A Case Study of San Francisco County CARES
This report on the second year of the implementation of San Francisco County’s CARES program (SF CARES) as a childcare retention–incentive program describes perspectives and experiences of various stakeholders regarding several components of the program’s structure, implementation, and effects. These findings are drawn from focus group data: group interviews were conducted with program planners and funders, program staff, stipend recipients, and other members of the early care and education (ECE) community in San Francisco county. In addition to detailing perspectives on the implementation and effects of the program in Year 2, this report provides guidelines and lessons for policymakers, program planners, ECE advocates, and others who are planning similar initiatives to improve retention. This study is part of a larger evaluation of Childcare Retention Incentive (CRI) programs in San Francisco and Alameda counties being conducted by PACE at the University of California, Berkeley.
Stated program goals for SF CARES in Year 2 include improved compensation and retention of ECE staff in centers and family childcare homes, and increased public awareness of the importance of quality ECE. In comparison with Year 1, the second year of SF CARES saw over a threefold increase in the number of stipends awarded (over $3.1 million across 1,326 recipients). Program staff stepped up outreach and recruitment efforts in order to reach this goal. Recipients were, by and large, satisfied with the application and stipend distribution processes, and with the quality and availability of program staff, but there were some disagreements surrounding the specificities of stipend awards for those who used languages other than English at work, and for those who were more educated (vs. those with greater experience).
In terms of program effects, recipients particularly appreciated the monetary and professional recognition conferred by the program, as well as opportunities for professional development, networking, and advocacy. However, focus group participants felt that the program could not function alone in addressing ECE staff retention/turnover—the stipend would not necessarily cause staff to stay in their jobs.
They agreed that solutions for these staffing problems need to be implemented within a larger system of support and advocacy for the field, which includes raising public awareness of issues facing the ECE workforce, expanding local opportunities for professional development, and exerting pressure on policymakers for sustained funding to augment ECE staff salaries.