Orange County child care council honors providers for heroic work

Child care appreciation event

Prior to the pandemic, there were 2,150 licensed child care facilities in the Orange County area with space for just over 80,000 children, according to the website Kids Data. Then came the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, when closures meant there were even fewer facilities to serve a reported 228,332 children ages zero to 5.

To assist with available space and child care supplies, the Orange County Child Care and Development Planning Council, which is based at OCDE, developed an ad hoc committee called the Emergency Child Care Task Force. This group was established in April 2020 as a support system for providers throughout the county. 

Since its inception, the Emergency Child Care Task Force has aided child care providers and facilities with cash stipends totaling $5,275,688, along with donations of diapers, wipes, gloves, cleaning products, reusable cloth masks, touchless thermometers and 300 hours of exclusive shopping at Costco, according to planning council data.  

About six months ago, the council began thinking of ways that they could show their gratitude to the child care workers they support. This led the task force to plan an event on April 30, with the help of local partner organizations and volunteers, to remind Orange County child care providers that they do heroic work day in and day out.

Hosted in the Orange County Department of Education parking lot, the appreciation event honored the facilities that have continued to care for children, complete with a drive-through ceremony. 

Susan Shepardson, program specialist for the Orange County Child Care and Development Planning Council and a member of the OCDE Early Learning Team, recognized the importance of lending support to the providers who care for children while their parents are working on the front lines.

“Child care is the backbone of our economy. They are the workforce behind our workforce,” Shepardson said. “When the pandemic first hit, many of the providers remained open for business to provide care for essential workers’ children.”

Child care superheroes

With the theme, “Orange County Providers Help Our Children Bloom,” a total 460 cars of child care providers pulled up to the event. The task force committee said they were appreciative of the large turnout and excited to celebrate the good work. Volunteers formed a cheer line for the cars, handing out 920 gift bags for each provider, including “I Am a Child Care Superhero” yard signs and appreciation goodies once they reached the end. 

During the pandemic, Shepardson said, “providers also struggled to obtain cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, assist school age students with distance learning, and at times had to temporarily close their doors due to COVID exposures, which resulted in a loss of income.”

Given the supply shortage and lack of proper distribution, the task force came in handy when child care providers did not have the means to continue.

In addition to administering resources to facilities, the Emergency Child Care Task Force developed the OC Local Child Care Database, in partnership with Early Childhood OC, to arrange a direct line of communication between parents and county child care providers. The committee also helped to locate warehouse sites for proper storage and distribution of personal protective equipment, as well as supplies to maintain a safe, sterile environment for children and staff. 

Organizations working together

The task force is comprised of representatives from 14 local agencies and non-profit organizations including Children’s Home Society of California and First 5 Orange County. Together, these organizations provided the resources and information needed to support child care workers once the state of emergency was declared in 2020. 

With the state transitioning its emergency response to COVID-19 in 2022, the emergency task force’s work will be passed on to the strategic planning committee at First 5 Orange County, according to Dr. Elida Garcia, Early Learning Services Administrator at OCDE. 

Although the council doesn’t have any child care events currently on its calendar, the members anticipate more celebrations to come. 

“It was a success,” Dr. Garcia said, “so hopefully we can do similar events in the future.”