A rousing game of capture the flag occupies city of Berkeley campers until their parents pick them up. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Last Thursday afternoon, 40-some kids sprinted around Willard Park, capturing flags and thwacking tether balls. That’s the typical scene at the park most summer afternoons, where the campers at Berkeley Day Camp’s extended care program keep busy until their parents come pick them up.

Recreation services like the popular day camp claimed a good chunk of the $12.2 million that the city spent on children last year, according to a brand new report that details — for the first time ever, according to the city — the funding spent on children’s programs and services in 2013.

“Previously, there was no one place you could look at to see what the different programs the city provides for children are, and how much money is being spent,” said city spokesman Matthai Chakko about the report. “So this was an effort to help the council, the commissioners, or members of the community look at the funding towards children in one place.”

The report collects data from all city departments that provide services to Berkeley’s 17,715 children ages zero to 18, along with those that help families due to the presence of children. Services included range from police investigations into child abuse to family therapy and children’s library programs.

The total amount of money the city spent on children in 2013 is $12.2 million, which is 4% of the city’s total budget of $313.6 million. Just over half of the funding came from the city’s General Fund, with state, county, grant and other city funding making up the rest.

The largest category of service is Health and Wellness (45% of the budget), followed by Youth Development and Education (35%), Early Childhood Education (16%), and Child Welfare & Safety (4%).

The report tracks children’s funding within the city’s departments and divisions. Public Health is the division with the largest child-oriented budget, at $4.2 million, which is nearly half of its entire budget.

“It’s not surprising that the bulk of resources would be related to children and youth,” said Director of Public Health Janet Berreman.

The mission of Public Health is one of protection and prevention, rather than treatment, she explained. Initiatives such as the federally-funded Women, Infants & and Children Program, which provides breastfeeding support and food vouchers to new mothers, are designed to prevent problems from arising down the line.

“We really feel most successful when we’ve been able to prevent things at their origin, if we can set up conditions for healthy living early on in the life course,” she said.

The children’s budget report breaks down youth-oriented funding by city division. (Click the graph to see the full report.)
The children’s budget report breaks down youth-oriented funding by city division. (Click the graph to see the full report.)

Berkeley is one of three cities in California to operate its own public health division, which qualifies it for state and federal funding it wouldn’t otherwise receive, Chakko said.

A close second to Public Health, the city’s Recreation Division received $3.1 million for youth programs. A large portion of that money is dedicated to the city’s after-school programs and summer camps.

The Children, Youth and Recreation Commission, which worked with city staff to prepare the report, did not look into how Berkeley compares to other cities’ children’s budgets. That may be an element of future reports, Chakko said.

“This is a baseline for how to look at this funding, and we anticipate that we’ll update it every couple of years,” Chakko said.

According to the report, children make up 15.7% of the city’s total population, with 72.5% enrolled in Berkeley’s public schools. There are 1,729 children living below the federal poverty level in the city.

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...