UC Santa Cruz family housing
UC Santa Cruz family housing.
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UC Santa Cruz

A baby step: UCSC students celebrate reopening of infant care program

Graduate students at UC Santa Cruz are celebrating a small but impactful decision: The school is reopening its infant care program after it closed in December 2019. The program will return in the fall and provide care for up to six infants.

UC Santa Cruz graduate student Hannah Newburn almost cries thinking about what it would have been like to have had affordable infant care this past year on campus for her 13-month-old son, Loren.

After several months of organizing with tens of other UCSC student-parents to urge the university to reinstate its on-site infant care program, Newburn calls the recent announcement of its reopening a victory — even if her son will age out of the program by the time it restarts.

In November, the group sent a letter to Chancellor Cynthia Larive and other administrators asking that they reopen the program to help student-parents advance in their studies.

“Until services are restored and expanded to meet the needs of the university’s scholars with young children, we’re asking for a monthly stipend of $2,000 to help cover out-of-pocket child care expenses,” the student-parents wrote in the Nov. 29 letter. “Our need is pressing, we look forward to your response.”

Last week, the university responded by putting the program, which had been closed for nearly three years, back in business.

UCSC graduate students, who have been demanding housing and child care stipends and more job stability, applauded the small but important outcome, with the infant care program at UCSC’s Early Education Services set to reopen this fall for up to six infants aged 11-18 months.

Student-parents say the university’s Early Education Services offers both higher quality and more affordable care than off-campus options. That made the closure of the infant care program due to staffing shortages all the more disappointing for them. As the program reopens, it will hire three new teachers and one teacher’s assistant.

Once they reach 18 months, infants who age out of the program can transition to the toddler care program — depending on staff and space availability. The university doesn’t track how many students have children, but 94% of the families on the waitlist are graduate students and the rest are undergraduates. Officials haven’t yet said what the price of the new service will be.

“Their proposal in the end is somewhat modest,” Newburn said about the program. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

She says six spots is better than none, but that more are needed for student-parents — and care is needed for student-parents with children younger than 11 months. For example, she says, programs offered at other UCs provide care starting for infants as young as 6 weeks to 3 months.

Without greater access to affordable child care at the university, graduate student-parents across the UC system are negotiating for an increase to the quarterly child care stipend.

UAW 2865, the union that represents more than 19,000 graduate student instructors, teaching assistants, tutors and readers at all University of California campuses, now bargains for a $6,000 quarterly child care stipend as part of the graduate student union’s new contract negotiations, according to Newburn. Currently, she is reimbursed a quarterly stipend of $1,100 for child care.

“There’s a clear gap in the offerings between the UCs,” Newburn added. However small a victory, she emphasized that students are happy that administrators heard their call for reopening the infant care program.

Although the infant program closed in 2019, UCSC’s Early Education Services continued providing care for children in the toddler, preschool and school-age programs. While the pandemic affected the programs, shifting temporarily to distance learning in 2020, they remained open. The center serves up to 62 children.

University spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason said the infant care program closed due to staffing shortages. Citing confidentiality, he didn’t provide reasons for employees leaving the program, but said the university decided to reopen it to help student-parents succeed in their work.

“We restored infant care because we know that level of care is difficult to find in our community, is important to our student-parents and families,” he said. “We know that restoring full-service child care to our student-parent families can make an important contribution to student success.”

Lookout reached out to Early Education Services Director Emili Willet for further context on the campus’ programs, but did not get a response.

In addition to announcing the reinstatement of the infant care program, Early Education Services announced expanded hours — which was another request of student-parents. Once the university has sufficient staffing, it will expand operating hours for the fall to 7:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. from its current operating hours, which are 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Student-parent struggles

A Ph.D. student in the literature department, Newburn just finished teaching an upper-division literature course for 30 undergraduate students three days a week. Between teaching and taking care of an infant, she said she had no time to make progress on her dissertation.

If she had had infant care for Loren, “I could have fully done my job,” she said. “And I could have been making progress on my degree. It would have allowed my partner to pursue more teaching opportunities to work on his dissertation.”

This past year, Newburn and her partner, Jeremy Gauger, have had opposite-day work schedules, which helped them manage care among the couple and a babysitter.

With the quarterly child care stipend from the university, they had some financial support, but considering the high costs of care, Newburn says it doesn’t go very far. They paid a babysitter $25 per hour.

Last month, they enrolled Loren at Tender Blossoms Preschool WeeCare on the Westside. That relieved time pressure, but costs $1,200 a month for care three days a week. Only with financial help from Newburn’s grandfather can the couple afford it.

By the fall, Loren will be eligible for the toddler program at Early Education Services. Because Newburn doesn’t know what her income will be at that time and the fees for programs are calculated based on income, she doesn’t know how much it will cost.

“But it might be subsidized by the state if we’re under a certain threshold,” she said.

Newburn said the balancing of child care and her responsibilities as a graduate student have been exhausting and “traumatizing.”

She says the union’s proposed child care stipend increase — which would take her from $1,100 to $6,000 per quarter — would make a big difference in their lives.

“I think that’s essential for student-parents.”