Cal State Long Beach faculty members are urging university administration to reconsider the temporary closure of the Child and Family Center during an upcoming renovation, citing the significant impacts the shutdown will have on parents, students and even the children themselves.
In a Jan. 3 letter, college leadership announced to parents that the Child and Family Center would close on June 30 for 13-to-16 months while the facility undergoes renovations.
Some parents say they were shocked by the decision and frustrated with the university’s lack of transparency. With lengthy waitlists at every nearby child care facility, they may be forced to consider other child care options such as taking unpaid leave or delaying tenure or promotions.
A representative of Cal State Long Beach declined a request for an interview.
The renovation—which comes thanks to a one-time allocation of funds included in the 2019-2020 state budget—will allow the Child and Family Center to “expand its facilities to nearly double the current capacity,” according to information on the Cal State Long Beach website.
The expansion will include three new classrooms, the renovation of existing classrooms, an additional playground, and it will allow the Child and Family Center to offer child care for the first time to student-parents, in addition to services currently offered at the Isabel Patterson Child Development Center.
However, for many of the parents of the 45 children currently at the center, over half of whom are faculty and staff members at the university, they are left without answers and child care for the summer and fall.
Lori Baralt, associate professor and chair in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Department, who has used Child and Family Center services since 2018, first heard about the renovation from another faculty member in 2021. When she emailed the director at the time, Stefanie Pedigo, inquiring about the renovation, Pedigo confirmed that a renovation would be happening, but it was in its “earliest stages of planning,” Baralt said.
It wasn’t until a year later, in October 2022, during a town hall Zoom meeting with some parents, that Department of Family and Consumer Sciences chair Wendy Reiboldt referred to the renovation, telling parents that there would be a relocation of the center during construction, although it would be a “heavy lift,” Baralt said.
“That still wasn’t an announcement to all families, because not everybody was there,” Baralt said.
The email announcing the closure in January came as a shock to parents, who now only had six months to secure child care, said Banafsheh Behzad, associate professor in the college of business.
“Six months is definitely not enough,” she said.
Behzad has found that every similarly qualified daycare center nearby has a waitlist of one to two years, and has been unable to secure daycare for this summer or the fall semester.
“I’m devastated,” Behzad said. “I have no idea what to do.”
Losing the ‘Disneyland of child care’
As one of only four National Association for the Education of Young Children-accredited child care centers in Long Beach, which is the highest level of accreditation, the Child and Family Center has built a strong reputation over the past 30 years as a resource primarily for university faculty and staff.
According to Kirstyn Chun, a clinical psychologist in CSULB’s counseling center, the Children and Family Center was known around campus as the best place for child care, both because of its proximity to work and the teacher-to-child ratio.
“I knew about it even before I had a child,” said Chun, who used the center until August 2022.
The child care center was recognized for its emphasis on stability and strong social-emotional relationships, with teachers and directors who would stay a long time, Chun said.
“A lot of parents would describe it like the Disneyland of child care,” Chun said.
While the university had initially claimed the center would be relocated, not shut down, the Jan. 3 letter to parents said the center would not relocate because of difficulties finding a temporary space for the program, with the cost of either constructing a temporary space or relocating estimated at $1 million or more.
“This was not a decision made lightly,” the Jan. 3 statement from leadership reads. “While we know this is a catastrophic decision for our families, staff, and students, it is the soundest decision.”
According to the letter, a small team toured a potential temporary space in mid-November, and found it “at best, sub-optimal,” and while other locations have been “thoroughly explored, … all would pose significant compromises on our standard services, accreditation, and licensing requirements.”
Licensing regulations for a temporary space also posed significant obstacles, according to the letter.
Still, while there may be costs for the university, there is also a huge cost on the families impacted, Behzad said.
“What I’m hearing is not that it’s actually impossible. It’s that all the options are ‘undesirable,’” Baralt said. “It feels like: If you really wanted to relocate, you would make it work, but it feels like the will isn’t there, and it felt like the planning wasn’t there.”
While alternative solutions such as constructing portable classrooms are not necessarily “ideal,” continuity of care is far more important to parents, Baralt said.
Parents have suggested relocating to the Walter Pyramid, although this idea was rejected due to safety concerns over its proximity to the street, said Behzad.
However, when the Isabel Patterson Child Development Center, the on-campus preschool for student parents, had to close for repairs in fall 2017, services were relocated to the pyramid—albeit for a shorter time period, Behzad said.
While the university has said that it would provide a list of alternative child care centers, a list has yet to be provided, Baralt said.
“As parents, we’ve all looked them up already and called them and tried to get on the waitlist, so that’s not the issue,” Baralt said. “It’s more about finding spots for us somewhere.”
An issue of equity
The closure disproportionately impacts female-identifying staff, and it’s both an equity and basics need issue, states the online petition calling to relocate the facility and retain the current lead and co-lead teachers, which was signed by three labor unions, four campus organizations, 19 departments and 341 individuals as of Tuesday.
When child care falls away, it tends to fall to women or the person with a more flexible career, which people also assume to be professors, Baralt said.
However, the summers, while not spent teaching, are time for research and writing, which is necessary for professors looking to advance their careers, Baralt said.
While Baralt was eligible for a promotion to full professor two years ago, the pandemic and the subsequent closure of child care centers meant Baralt was unable to complete her necessary research, she said.
“Part of me, of course, was just grateful that I could stay home with my kids. I could keep my family safe,” Baralt said. “In the back of my head, I just knew, ‘Your career’s taking a hit right now,’ but I was like, ‘OK, what am I going to do? It’s a pandemic, right? That’s OK.’ But then—this is not a pandemic. This feels like a choice on the part of the university, and I think that’s why I’m taking it much worse.”
Without child care, Baralt may not be able to complete her necessary research this summer, delaying her promotion once again, she said.
While the university prides itself on being a “campus of care” that prioritizes basic needs and equity issues, not providing child care, a service that was previously available, is a clear equity issue, Baralt said.
According to CSU’s 2020 Recruitment and Retention report, across the system, female faculty outnumber male faculty 3 to 2 among new tenure track hires. Faculty in the assistant and associate professor group are most likely to have young children and be negatively impacted by child care closures, according to an information sheet sent to university administration discussing child care as an equity and basic needs issue.
The impacts of the facility’s closure are not just felt by the parents—but by the center’s staff and faculty as well.
Two of the facility’s teachers have not had their contracts renewed, and three others were relocated, although one teacher has since put in her notice, said Chun.
“We consider them frontline essential workers, working with a crowded classroom of unvaccinated children for over a year who, due to their development and age, they lick things, they can’t wear masks effectively,” Chun said. “I’m so grateful to them, and so it just makes me sad. All of them have their master’s degrees and their undergraduate degrees from Cal State Long Beach. I wish we would take better care of our alumni.”
In the meantime, parents are scrambling to find alternative plans for their children.
Apart from teaching, all of Behzad’s time has gone toward this issue, from writing emails, writing letters, asking for signatures, and exploring other child care options, she said.
“I’m just constantly filling out applications, putting our name on waitlists,” Behzad said. “I still have a tiny bit of hope for the center to not close, but basically, the university leadership told us that unless a miracle happens, it’s gonna get closed.”
“We are trying. We don’t want to give up,” Behzad said. “It’s a very, very hard situation for all of us, not just for me.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more precise information on the number of signatures the online petition has received.