When Onia Wallace left for a multiple-day work trip for her job as an education lobbyist, she was worried about leaving her young children, including a daughter with special needs, in the care of her husband and son. Both had jobs and inevitably, were called in to work, leaving her scrambling to find child care on a moment’s notice from hundreds of miles away. As summer break leaves parents searching for day care, a patchwork of child care services across the state of Texas with gaping holes — widened by closures over the last two years due to a global pandemic and continuing to bleed staff — leaves parents like Wallace in impossible situations.
“I would say it has gotten worse since last year, because you have more centers closed down,” Wallace said. “And they still have a teacher shortage.” A staffing crisis that has become a painful norm in the industry, with classrooms sitting empty despite long wait lists due to a lack of early childhood educators, has compounded the problem. Two recent reports by advocacy organizations highlight the impact COVID had on the fragile child care industry. About 21% of child care organizations went offline between March 2020 and September 2021, according to a statewide analysis by Child Care Aware and Children at Risk. Those closures expanded child care deserts, or areas with little to no access to high-quality, affordable child care by 62%. The snapshot in time doesn’t include day care centers that have reopened, or new child care centers, experts say, but the impact is still being felt.
According to an analysis by the advocacy organization Children at Risk, there are fewer than five seats in subsidized child care centers in southwest Fort Worth for every 100 children of working parents. Across Texas, the advocacy organization’s analysis of child care provider data and census data found that there are an estimated 123,000 more low-income children. For leaders and advocates in the child care space, like Kim Kofron, the director of early childhood for Children at Risk, the numbers weren’t surprising. But they underscore the urgency of the crisis of child care in the state.
“We knew we had lost providers throughout the pandemic,” she said. “But to see the numbers was kind of a reality check.” Kara Waddell, the CEO of Child Care Associates in Tarrant County, said that the region lost about 10% of quality child care providers — something she has highlighted in recent proposals for federal funding to expand infant and toddler care and stabilize existing high-quality child care across the county. But many other centers were saved by funding from their participation in Texas Rising Star, the state Quality Rating and Improvement System.
The sparse options still leave parents like Wallace in the lurch. As issues persist, advocates and economists worry that more parents could leave the workforce, while those who left amid the pandemic could not return. “I have a lot of impact on what happens in our education sector, and what happens with early childhood child care programs and stuff like that,” Wallace said. “I don’t want to walk away from my job, because I know what impact it could have. But at the same time, my kids and my family come first. And there have been times, especially within the last three, four months where I have had to have that difficult conversation of do I continue to go to work? Or do I just go ahead and give up on the career that was getting us to a point where we could be financially stable again? Just because I can’t afford child care?” That question is costing employers millions. CHILD CARE WOES COSTING COMPANIES A December report from the Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that Texas forgoes an estimated $9.39 billion a year due to lack of child care access.
A large chunk of lost economic potential, according to that report, comes from parents missing work to take care of kids, or arriving late and leaving early. Seventy-four percent of workers surveyed, representing various geographic areas, income levels and racial and ethnic backgrounds, said they missed work at least once in the last three months. Those who missed work did so for an estimated average of 15 days over the last year. The parent in these scenarios loses wages for time missed, and the employer experiences a loss in productivity as well as the financial cost of paying overtime to other workers or even hiring and paying temporary workers to make up for the missed work. Researchers say that makes up an estimated $4.72 billion in lost economic potential in Texas per year.
In more extreme cases, parents have to leave their jobs altogether in order to take care of their children full time. “As employees leave the workforce, employers face significant costs to replace them,” the report says, adding that replacing an employee can cost as much as one-fifth of an employee’s yearly salary, leading researchers to estimate that the turnover cost to employers in Texas is $2.87 billion annually. ALL CHILD CARE OPTIONS LIMITED AS SUMMER BREAK BEGINS While home-based child care centers closed at the highest rate during COVID, making up 79% of closures, a lack of early educators returning to the workforce has closed classrooms across all types of care.
Jim Batz, who has used baby sitters for his children along with his now-ex wife, has had an increasingly difficult time finding affordable and reliable sitters in recent months. “Child care is everything,” Batz said. “Even with older children, they’re involved in several extracurriculars that keep them very, very busy throughout the year. So child care is totally necessary in both our worlds to make a living and provide.” “We’d be dramatically lost without the help,” he added. But just as traditional child care is facing a shortage of educators, the pool of caregivers has dwindled in recent months. With internet searches tuning up dozens of directories for child care providers, a North Texas foundation has spearheaded a one-stop-shop for finding child care at https://find.bestplace4kids.com/ The Best Place For Kids Child Care finder tool lets parents search for a variety of care options with filters based on their preferences. “You can search all of your kids at the same time by your work or office,” said Sara Redington, the director of strategy and communication for the Miles Foundation. “You can see special-needs accommodations, you can see the teacher qualifications, whether they have current real-time availability, and this is updated on a weekly basis for Tarrant County. So in terms of parents looking for child care, the find child care tool is the number one resource for Tarrant County, no matter where you’re located, and we’ve also added summer camps and after-school options as well.” The tool will be followed up in the coming months with an app to connect parents with each other and caregivers called the Parent Pass app. The app is currently available but will officially launch later this year. The concept has been in the works for two years, with the Best Place for Kids team and 100 Fort Worth families. The app “for parents and caregivers” leverages existing community strengths and resources “to better connect families to one another and the community that surrounds them,” according to the app’s developers.
Read the full story: https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/crossroads-lab/article262497832.html#storylink=cpy