Non-profit helps families find affordable child care


It's about 9:30 a.m. and 4-year-old Dominic Erlec is starting his day with a song at St. Michael's Episcopal Preschool in Concord.

Five days of care per week costs more than $700 a month, which his mom could not afford without help.

"You think about child care, I'd be working just to pay my son's preschool," parent Ayla Peters said.

That's where the Contra Costa Child Care Council comes in. The non-profit doesn't provide child care itself, but it refers parents to places that do. Whether it is care for the whole day or just a few hours, thousands of parents got referrals last year.

The council also directs parents to places that provide everything from toilet training to housing and food assistance.

"We assist between five and ten thousand families per year actually find child care. We have something we call our child care fund that allows us to provide financial assistance to low income families," childcare council spokeswoman Kate Ertz-Berger said.

Over 1,000 low income families like Erlec's actually get financial aid help to pay for preschool or daycare, but It's tough. The council's budget is about $23 million this year, mostly from corporate, foundation and private donations. A big chunk also comes from the government.

However, belt tightening in Sacramento has cost the council $8 million in state aid over the past two years. "It's been very difficult. We've lost quite a bit of funding over the last few years. We've laid off about 40 percent of our workforce and unfortunately the needs haven't changed," Ertz-Berger said.

Those needs cover more than just daycare. Young Erlec needed work with language and fine motor skills. The Contra Costa Child Care Council Inclusion Program helped provide specialized instruction for that.

"He loves it here. He's excited to come to school every day. He's got a really good relationship and me too personally, with all the teachers here." Erlec's teacher said.

However, the waiting list to get into this sort of child care program grows long and longer as the funding shrinks.

The Contra Costa Child Care Council is hoping the new state budget will restore some of the money, but in the meantime they are hoping the public will help with donations. "I don't think there's any work more important than improving the lives of young children," Ertz-Berger said.

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