California Families Face a Child Care Crunch (Part 1): Guest commentary by Gemma DiMatteo

Supply of Child Care Spaces in Licensed Facilities: 2019, 2021

Table showing the number of licensed child care spaces in California child care centers and family child care homes in 2019 and 2021.

California’s licensed child care supply continues to decline, although the decrease was less than expected during the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to public supports implemented in 2020 and 2021.

Guest author Gemma DiMatteo.

In this first part of a two-part series on child care and early education, guest author Gemma DiMatteo, research director at the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, discusses recent key findings about the state’s licensed child care system.

The California Child Care Resource & Referral Network (“the Network”) has released its 2021 California Child Care Portfolio, with county- and state-level data available through and the Network’s data tool.

New data show licensed child care supply declined

Compared with 2019, data from 2021 show a continued decrease in the state’s licensed child care supply, with losses of:

The pandemic could have had a much greater impact on licensed child care supply statewide; however, significant public investment in supporting child care programs likely prevented many from closing. Historically, California has seen a trend of greater decline in family child care home spaces than child care center spaces, but the pandemic seems to have shifted this trend, with a greater decline in center spaces. This is likely due to group size restrictions making it unfeasible to continue operating a center.

There was regional variation in how supply changed

There was substantial variation across counties and regions in the change of licensed child care supply. The northern region of the state saw the biggest decline in spaces (-5%), followed by the southern region (-3%), while the Central Valley and Bay Area experienced changes (negative and positive, respectively) of 1% or less.

Policy implications

These modest declines in child care supply are not nearly as steep as many anticipated with the pandemic. While the reasons for this require further study, it’s clear that child care received a lot of attention and financial support in 2020 and 2021, and that likely played a large role in preventing a steeper decline, demonstrating that increased public investment creates a more stable child care system for families.

Looking beyond one-time investments and expiring policy changes, the Network recommends the following actions be considered if California’s child care system is to be sustained and fortified:

  • Increasing pay for all child care workers.
  • Eliminating, to the extent of the law, the share of subsidized child care costs families are required to pay.
  • Codifying a system of payment for providers of subsidized care based on enrollment.

Visit the Network’s website for more policy ideas and child care resources.

In Part 2 of this series, out in February, we’ll examine the gap between child care demand and availability, families’ barriers to access (including cost), and how these vary across the state. Stay tuned.

KidsData in the News

Child Care Is Crucial to Families and the Economy. California Should Treat It That Way

An editorial in the Sacramento Bee cites KidsData and the Network for child care costs and spaces data.

Children’s Health Resource

Family-Focused Interventions to Prevent Substance Use Disorders in Adolescence

Proceedings from a National Academies workshop explore effective family-focused interventions in primary care settings for preventing substance use disorders, along with efforts to incorporate them into state health care policies.


ACEs Aware Implementation With Intention

This webinar series is designed to help California clinics implement adverse childhood experience (ACE) screening and response. Experts will provide practical, step-by-step guidance, as well as resources and tools to help clinics on their path toward ACE screening implementation.

Recently Released Data

We recently released data about breastfeeding and early care and education. See links to the latest here.

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