Child care deserts. This is a term describing both the lack of and demand for quality daycare facilities. This is a widespread problem across the nation – including here at home.
In Central Texas alone, almost half of Bell County has little-to-no registered childcare providers to meet the demand for working families. This means parents have limited options to meet the needs for their child.
However, one local organization is trying to bridge this gap.
Availability and affordability are just some of the factors parents consider when it comes to finding quality child care services for their families.
The Workforce Solutions in Bell County is working with families by expanding accredited childcare facilities in the area to make sure every child gets the care they need.
“For a while, you know, it was hard to find a job because of childcare,” says parent Irene Harris.
Harris moved to Texas with her family five years ago. As a parent, she said the move wasn’t easy.
“That was the challenge right there. Just having someone to watch them while you go to those interviews and go out to look for the job,” Harris says.
The move came with new responsibilities – a new home, looking for a new job, a new daycare for her one and ten-year-olds.
Within those few months, Harris noticed just how difficult it was to find affordable child care services in Killeen.
“For one, you can’t take a child out on these interviews with you. And it’s hard to take a child in and out of the car to fill out an application. So that was one of the challenges – well, the biggest challenge,” Harris says.
Harris eventually reached out to the Workforce Solutions of Central Texas. The organization helps thousands of parents find not only affordable, but accredited childcare services across Bell County. This is a problem they are trying to fix.
“I think I hear all of the time that there is a strong need for infant and toddler services than we have available,” says Sherry Trebus, Workforce Solutions of Central Texas and National Association for the Education of Young Children Accreditation Coordinator.
In Bell County, more than five census tracts with a population of more than 50 children under the age of five have few to no licensed childcare slots available in their areas.
By the Center for American Progress, these areas fall under a child care desert – meaning the demand for child care services is higher than what is supplied.
According to the report, these areas have more than three children for every licensed child care spot.
“The desert really is in the rural areas – outside of the city limits of the major centers. So the further you get to the rural areas, the fewer options there are,” says Susan Kamas, Workforce Solutions Executive Director.
Kamas says the void is even worse for parents searching for child care after business hours or rural areas where low income families live.
“After 6 [pm], evening shifts, especially for those parents that work in the industrial part and weekends. So that’s the real desert,” Kamas explains.
After seeing the problem, Central Texas went from having two accredited child care facilities, with now more than 50.
“We believe that children deserve to have high quality and early care and education setting,” Trebus says.
Trebus works with childcare facilities to make sure they’re certified with quality teachers and equipment. They also work with providers to expand their availability.
“We look at the whole system and try to support providers that want to participate in the system by making it as cost neutral as possible,” Trebus says.
The Creative Child Learning Arts Academy in Killeen underwent an expansion in the last year because of the demand – but Director Jeannie Herring says keeping up with an accredited and affordable facility does come with a cost.
“It’s thousands of dollars,” Herring says. “Thousands and thousands of dollars a year to do this. Then to keep the staff and the amount of staff so that your ratio is lower.”
Cost is another factor of child care deserts, with parents forking up more than $8,000 a year for child care. Herring says to fill the gap, the facility works with Workforce Solutions to ensure parents of all incomes have local, licensed care for thier children.
“My passion is that we are touching children of all levels, and it – it’s just that they deserve it. One child shouldn’t deserve something more over the parent dynamic of the other one,” Herring says.
“They are very watchful. They respect my wishes. I don’t have any complaints on them or anything. They’re pretty good about going by what you ask for them to do,” Harris says.
For parents like Harris – no matter where she goes, she wants to make sure the ones she loves are in good hands.
“No one is going to take care of your child the way that you would take care of them. So for me, if they got close to it or did their best to do things my way, then I am happy,” Harris says.
Workforce Solutions says the demand for child care in the county is so high, that at one point they even had a waitlist with more than 1,800 people seeking care for their kids.
To see if there is a child care desert where you live, you can go here.