Stanford confronts the challenges of child care in the Bay Area

Although Stanford’s expanding opportunities for on-campus care rank among the most extensive of colleges and universities, child care remains a challenge given realities of living in the Bay Area. The WorkLife office is trying to help with more facilities and community partnerships.

When the new Children’s Center of the Stanford Community facility is completed at the end of the year and a child care center opens at the new Redwood City campus, Stanford will rank as one of the largest child care providers among colleges and universities nationwide.

Even large state universities with many more faculty members and higher student enrollment don’t offer as much child care – more than 900 spaces – as Stanford does for the children of campus community members. In fact, since 2000, child care capacity on campus has more than doubled through the construction of facilities that set Stanford apart from its higher education peers and employers in Silicon Valley.

And yet, somehow it never seems enough, especially given the high cost of child care in the Bay Area, the dearth of affordable spaces and the competitive market for the type of highly qualified child care workers Stanford requires.

It’s a quandary that Phyllis Stewart Pires, senior director of WorkLife strategy, and Raju Parikh, director of child care programs, know well. They hear from as many colleges and universities seeking to emulate the breadth and depth of Stanford’s work-life balance programs as they do members of the campus community struggling to find appropriate services for their kids.

From on-site childhood education to support for those who are adopting a child to child care grants to emergency and back-up child care to lactation programs for new mothers, Stanford’s programs are used as a benchmark for other colleges and universities seeking to offer the same level of support. Yet the realities of living in the Bay Area still cause child care anxiety.

“Child care is an especially impactful resource,” said Stewart Pires. “The feeling of confidence you have when your child is safe and happy makes such a difference for people.”

Short-term solutions

Stewart Pires has been a member of the university long-range planning committee focusing on issues facing Stanford as a community. Conversations among committee members and proposals received from community members reflect those child care challenges and the concerns of parents who work or study at the university.

“Because of the economic growth in this area, child care supply simply has not kept up with demand,” she said. “There is tremendous pressure on the child care system at Stanford and in the surrounding communities.”

rendering of play area of new Children's Center of the Stanford Community scheduled to open in 2019

Artist’s rendering of the play area at the new Children’s Center of the Stanford Community. (Image credit: Dorman Associates)

In the short term, the new, expanded Children’s Center of the Stanford Community (CCSC), which will be located on Escondido Road across the street from Escondido School and Bing Nursey School, will provide a much-needed increase in on-campus child care services. The new buildings will serve up to 225 children newborn to 5 years old – a 64 percent increase over current levels. It also will add infant/toddler care to the Escondido Village neighborhood.

Construction of the new buildings has begun. They are scheduled to open in 2019. CCSC, which has been housed in outdated modular buildings on Serra Street, is a parent cooperative founded in 1969. Its new location will feature a cluster of one-story buildings housing specialized classrooms and playgrounds for infants/toddlers, 2-year-olds and preschoolers.

In addition, the 2,700 employees who will work at the new Redwood City campus when it opens in late 2019 will be able to take advantage of the Pine Cone Children’s Center, a modern child care facility designed to accommodate 120 children.

Long term, Stewart Pires said, the General Use Permit (GUP) currently under consideration by Santa Clara County includes provisions for child care growth on the Stanford campus. The GUP, when approved, will guide the future growth of the university campus.

Beyond bricks and mortar

But looking to the far future, Stewart Pires and Parikh doubt the university’s child care challenges can be solved with brick and mortar solutions alone.

The answer, instead, may in part be in innovative partnerships created with other community organizations. Stewart Pires and Parikh point to the collaborative recently created among Stanford, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the Palo Alto Community Child Care for before- and after-school child care.

Under the agreement, Stanford provided funding to the Palo Alto Unified School District for the purchase, installation and set-up of a second modular classroom to house a popular before- and after-school program at Escondido Elementary School. The program, which is for school-age children – many associated with Stanford – is run by Palo Alto Community Child Care through its contract with the City of Palo Alto.

“That’s a good example of how we can work creatively to partner with other organizations,” said Stewart Pires, adding: “This is a good time for us to carefully look at the models under which we operate. It’s an appropriate time given how large and complicated our services have become. Are there, for instance, other partnerships we can create with centers in the community?”

Such a critical review, Stewart Pires and Parikh believe, should encompass Stanford’s commitment to provide not just high-quality child care, but high-quality preschool education.

“Child care is a necessity for faculty, staff and students so they can focus and engage,” said Parikh. “But we want to go a step beyond child care, to be a place where children actually start their educational journey. So we focus on creating world-class early childhood programs that start with highly trained, engaged educators and a play-based learning environment that provides developmentally appropriate, inclusive creative spaces that inspire and encourage curiosity and investigation. Stanford’s core is, after all, education. Like the rest of the university, we want to create a culture where excellence is considered the norm.”

This vision helped guide the process of selecting a new vendor to manage three of the university’s child care centers – Madera Grove Children’s Center, Arboretum Children’s Center and Stock Farm Road Children’s Center. The nonprofit International Child Resource Institute (ICRI) focuses on creative environments and education for children.

The experience with ICRI has so far been positive, Stewart Pires and Parikh report.

“What we see is that when faced with a problem, their instinct is to have the children’s best interest at the core of every conversation and solution, followed by what is best for the teachers. They are providing the kind of experience we ultimately want for Stanford families,” Parikh said.