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Federal funds reauthorized to provide child care for low-income families

File: A young boy at a Children's Institute facility in Imperial Gardens in Watts puts on his shoes before taking a nap. The program offers a safe haven for children who may live in housing projects known for drug activity and violence.
File: A young boy at a Children's Institute facility in Imperial Gardens in Watts puts on his shoes before taking a nap. The program offers a safe haven for children who may live in housing projects known for drug activity and violence.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

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More federal funds are in the pipeline to help low-income families following President Obama's signing of the Child Care Development Block Grant reauthorization on Wednesday.

The $5.3 billion program funded child care for about 1.5 million children last year. Child care agencies and organizations that receive grants out of the appropriation also provide training, professional development and quality-improvement services to those in the field.

California received $542 million of this funding in fiscal year 2012, the latest numbers available from the state Department of Education. 

Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund national advocacy group, applauded Congress and the president for the reauthorization. She called it a “hopeful indicator” of bipartisan commitment to funding more early education programs.  

Raising California Together, a coalition of child care advocates and providers, called the reauthorization an important milestone, but said it failed to increase funding to meet "new demands on the system."

A report by the Advancement Project shows that only 2 percent of infants and toddlers have access to licensed care in L.A. County. For preschoolers, it is 41 percent. 

Los Angeles childcare provider, the Children’s Institute, depends on funding from the block grant. Last year, the agency served almost 800 children with the funds, operating in low-income communities that include Koreatown, Compton and Wilmington. The institute has long wait lists for subsidized child care spaces.

Manny Castellanos, senior vice president for early childhood services at the Children’s Institute, said the organization currently receives $5.6 million of block grant funds from the California Department of Education. The money funds 3- to 5-year-olds in preschool centers, as well as 120 children who attend a network of family day care homes.

Castellanos hopes to get more funding next year to reduce the Children’s Institute wait lists. He said he was heartened that the latest grant authorization focuses on child care quality. Providers will need to run mandatory background checks of workers and agree to more site inspections, among other requirements.

“It’s an extra burden but I think it’s a needed burden,” Castellanos said. “We [already] monitor our classrooms on a regular basis, sometimes weekly.”  

Castellanos said his organization ensures quality by monitoring for “appropriate teacher-child interaction” and to ensure “the environment is appropriate.” His staff also perform health checks every day on children to screen for illness and watch for signs of neglect or abuse.

Congress built these kinds of quality control measures into the reauthorization to raise the standards at all child care centers receiving block grant funds. States can also use some of the funds for professional development, training and technical assistance to providers.

WestEd, a national education research and development laboratory, has been providing training to California’s early care workforce using the federal grant. Last year, the organization trained 100 California teachers from 31 counties, said Ron Lally, co-director for WestEd's infant-toddler care.

Teachers received workshops in social-emotional development, learned about the latest infant-toddler brain research, and took classes in becoming more culturally responsive to the needs of diverse families. In 2013-2014, his organization provided over 10,000 hours of site training, he said. 

WestEd uses a train-the-trainer model to increase its impact. "We train the program directors who are running a program who have new staff," Lally said. They can then keep current on developments in the early education field and pass the information on to their teachers. 

The block grant-funded child care program is specifically designed to support low-wage working parents or parents attending school. In its current form, it has come under fire for the disruption it causes when parents who suddenly lose their job also lose their child care subsidy. The reauthorization gives parents breathing room by allowing them to continue receiving child care for one year.