For many families in the Coachella Valley, having access to safe and affordable childcare has become rare within the last few years.
Riverside County currently has a team called First Five. It's part of a state program that helps its community's service partners make sure young children and their families have the support they need. First Five recently took on the help of the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) to figure out the landscape of childcare in Riverside County.
Based on an active study presented to Riverside County's First Five last week, LIIF so far has found that more than 61,000 children up to five years old in the county are eligible for subsidized childcare but not currently enrolled in a licensed facility.
The LIIF study reveals that as of last fall, there were 1,251 facilities countywide with active or pending licenses for children specifically in this age range. The study estimates that there need to be 2,253 additional facilities to meet the need.
LIIF said the county needs at least $3.1 billion to meet this gap and open more facilities to serve this group of children.
Recent data released from the California Department of Social Services show that in Riverside County as of March 8 there are in total 1,878 childcare facilities currently open that serve different ages of children.
This is an issue News Channel 3 has been tracking for years. An in-depth report by Peter Daut last year found, "From January 3030 to January 2021, child care home licenses in Riverside County dropped 7 percent and the number of total center licenses plummeted 37 percent."
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Kirsten Waltman is a mother who knows the struggle all too well with trying to find a safe and affordable childcare facility for her daughter. It took her months to find somewhere that even had an opening for her daughter.
“It was always who can I find to watch her. You know we don’t have any family out here or anywhere close that can help. So we had to rely on friends and neighbors and juggle that and put people out you know you feel like you are regardless if they say they are happy to do it or not," explained Waltman. "You always as a parent feel like you’re inconveniencing people.”
Being able to find open spots is another situation many Coachella Valley families are finding a hard time doing. After News Channel 3's Crystal Jimenez called several of the facilities around Coachella Valley, many of them had no openings, and others were no longer in service.
While the county works on trying to improve childcare county-wide, there are initiatives in motion locally that are helping bridge the gap.
The City of Palm Desert gave the Bermuda Dunes Learning Center (BDLC) $900,000 earlier this year to help expand its services and open available spots.
The BDLC just recently opened its Palm Desert location and is looking to offer infant and toddler care soon. It is also using the funds to expand its afterschool program and preschool.
“We’re getting calls daily right now because of the need for childcare in this community. It's needed throughout Riverside," said Gayle Clark, the Director of BDLC.
Waltman now has her daughter enrolled at BDLC and is glad to finally have some relief in her childcare search.
“Places like this are a sanctuary for families because they know that their child is somewhere safe and it’s reliable," said Palm Desert Councilmember Karina Quintanilla.
Quintanilla has been at the forefront of fighting the childcare crisis in her city. Whether it be advocating for families, childcare centers, and trying to get funding to help those in need.
It was with the help of Quintanilla that the BDLC was able to receive these recent funds. The fight will continue, and Quintanilla is urging other city councilmembers to join her in the fight.
Meanwhile, another childcare facility is looking to make its way to Bermuda Dunes. It's called The Learning Experience (TLE). The development team said it currently going through the process of getting the required applications approved for the proposed project by Riverside County.
TLE said it is pending site approval at a location on Washington Street. During a community council meeting, however, the proposal met criticism after plans for the center included a three-story apartment structure to be built behind the childcare facility. Community members cited privacy concerns and traffic concerns with both being on the same lot.
If the childcare facility is brought to the Coachella Valley, TLE said it will be opened by the Fall of 2023, employ about 30 local staff members and certified teachers, and serve 180 kids between ages six weeks to six years old.
A statement from the Senior Vice President about the need for this facility reads:
"The Palm Springs area has a need for childcare and The Learning Experience wants to bring a high-quality option to working families there," says Stephanie Retherford, a senior vice president with The Learning Experience. "We feel the franchise model works ideally to bring a high-quality program, with a personal touch and feel to it. We are thrilled to be branching into this new marketplace. The Learning Experience already has successful centers in San Diego and Los Angeles, so branching out into the Springs was a natural next step."
News Channel 3 is going in-depth on the issue of childcare in Coachella Valley. Watch Childcare Crisis on March 16 at 6:00 p.m. to learn what is being done to help fill the gap in the desert.