Cat Jorgenson doesn’t return to her job as a special education assistant until August, but she started looking for a place to keep her infant son Liam in April.
Over several months, the Rohnert Park resident called between 40 and 50 providers and heard back from only five with possible openings.
It wasn’t until last week she finally found a provider in north Santa Rosa that she liked and who could take her 5-month-old.
“It was a huge amount of relief,” she said. “I didn’t know if I’d actually find something. I was starting to come up with ways I could quit my job and work from home, but I didn’t want to do that. I love my job; it’s my career.”
Jorgenson’s story echoes that of many new parents around Sonoma County who are seeking day care for their babies and finding a dearth of spaces and long wait lists. Indeed, the county is currently meeting just 34 percent of the need for infant child care, based on a report issued by the Child Care Planning Council in late 2014.
As a result, numerous parents reported experiencing a sense of panic as deadlines to return to work loomed, with many going to extreme measures to secure a place for their child. Some paid child care centers for one or two months of service before ever leaving their infant there, simply to reserve a spot. Others agreed to rates far higher than they originally planned to pay, and others settled for places that fell short of their expectations because they were the only option available.
“It really limits your ability to choose where you’re putting your child,” Jorgenson said.
Megan Hede, head of a network of child care providers called the Sonoma County Child Care Association, sympathized. “The last thing you want to do is compromise on child care,” she said.
Shaela Ross, who runs an at-home day care care in Santa Rosa off Sonoma Avenue and administers a Facebook group connecting parents with licensed child care providers, says she often has to warn parents about the lack of spaces.
“There’s (almost) no infant openings in Sonoma County,” she said. At her own day care, five families are on a waiting list for one infant spot set to open in August.
One of her clients, Cheriene Griffith, said she “got lucky” when she found an opening there for her infant daughter, Aurora, about two years ago. She found the place only after a roughly four-month search that began when she was pregnant. She almost settled for a place she wasn’t entirely satisfied with before finding Ross’ Heart 2 Heart.
“It was sheer luck of the draw, she said.
Child care advocates and providers around the county acknowledged the dearth of infant child care, which they agreed has gotten worse in recent years. They pointed to a number of factors contributing to the shortage, but the primary culprit seems to be a decline in the number of at-home child care centers, which provide the bulk of infant care in the county. These are state-licensed centers that operate out of people’s homes, serving up to 14 children, rather than larger, commercial child care centers.
The county lost nearly 20 percent of its family child care capacity between June 2006 and June 2015, according to Lorie Siebler, assistant director of resource and referral at the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County, or 4Cs. In addition to running a number of preschools around the county serving low-income families, the agency provides referrals of licensed child care providers to families seeking the service. The at-home centers decreased from 465 to 367 in that period, she said.