As First 5 Los Angeles celebrates its 15th year, it is taking stock of its myriad of past achievements, celebrating progress, and planning for future opportunities and challenges ahead. A key ingredient of this work is to better understand the “landscape” of early care and education (ECE) in Los Angeles County; that is, the current state of access to ECE programs for families of young children, the nature of the ECE workforce, and the quality of ECE in Los Angeles County.
The following report describes ECE access, workforce, and quality separately in three parts. The first part of the report focuses on families’ access to ECE services, by describing the population of children under five years of age living in Los Angeles County, identifying the early learning opportunities that are available to them and where they are located, and determining areas in the county where need exceeds services. The second part of this report looks at the professionals who provide ECE services in the county including their backgrounds, training, and qualifications, as well as the professional development opportunities available to these professionals. The third part of this report investigates the quality of ECE programs in Los Angeles County largely through data from the three Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) efforts in the county.
This report is the first in a series of three reports. The second report is titled “Past Roles and Strategies of First 5 LA and Other Funders” and the third report is titled “Opportunities and Considerations for Addressing ECE Gaps in Los Angeles County.”
The access section presents a comprehensive picture of families’ access to ECE programs, with detailed data for specific geographies and sub-populations. The workforce and quality sections provide detailed information about workforce and QRIS efforts, respectively. Key findings in each of the three sections are presented below:
- Los Angeles County is home to over 150,000 families with children under 5 living in poverty. Los Angeles County’s population of children under five years of age is predominantly Latino. More than half of the county’s population over age 5 speaks a language other than English in the home.
- Access to ECE in Los Angeles County appeared limited, particularly for infants and toddlers. There were only enough seats in licensed ECE centers for 2.4% of infants and toddlers and 41.3% of preschool aged children.
- Access to ECE varied greatly within the county and hot spots of need continued to persist. Areas in high need of ECE services tended to have more low income families and more Hispanic or Latino and/or African American children.
- There were two distinct professional development pathways for groups of Angelenos working within ECE: (1) “traditional” high school and college educated ECE providers with more linear career trajectories and (2) nontraditional providers less comfortable with and less commonly found in formal education settings. For many in this second group, their challenge was accessing traditional formal education pathways to increase their education levels and remain working in the ECE field.
- Despite considerably different profiles, both groups reported needing more relevant formal and informal ECE coursework, clearer professional development pathways, and financial support for formal education completion.
- Several trends emerged, including: the degree to which added years of work experience drives increased compensation, and considerable anxiety among providers that increased quality standards requiring better qualifications, while desired, may “push out” some groups, such as older workers, non-English speakers, and people of color.
- Less than one-tenth of all centers and about 2% of all family child care homes in Los Angeles County were participating in and had received a rating from one of three QRIS efforts in the county at the time of data receipt for this report.
- Among providers participating in a QRIS in Los Angeles County who had received overall ratings, over half had been highly rated, achieving a 4 or 5 out of 5 on one of the QRIS rating scales.
- Fewer providers serving infants and toddlers participated in Los Angeles County’s QRIS efforts compared to providers serving preschool aged children.
- The relatively small number of participant providers in Los Angeles County QRIS efforts appears to be due at least in part to insufficient funding for larger-scale expansion, coupled with the voluntary nature of participation in two of the three QRIS efforts in the county.
The goal of this report is to provide a snapshot of the state of young children and their ECE opportunities in Los Angeles County. This research served to inform strategic planning for First 5 LA but did not preempt or predetermine its outcome by offering recommendations. Instead of recommendations, this report provides a descriptive overview of the ECE landscape in the county and the potential challenges and opportunities therein.
In addition to providing First 5 LA with an overview of the ECE landscape, our hope is that the report will also have value for a broader audience whose interest lies in improving ECE in Los Angeles County, such as philanthropic leaders; local, regional, and statewide policymakers and elected officials; policy advocates; and community members. Ultimately, this information can help to ensure that Los Angeles County’s youngest children have an equitable and meaningful opportunity to build a foundation for educational and life success.