The Challenge

Over 40% of Orange County parents and guardians who completed our survey reported that the price and/or inaccessibility of child care has prevented them from working at some point

Orange County parents and guardians reported that their greatest challenges with finding child care are:





(both location and hours)


Quality That Meets Expectations

This is hard for employers and working parents and guardians.

“If we could double, triple, quadruple child care capacity, demand is that much greater than supply…the need is great for both students and faculty/staff.”

Cal State University, Fullerton

Orange County Employer

Jeannette - Orange County parent

“When our second entered daycare, it was the most financially stressful time of our lives. Most of my paycheck was going to child care and I was using my credit card for everything from groceries to gas to utilities. But when you have a job and you’re trying to get ahead you just keep going. I was just trying to survive. There wasn’t another option.”

Orange County Parent

The price of child care in Orange County breaks most families’ budgets5



The median income for a family of four is not enough to pay for child care after covering basic needs



The average annual cost of full-time care for two young children is more than the average annual CA in-state tuition at a 4-year college6

“I am a single mother of 3 and work from about 9 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday. My children’s daycare is only open Monday through Friday so my mom has to watch them on Saturdays…I have to leave early a lot because my kids cannot stay past 6…If I could find child care with more flexible hours, I would look for a better position.”


Orange County Parent

Subsidized programs provide access to child care for families that couldn’t otherwise afford it, but only a small portion of eligible families are served by these programs7


More than half of OC children age 0-4 are eligible for state or federal subsidies based on income


Orange County is serving approx. 3,500 infants/toddlers (age 0-2) out of 56,000 eligible for state and federally subsidized programs

(based on pre-pandemic data)


Challenges include:

  • Not enough funding
  • Difficulty navigating the system
  • Some may choose not to access it

Many families sit on a waitlist hoping to get a spot

Family Perspective

While some can access subsidies, many families are not eligible yet still struggle to afford child care

Tiffany and family playing at the park

“There is a huge gap between making what people would consider decent money and being able to afford full-time child care. Especially when you have three kids close in age. Maybe you could afford that great preschool at first but if you have one or two more kids, suddenly you can’t. And then maybe you downgrade to something less quality with your second. When you fall in a certain [income] bracket there is no more financial help for you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need it.”

Orange County Parent

The struggle is real to find child care that supports working parents' and guardians' work schedules

“Finding someone that can work with your work hours is really challenging. I have to be at work early and hardly anyone will take them that early. Plus I have to be gone more than eight hours and if you go beyond that it’s so much money. Most places only have an eight-hour window so you have to time everything perfectly in order to get everywhere on time. Our daycare opens at 6:30 so I have to be waiting outside the door when they open in order to drop off my kids and get to work on time. But it was the only affordable option that started that early. My available hours have been cut because of child care options. I have to get there late or leave early depending on when daycare is available. If I need to be at work later my mom has to pick them up.”

Orange County Parent

Parents describe “trust,” or finding a child care option that they feel comfortable with, as critical

Roxanne and family

“Besides cost and location, finding someone you trust is the most important thing.”

Orange County Parent

Parents of children with disabilities expressed greater challenges

“It is very hard to find care for someone with special needs. When my son started kindergarten I was crying all the time.”

Orange County Parent

Tiffany Mitchell and family

Our Phase I Child Care Landscape Analysis revealed that one of Orange County’s biggest challenges is a huge lack of infant/toddler care8


The number of preschool-age children per licensed child care spot


The number of infants and toddlers (age 0-2) per licensed child care spot

Note: “Licensed child care spots” refer to the number of spots in licensed child care settings at any one time. Numbers are pre-pandemic.
1 in 0

Even if only ⅓ of infants and toddlers in Orange County required child care, there would still only be enough licensed capacity for 1 in 7 children.9

In short, finding child care is a monumental challenge


While resources exist, parents often rely on word-of-mouth or trial and error

Children’s Home Society is Orange County’s Resource & Referral Agency for child care


The pandemic made it even more difficult

The result … parents piece together child care solutions, settle for less than ideal situations, and make significant sacrifices to make things work

What parents say they need


More affordable, quality options or assistance covering the cost of child care


More flexible hours that meet work schedules when factoring in pick-up and drop-off time, and including shift hours and weekends


More options for infant/toddler care


Assistance finding quality child care


Flexibility at work and support from their employers

working dad holding a sleeping baby while looking at his phone

Employer Perspective

Lack of adequate child care is taking working parents out of the workforce talent pool, and many employers recognize the importance of addressing this challenge

a toddler wearing overalls sits on the floor playing with wooden trains

“How do we better help working parents? Make it easier for them to focus on work without worrying how their child is doing throughout the day.”

James Morrison
Human Resources Business Partner, Orange County Employer

“Even before we were significantly impacted by COVID-19, a medical staff survey revealed to us that some clinicians were already having difficulty finding childcare due to their variable shifts.”

Orange County Academic Health System

Women are disproportionately impacted, especially with the pandemic10


Orange County survey revealed it is most often the mom/female caregiver that sacrifices their career to care for children and other household duties


With the COVID-19 pandemic, women have seen significant job losses

a mom works on her computer while her young son does school work
0 times

as many women as men left the workforce in January, 2021


female labor force participation has fallen to its lowest point since the 1980s

a woman tries to work on her laptop computer while holding a sleeping baby

Women of color have been hit particularly hard


As of January 2021, 28% of Latina women and 24% of Black women are involuntarily working part-time, compared with 17% of all women

“Lack of adequate affordable child care is taking working parents out of the workforce talent pool. There is a gap with women leaving the workforce. Many working mothers are working to just pay the cost of child care.”

City of Irvine
Orange County Employer

Child care is a “rising issue” in terms of the importance to HR benefits


Common child care related benefits include:

  • dependent care flexible spending accounts
  • assistance finding child care (e.g. through
  • employer contribution to health insurance for family members

Larger employers have more resources to offer these benefits and others


It is more challenging for small-mid sized organizations


Employers that are “ahead of the curve” also offer back-up child care, employer contribution to child care costs, and/or a contract with designated child care provider(s)

These employers shared that investing in these areas (e.g. providing 10 days paid child care at Bright Horizons) translates to less turnover in voluntary separations and much lower absenteeism

What employers say they need


Increased employee access to financial assistance


Incentives and support if they are considering providing child care at or near their work site

  • Some employers say they could provide a location for contracted child care
  • Employers have liability concerns about providing onsite child care, regardless of whether they provide it themselves or contract out
dad wearing a suit holds his sleeping baby

So how do we fix the system?