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Delays in child care funding mean fewer San Diego kids get care

Buds and Blossoms Preschool is one of the few child care centers in Fallbrook, or anywhere in the surrounding rural area in North County.

Director and owner Nikki Boles feels the demand every day. She said she gets calls daily from parents looking for open child care slots.

“I have a waiting list of children to enter into the preschool,” Boles said. “We opened and expanded into infant care because I was turning away children that were below the age of 18 months.”


To help meet the demand, she was awarded $1 million from the California Department of Social Services' General Child Care and Development program funds.

It was great news, but there was a catch.

She had to wait more than six months for the money.

“I applied for the funding and they gave it to us but there was such a hold up on receiving the funding,” Boles said. “In order to open the infant and toddler area we took out multiple loans, business and personal loans to get it started in order for us to meet the demands of child care in this area.”

She was on the verge of laying staff off until finally, she got a portion of the money in February. But she is still waiting on the rest.


Boles isn't alone. The state awarded more than $30 million in grants to seven child care businesses in San Diego County in fiscal 2021. Several of those businesses told KPBS they also experienced delays and haven’t received all the money yet.

When grants finally come through, providers are only given a third of the funds.

To get the rest, they must meet a long list of conditions in their contracts, including filing reports and providing detailed information. If they don’t, that funding goes back to the state.

In the last fiscal year, California awarded San Diego area child care businesses more than $110 million, but almost 10% of that went unspent. Those funds would have created an additional 946 childcare slots.

This was Boles’ first time applying for state grants and she was taken aback by all the fine print.

“We found out it was not a grant, it was actually a contract that we have to meet deadlines, we have to have income qualifications for parents that are accepted into that program, our ratios had to be lower in the infant program,” she said. “So carrying those burdens was a little bit harder to navigate.”

For many parents of young children, the pandemic has made child care the most challenging issue of their lives. For some who have kept their kids home, caregiving has affected their ability to work. For others who don’t have the option to work at home the health risk posed by sending their child to day care has to be weighed against loss of income. And, the childcare centers and the people who operate them have lost income and are struggling to stay open. KPBS Investigative reporter Claire Trageser has been focusing on this issue and brings us this special program, “COVID-19 And The Child Care Crisis.”

A spokesperson for the state's Social Services Department declined an interview request but answered questions by email. She said the grants are given through reimbursement contracts.

“Existing contractors receiving expansion funding can enroll and serve children before receiving funds,“ she said. “New contractors will follow a different process where they must submit state-required paperwork to be approved as a vendor.“

She added her department is working with every new contractor, providing support and technical assistance to help them complete this process. 

Funding delays also mean child care businesses have to wait to hire new staff or give raises to existing staff.

“One of the biggest obstacles for preschool teachers, in general, is not having health care or a better rate of pay,“ Boles said. “What we're trying to pay teachers is what we're now getting working at a fast food restaurant.“

Child cares run on razor-thin profit margins, so any delays or difficulties in funding can spell disaster, said Kim McDougal, the senior vice president of social services for the YMCA of San Diego County.

“All these families need care, and all these providers need the funding to be able to provide the care,” she said. “And you know each day that goes by is a lost opportunity for a family and for a provider.”

State grant money going unspent definitely does not mean the need isn’t there, McDougal said. It’s because providers awarded the funding aren't given enough time to meet the conditions of the contracts.

“Situations happen where then millions of dollars go back to the state, and those dollars go back into the general fund,” she said. “They don't go back into child care. It totally does not help our case for child care advocacy. It makes legislators in the state think, ‘Well, maybe these dollars aren't needed, nobody's spending them, whereas the reality on the ground is that there was no opportunity to really truly spend them.‘”

McDougal said larger organizations like the San Diego County YMCA are also impacted by the delays, but they have different streams of funding to use. But smaller centers don’t, and funding delays mean fewer kids get care.

That's the case for Boles from Buds and Blossoms. She's currently not accepting new enrollments.

“I have families who call me daily,” she said.

All of those families have to go on the waiting list.

This is the place to find news, information and resources to help you make decisions about the children under your care and support you in this adventure we call "parenting."