The Fight to End the Childcare Shortage in San Mateo County

Getting to work on time in the morning is a magic trick in and of itself. For those who are able to accomplish this along with dropping our children off at daycare – you deserve an award!

But what do you do when there are no childcare centers where you live, or you’ve been stuck on a waiting list for months? Unfortunately, this is the story for many working parents in San Mateo County, who struggle to find a childcare center in their area. Early learning settings play a critical role in nurturing children’s social, emotional and cognitive development, and are an essential component of any strategy to promote school readiness and success in all aspects of life.

In 2015, child care facilities in San Mateo County had capacity to meet just 68% of the demand for care. By 2025, this number is expected to go down to 62%. Families — already struggling to make ends meet — are spending 31-34% of their net income on child care, and many parents are driving long distances each day to drop their young children off or pick them up from child care facilities. I spoke to one parent who recently moved to San Carlos and they said, “For the last one year since we moved to San Carlos we have been driving an extra hour every week to drop/pick up our daughter from daycare. We could really be spending this time with our daughter.”

In San Mateo County today, the shortage of quality childcare centers is fueled by the highly competitive real estate market, limited financing for construction, and the complicated planning and permitting process to obtain this real estate. In the past year alone, four child care sites in San Mateo County were facing closure due to the demand for real estate. This translates into a loss of services for 259 children! While the majority of childcare providers have said that they would consider expanding their services, 55% said that the greatest barrier would be difficulty finding an appropriate location in the competitive real estate market.

As a result, San Mateo County is missing out on millions of dollars in state funding. Each year, the county turns down $1 million that would support subsidized care for 4,600 children simply because there is no space for these children within the county’s existing child care supply.

We applaud the recent work of Governor Brown and others for making moves to make child care more affordable for working families. The new budget restores state funding for 3,000 state-subsidized child care and preschool spots; it also updates formulas by which a family qualifies for subsidized care, extends the eligibility period, and includes increases to reimbursement rates.

However, this bill alone will not fix the issue in San Mateo County. We must make addressing the shortage of quality child care part of our civic dialogue if we are to deliver on future in which children’s needs are met and families thrive.

First 5 San Mateo County has a strong history of working with other organizations to address the shortage of quality early care and education in San Mateo County. From 2001-2012, we stewarded an Early Learning Facilities Grants program that improved and expanded the number of quality child care and early learning spaces. Funded by First 5 San Mateo and the San Mateo County Human Services Office in partnership with Rebuilding Together Peninsula, the grant resulted in 1,800 new spaces being created for children in 150 centers and family child care homes. In addition, more than 50 child care center renovations were completed in San Mateo County.

In April 2016, we collaborated with First 5 California to award more than $1.6 million in grants to increase the number of high quality early learning settings for children ages 0-5, including $1,298,826 to the San Mateo County Office of Education and $318,328 to the Child Care Coordinating Council of San Mateo County, Inc.

In addition, many of us at First 5 San Mateo have joined with other public and private leaders to form the San Mateo County Early Care and Education Facilities Task Force. With the completion of an Early Learning Facilities Needs Assessment earlier this year, the task force is currently analyzing a variety of strategies to address the child care shortage, including the inclusion of child care in new developments, redesignating and repurposing existing spaces, removing zoning and permitting barriers, securing public financing, and incorporating child care-friendly policies in our city’s general plans.

Further, First 5 San Mateo County advocated to the City of San Mateo for the inclusion of a child care facility in the new Hillsdale Terraces development project!

We’re keeping the fight strong for more childcare centers not just in San Mateo County, but across the state. The updated budget supports our belief that this shortage is not just an early childhood development issue, but a public infrastructure issue, linked to housing, employment and transportation, and we need everyone in our community to work together to address it.

If you’d like to join the fight to end the childcare shortage in our area, contact Michelle Blakely at

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