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San Francisco's New Department of Early Childhood Wants to Make It Easier for Families to Get Subsidized Child Care

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a young child in a colorful sweater works on an art project at preschool while a teacher helps
A teacher works with students on an art project at Kids Connect Infant Care and Preschool in San Leandro. Changes at the state level as well as in San Francisco mean it could soon be easier for parents to access and navigate the early childhood education system. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Recent changes in San Francisco and on the statewide level mean it could soon be easier to navigate the process of finding publicly funded care and education for children.

This week, San Francisco launched the city's new Department of Early Childhood. The department promises to provide children under 6 with expanded access to child care and education with the  backing of nearly $300 million in funding.

Early Childhood Education and Care

And at the state level, two recent developments aim to streamline the search and enrollment process: A few weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will cut layers of red tape for families applying for subsidized child care and preschool. Services for children and families are typically spread across multiple state agencies, forcing parents to go from one office to another to apply for services, frequently redocumenting the same income and other eligibility information. The new law (SB 1047, by state Senator Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara) cuts the paperwork and eases the enrollment process.

On October 11, the state also launched a new search website at  Mychildcareplan.org.

What's the current early childhood education landscape in San Francisco, and how is it changing?

In an interview with KQED's Natalia Navarro, Ingrid Mezquita, executive director of the new Department of Early Childhood in San Francisco, described the current early care and education system in San Francisco as very decentralized, mirroring most other state and national systems. "They have different tuition rates. They have different funding availability, whether it's from the state or the feds," she said.


The new department is aiming to unify these resources and services. "Families [will] have access to the information that they need, not only around what's available in their neighborhood or in the area that they're looking for, but also what financing is available for their child care," she said. This will allow families to see whether they are eligible for federal, state or local funding.

How will this new department work to ensure equity in the kinds of families that it serves?

"Our focus is always going to be families who are in greatest need," Mezquita said. "We want to make sure that the services and supports are meaningful."

Mezquita said their goal is to reduce or eliminate racial disparities. "We're in this unique position where not only are we going to be funding child care, but we're also looking at children in a holistic way," she said. She said this will include looking at comprehensive services and ensuring there are no gaps or missing links to  support children and their families.

When are you expecting expanded services to be available to families?

"We were just approved as a new department, so we're building that infrastructure," said Mezquita. "We've already expanded eligibility for families who are making up to 110% of area median income, meaning that if you're making roughly around $120,000 or below, you may be eligible for child care financing through our department."

How will families benefit from the merging of two separate departments?

Mezquita said the information will soon be in a centralized place, and the department will be able to provide families information in multiple languages, "not only for their child care, but also for their child's well-being," she added. "San Francisco has an array of services and supports for families. And one of the most difficult thing has been being able to find them."

When can San Francisco families access the information?

Mezquita said she's hoping it will be accessible in the next few months. "We already have a portal, which is where families can find child care: Early Learning San Francisco. You can easily find child care in your area. You can see what you're eligible for in case you're eligible for any financial assistance."

How do I access the California State Preschool Program?

If your family is seeking access to the California State Preschool Program, you’re automatically eligible for the early education program if you’re already enrolled in Medi-Cal, CalFresh, WIC or Head Start.

Once your child is enrolled, the new law guarantees two years of care and education. Previously, families were granted only 12 months of service and had to reapply for an extension.

Where can I find affordable, quality child care elsewhere in California?

A new state-funded website helps match families struggling to find affordable, quality care with providers. Mychildcareplan.org launched on October 11, and lists every licensed provider in California and their safety record, including their history of inspections and any citations they may have received; their vacancies; the type of care they provide; and the language(s) spoken at their center.

The new website consolidates information from each of the state's 58 local child care resource and referral agencies, connecting families to child care, financial aid and other services. It also aims to better serve parents and caregivers who may work in one county but live in another.

“You can enter your ZIP code, you could enter the city, and then it does radial search depending on ... your filters,” said Linda Asato of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. “You're no longer just bound by the information at that one agency.”

The website is free and does not charge a subscription fee for parents or providers. It can be used in English, Spanish, traditional Chinese and Vietnamese.

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