Looking for child care in Tarrant County? This tool could help

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When Onia Wallace left on a multi-day work trip for her job as an education lobbyist, she feared leaving her young children, including a daughter with special needs, in the care of her husband and his son.

Both had jobs and inevitably were called to work, leaving her scrambling to find daycare at any time hundreds of miles away.

As summer vacation forces parents to seek child care, a patchwork of child care centers across the state of Texas with gaping holes – widened by closures over the past 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 closed centers,” Wallace said. “And they still have a shortage of teachers.”

A staffing crisis that has become a painful industry norm, with empty classrooms despite long waiting lists due to a lack of early childhood educators, has compounded the problem.

Two recent reports from advocacy organizations highlight the impact of COVID on the fragile child care sector.

About 21% of child care organizations logged out between March 2020 and September 2021, according to a statewide analysis by Child Care Aware and Children at Risk. These closures have expanded childcare deserts, or areas with little or no access to affordable, high-quality childcare by 62%.

The snapshot in time does not include child care centers that have reopened, nor new child care facilities, experts say, but the impact is still being felt.

According to an analysis by the advocacy organization Children at Risk, there are less than five subsidized child care spaces 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 there are about 123,000 more low-income children.

For leaders and advocates in the child care space, like Kim Kofron, the early years director for at-risk children, the numbers weren’t surprising. But they underscore the urgency of the state’s child care crisis.

“We knew we had lost suppliers throughout the pandemic,” she said. “But seeing the numbers was kind of a reality check.”

Kara Waddell, CEO of Child Care Associates in Tarrant County, said the area has lost about 10% of quality child care providers — something she highlighted in recent federal funding proposals for expand infant and toddler care and stabilize existing high-grade children. care across the county.

But many other centers have been saved with funding from their participation in the Texas Rising Star, the state’s quality rating and improvement system.

The few options still leave parents like Wallace struggling. As the problems persist, advocates and economists fear more parents will 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 child care programs and things like that,” Wallace said. “I don’t want to quit my job, because I know what impact it could have. But at the same time, my children and my family come first. And there have been times, especially in the last three or four months, where I’ve had to have this difficult conversation about whether I’m still going to work? Or should I just move on and abandon the career that was leading us to a point where we could be financially stable again? Just because I can’t afford child care? »

This issue is costing employers millions.

Childcare issues are costing businesses money

A December report from the Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that Texas was forgoing about $9.39 billion a year due to lack of access to child care.

According to the report, much of the lost economic potential comes from parents missing work to care for children, or arriving late and leaving early.

Seventy-four percent of workers surveyed, representing various geographies, income levels and racial and ethnic backgrounds, said they had been absent from work at least once in the past three months. Those who have been absent from work have done so for an estimated average of 15 days over the past year.

In these scenarios, the parent loses pay for the missed time, and the employer suffers lost productivity as well as the financial cost of paying overtime to other workers or even hiring and paying temporary workers. to compensate for missed work. The researchers say that’s about $4.72 billion in lost economic potential in Texas per year.

In the most extreme cases, parents have to quit their jobs altogether to care for their children full-time.

“When employees leave the workforce, employers face significant costs to replace them,” the report said, adding that replacing an employee can cost up to one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary, which has led researchers to estimate that the cost of turnover for employers in Texas is $2.87 billion per year.

All childcare options are limited at the start of summer vacation

While home child care centers have closed at the highest rate during COVID, accounting for 79% of closures, the lack of early educators returning to the workforce has closed classrooms across all child care types.

Jim Batz, who used babysitters for his children with his now ex-wife, has had an increasingly difficult time finding affordable and reliable babysitters in recent months.

“Child care is everything,” Batz said. “Even with older children, they participate in several extracurricular activities that keep them very, very busy throughout the year. Childcare is therefore totally necessary in both our worlds to earn a living and support oneself.

“We would be dramatically lost without this help,” he added.

But just as traditional childcare services are facing a shortage of educators, the pool of caregivers has shrunk in recent months.

With internet searches resolving dozens of directories for child care providers, a North Texas foundation spearheaded a one-stop-shop for finding childcare at https://find.bestplace4kids.com/

The Best Place For Kids Child Care search tool allows parents to search for a variety of child care options with filters based on their preferences.

“You can search for all of your children at once through your work or office,” said Sara Redington, director of strategy and communications at the Miles Foundation. “You can see special needs housing, you can see teacher qualifications, if they have current availability in real time, and that’s updated on a weekly basis for Tarrant County. So when it comes to parents looking for child care, the Child Care Finder is the number one resource for Tarrant County no matter where you are, and we’ve also added summer camps and after school options.

The tool will be followed in the coming months by 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 each other and the community around them,” according to the app’s developers.

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Isaac Windes covers early childhood education as part of Star-Telegram’s Crossroads Lab. The position is funded with assistance from the Morris Foundation. Windes is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Before coming to Star-Telegram, he wrote about schools and colleges in southeast Texas for the Beaumont Enterprise. He was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Please ask your questions about early childhood education. Email: iwindes@star-telegram.com or call or text (817) 668-5449. Follow Isaac on Twitter @isaacdwindes

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