zip code.
Thomas Pogue, Executive Director of University of Pacific’s Center for Policy & Research, reviewed the childcare assessment and offered a new data point to consider called the Prime Age Employment Gap, which shows people who are neither employed nor looking for work. These are individuals who are aged 25-64 who have just dropped out of the workforce.
Using these indicators, Brooks created a heat map that shows zip codes with the highest demand for childcare, but with the lowest supply of childcare providers. These data give Stanislaus 2030 and community partners direction on how to develop targeted strategies for recruitment and outreach.
Amanda Hughes, Executive Director of Stanislaus 2030, is optimistic about testing fresh approaches like this. “As we think about scale, we’re taking into consideration how we might partner with trusted messengers at the neighborhood level to assist with getting the word out — such as the Promotora Network.” Stanislaus 2030 is also exploring collaborations with nonprofits and churches to ensure that every family knows about available resources.
“The problem that we're facing wasn't created in a year,” says Jordan. But the magnitude of these challenges doesn’t shake him. Brooks embraces a similar all-hands-on-deck attitude: “We’re really nimble as a result of the timeframe. We work until things get done.”
TESTING INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO SCALE
Stanislaus 2030’s is working with Nurture to test an innovative economic development model that can rapidly increase the number of childcare businesses and slots across the region.
Nurture’s portable business support system gives these budding entrepreneurs the knowledge and tools to run profitable home-based businesses. The model combines self-paced learning (accessed via an app), group support (weekly Zoom meetings), 1:1 responsive coaching (by text, phone, and video), and access to business capital (mini-grants to cover licensing fees, start-up grants, and zero-interest loans). This technology-forward approach assists entrepreneurs through child care licensing, start-up, and expansion phases.
This includes app-based tools — offered in both English and Spanish — in order to assemble the most effective method to guide potential providers through training, licensing, and the initial stages of building an in-home business.
“Scale, flexibility, and equity are our watchwords,” says Brooks. “How do we onboard people in a way that sets them up for success?”
“For people who are interested in this way of life — and it is a way of life, not just operating a small business — I can guarantee you that running childcare out of your home is like no other business that you’ve done. It’s super rewarding, and it’s one of the most sought-after forms of childcare.”
- Tony Jordan, Stanislaus County Office of Education
Childcare Pilot Testimonials
The program not only provides childcare entrepreneurs with a clear and accessible path to building an in-home childcare business — it also gives graduates a start-up grant of several thousand dollars to pay for licensing and reconfiguring their home as an operational childcare business. This removes one of the most common economic barriers to entry. Nurture launched the first Stanislaus County cohort of 25 entrepreneurs in August 2023 after developing and testing its approach in other Central California counties. Jordan is quick to emphasize that the pilot program’s opportunities go beyond accessible training and financial assistance and that this profession is more than just small-scale entrepreneurship. “For people who are interested in this way of life — and it is a way of life, not just operating a small business — I can guarantee you that running childcare out of your home is like no other business that you’ve done. It’s super rewarding, and it’s one of the most sought-after forms of childcare.” Ultimately, these initiatives rise above childcare capacity or economic development — they are part of a larger strategy to build a community roadmap to prosperity. As Stanislaus 2030 continues to explore new approaches, Jordan expresses that success will stem from the community itself: “There are so many passionate, generous people in our community who just want to do good things,” says Jordan. Hughes agrees and invites local residents and civic leaders to join the childcare movement. “It will take champions across our institutions and sectors to address the childcare shortage. Our table is growing, and we’re excited about the momentum!”