Lucia Rivera Early Learning Center in Boyle Heights. Photo by Jackie Ramírez
The California Children’s Academy has transformed one of its schools into an infant care program that serves low-income families. Located near the corner of César Chávez and Breed, its Lucía Rivera Early Learning Center can provide day care to as many as 40 infants from eight weeks to two years old. Currently, 36 infants are enrolled.
Paquita Mansouri, child development program supervisor of Children’s Bureau, says Boyle Heights has limited childcare opportunities, and the infant center fills a need in the community.
“Many parents are struggling to go to work or school and aren’t able to do so,” she says. “They don’t have the money, the education, and they don’t have any support of the community for the young children.”
Childcare expenses are often highest for children under the age of six. The average cost of infant care in California can run to $11,817 annually, according to the Economic Policy Institute, ranking California 11th out of 50 states with the most expensive infant care.
Many licensed family daycare centers can be too expensive for Boyle Heights families to afford, charging between $880 and $1,140 a month in a neighborhood where the median income is $33,235, according to Mapping L.A., a Los Angeles Times data resource. Families that don’t have relatives to help care for children sometimes end up forgoing one income so one parent can stay at home. Yet today with rising rents, many families must rely on two incomes to make ends meet.
Eduardo Quezada, an East L.A. resident, says that before the infant center opened, he and his wife took turns caring for their two infants. “We alternated who went to work,” he says.
At the Lucía Rivera Center, the cost for the infant center depends on each family’s income. A family of four with an income of $2,717 monthly would pay $52 a month for fulltime care, based upon the California Department of Education’s Family Monthly Fee Schedule. The average cost of a commercial child care is around $972 a month nationally, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.
The Rainbow Children’s Center, operated by the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and the Adventist Health White Memorial (AHWM), provides another option for infant care for low-income families in Boyle Heights, with a center located at 1800 Pennsylvania Avenue. But limited space is available, and families have to apply far in advance, often when expectant mothers are pregnant.
Vanessa Ochoa, mother of a one-year old, says before putting her son in the new infant care program she struggled with finding the right care and being able to get to work on time. “He was in another facility, and I wasn’t happy with that, and I just didn’t feel comfortable.” Now, she says, “I can leave him here and go off to work and I know he’s fine.”
Some parents who had their older children enrolled in one of the California’s Children Academy preschools said they wished that the infant program had been around when the children were babies.
Kathleen Carol Brown, CEO of California Children’s Academy, says that many staff at the Lucía Rivera Center have worked with children for years, and many live in the community.
Irma Molinar, a teacher, has been working with children for more than 26 years and with infants for 18 years. “I’m here, and I don’t want to retire,” she says. “They need me, and I need them.”
Molinar says her favorite activity with infants is music. She keeps a couple of harmonicas in her pocket, and when she reaches into her pocket, the infants start to get excited.
Children admitted as infants can stay in the school as they get older and continue on to the toddler room and to other Children’s Academy location for preschool. In keeping with state guidelines for licensed facilities, the ratio is one to three for caregivers to infants; one to four for toddlers 18-35 months; and one to eight for preschoolers 3 and over.
Families interested in enrolling their children can call the California Children’s Academy eligibility department at (323) 263-3846. An eligibility specialist will determine if the family is eligible for subsidies and add it to the waiting list if requested.
Jackie Ramírez, a former Boyle Heights Beat reporter, is a student at Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles.