Los Angeles County in 2013 was home to 654,277 children under 5 years old, 117,078 (18%) of whom live in Best Start Communities. But the numbers of children under 5 years old are projected to decrease over the next twenty years and will represent a smaller share of the total population in Los Angeles County. Nearly two-thirds (63.1%) of these children were Hispanic or Latino. They live in a county with linguistic diversity and economic disparities as evidenced by concentrations of working families earning less than 70% of State Median Income in South Los Angeles, Long Beach, and the Antelope Valley.
Availability of licensed ECE seats varies widely in Los Angeles County. There are stark contrasts in the availability of licensed ECE seats in Los Angeles County. Availability appears to vary by a host of variables, including where the children live, children’s ages and the types of care available, that is, center-based care or family child care homes, and family incomes. Even taking into account the fewer licensed seats for infants and toddlers for any given provider, by virtue of the licensing standards for staff-child ratios, there still tended to be a mismatch between the ages of the children and the availability of centers or family child care homes in a given area of Los Angeles County. As of June, 2013, there were only enough seats in a licensed center for 2.4% of infants and toddlers in Los Angeles County overall and 1.4% of infants and toddlers in Best Start Communities. This was in contrast to the 41.3% of county preschool-aged children who could be served by a licensed center seat (26.8% of Best Start children could be served by a licensed center seat).
Availability of licensed ECE services is especially low for infants and toddlers living in low-income families. The age disparities in the availability of ECE services were particularly true for children who lived in low-income families and thus who were eligible for subsidies. Infants and toddlers in low-income families were least likely served by existing licensed ECE seats, compared with preschool-aged children. Also, subsidy-eligible children from birth through 5 years of age who were unserved tended to live in areas with a high concentration of households who were working and earned below 70% of the State Median Income. Finally, the amount of exposure to ECE services tended to be limited for children who attended state subsidized programs; they were more likely to attend part-day preschools while full-day programs were in much scarcer supply. This disparity tends to place the burden for full-day care on federally-funded Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which were often over-subscribed.
Geographical areas in Los Angeles provide differential access to ECE. There were also disparities in the availability of ECE services for different geographical areas in Los Angeles County. These geographic areas in the County represented concentrations of families from different socio-economic circumstances. A key socio-economic group in which to view access and needs for ECE services were families whose parents were working but who earned 70% or less of the State Median Income, termed “working families.” For these families, there was a large shortfall of licensed spaces for infants and toddlers, from birth through three years of age, in both centers and family child care homes. The shortfalls were estimated at 21,886 and 24,047 for each type of care respectively. For preschool-aged children, from three to five years of age, the picture is marginally better, with a shortfall in licensed centers of 10,677 seats but a surplus in licensed family child care homes of 9,578 seats. Clearly, parents of preschool-aged children were showing a preference for center-based ECE services, but these inequities may also be related to geographic areas in which these surpluses or shortfalls existed.
In High Need areas the fewest licensed ECE seats are available in areas with the most children. In general, the analyses of geographic areas show that licensed ECE seats and programs for low-income children were frequently not matched to where low-income children lived. In some areas there were as few as one licensed seat per 100 children under 5 years old, and ranged to a high of 4.82, indicating as many as 482 licensed seats per 100 children under 5 years old, that is, a local surplus of licensed seats. Los Angeles County had approximately enough licensed seats to serve 37.7% of children under 5, but a fifth of county ZIP codes had sufficient licensed seats to serve less than 25% of the population.
Areas in Los Angeles County have overlapping high needs and many of these are in Best Start Communities. Some areas within Los Angeles County as well as within the Best Start Communities appeared consistently to show overlapping high needs across specific program types or across specific age groups in the case of center-based care. By summarizing all ZIP code areas with overlap for each of these combinations, it is possible to identify those ZIP codes with the greatest amount of overlap (Table 7). Five ZIP code areas overlap in high needs for both program types and child age groups, including:
- 90001 Florence-Firestone
- 90002 Florence-Firestone*
- 90201 Bell/Bell Gardens/Cudahy*
- 90255 Huntington Park*
- 90723 Paramount
These areas tended to be concentrated within the South and Southeast of Los Angeles County, with three of the five located within Best Start Communities. There were five additional areas in Best Start Communities that showed high need in two of the three combinations of program types and age groups; 90003 (Florence), 90063 (East LA), 91402 (Panorama City), 91732 (El Monte), and 91733 (South El Monte). Thus, for fifteen areas with the greatest amount of overlapping high needs for different program types and child age groups, eight were located in Best Start Communities.
High need areas tend to have more Hispanic or Latino and/or Black or African-American children living in low-income families. Finally, high need areas were characterized by large numbers of children under 5 who lived in single parent households with incomes at or below the poverty line. As well, these high need areas tended to have higher proportions of Hispanic or Latino children or Black or African-American children five years of age or under and fewer Non-Hispanic White and Asian/Pacific Islander children. Children five years of age and under who lived with working parents tended to be concentrated in different areas compared with children in families at or below the poverty level.
Over half of children under 5 years old in Best Start Communities lived with parents who earned below 70% of the State Median Income. Despite the fact that subsidies for part-day and full-day programs were largely made available to families with children under 5 years old living below 70% of the State Median Income, the proportion of licensed ECE seats available in communities where these families live was low in comparison with the rest of Los Angeles County.
Cumulatively, the findings in this section suggest the following three primary conclusions:
- There are hundreds of thousands of young children in Los Angeles County – especially low-income, poor, and bilingual emergent children – who lack ECE opportunities in their home communities;
- Infant and toddler ECE opportunities are in very short supply, while preschool opportunities are more ample but still insufficient; and
- ECE shortages are not equally distributed throughout the County, with some communities, particularly low-income communities of color, facing much more dramatic shortages than other better-situated communities.
If placed within the larger ecological theory of development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), these conclusions suggest that the lack of access to ECE programs may be indicative of resource-poor neighborhoods and communities. These resource-poor neighborhoods may not have sufficient ECE services to meet the high demand, even when subsidies exist for low-income households. Even worse, the lack of ECE services in specific areas of Los Angeles does not bode well for the healthy development of young children living there. The lack of availability of ECE services in specific low-income neighborhoods suggests a reframing of the situation from that of “poverty” which focuses responsibility on individual children and their families, to the concept of “social exclusion” which focuses on social and structural problem and can lead to different types of solutions (Aber, Gershoff, and Brooks-Gunn, 2002). As Shonkoff (2010) and Phillips (2014) noted, the lack of resources serves as a form of “social exclusion” which has direct negative effects on children’s brain development. It would appear that the pre-frontal lobe that governs executive function and impulsivity is affected, which leads to both social/behavioral as well as learning deficits (Phillips, 2014). Thus, there are neurobiological effects during early brain development of structural challenges in resource-poor neighborhoods. Access to ECE services is one of those structural challenges that can have important long-term implications for children’s healthy development.
If access to ECE services is conceptualized as a structural or systemic problem, then any potential interventions to increase access must be at the structural and policy levels. While gaining more licensed seats in general and specifically for infants and toddlers is an obvious starting point, more complex solutions may involve better matching of the needs for ECE to specific concentrations of young children in targeted neighborhoods or communities where currently high needs exist, either at the parents’ workplaces or where they live.
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