Children at Risk, a research and advocacy nonprofit focused on improving the quality of life for Texas’ children, held a public forum on the existence of child care deserts in the greater Houston area, and strategies for doing something about them.
“Texas has lost 21% of its child care providers during the pandemic (from March 2020 – September 2021), 80% of those which were child care homes,” said Sharon Watkins Jones, Children at Risk’s chief equity officer.
Of programs that closed during that time, 41% served infants and toddlers, and 79% of them were in-home child care providers. Since the beginning of the pandemic through September 2021, Texas had an additional 242 communities become child care deserts, with over 50% of children 0-5 from low-income families in Texas living in a subsidized child care desert.
A zip code is a “child care desert” if the number of children under age 6 with working parents is three times greater than the licensed capacity of child care providers in the area.
Currently, Texas has 635 total zip codes that are child care deserts.
During their recent press conference, Children at Risk released the new maps showing child care deserts around the state. The interactive maps allow users to view child care availability in specific geographic areas, including county, workforce board, and congressional districts.
Child care providers, economic experts, and data analysts will highlight the experiences of child care providers that caused so many closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what the future of Texas will look like if we don’t rebuild (and expand) our child care infrastructure.
Kim Kofron, Children at Risk’s director of early childhood education, says the pandemic wreaked havoc on child care accessibility, but also spotlighted two “data points” that allowed some child care providers to weather the COVID storm and keep their doors open.
“The first is that Texas Rising Stars program that’s administered by the Texas Workforce Commission; a program that supports high-quality child care providers across the state,” said Kofron. “The second one is the COVID Relief Stabilization grants that the federal government passed through the Texas Workforce Commission.”
Kofron said that out of all of the providers that closed over the pandemic, only 2.9% of those providers were Rising Star participants. She added that 98.4% of the programs that received that first round of stabilization grants last summer have remained open.
“So, we know these two factors made a huge difference. But we also know they’re not enough to ease all of the struggles that child care providers are facing across the state,” added Kofron.
During the gathering of child care advocates, Kofron offered several suggestions as ways to help alleviate child care deserts. They are as follows:
First, improve access to high-quality settings across the state and for all families.
“Families should really have a choice of high-quality child care no matter what type of program they’re interested in, as well as no matter where they live. When we’re able to think about a holistic system for children birth through five across settings, which includes public school pre-k programs, child care, family child care, faith-based programs, early Head Start, Head Start, charter schools, families are able to then determine what’s the best setting for their individual family.”
Second, support and strengthen the early childhood workforce through compensation and education.
“We don’t only want to keep our current childhood workforce, but we also have to build a pipeline for our future educators to come into this field and have an attractive profession to come into.”
Third, remove barriers to as well as increase incentives for partnerships between the independent school districts and high-quality child care providers.
“This will really maximize our tax dollars.”
Fourth, increase the reimbursement rate for child care providers that are providing high-quality care.
“We must pay child care providers at the true cost of providing these experiences, not just determine those rates based on what families can afford, which is how we determine those rates in our current system.”
Fifth, increase investments in our early childhood education systems.
“It is time for us as Texans to start having that conversation around how do we invest in our own children, our own families, to ensure that now only do they have high-quality early learning experiences for our children, but then parents are able to go to work, and our early childhood educators are compensated and respected for their profession.”
Watkins Jones echoed the sentiment of all press conference participants when she said, “If we don’t help childcare recover, our economy won’t follow and it won’t recover, as well.”
The child care desert and child care closure maps are viewed as tools to provide the information needed to help families locate quality child care, and to identify areas needing the most attention regarding shoring up or infusing new child care providers.
The map, developed in partnership with Child Care Aware of America, was the first tool highlighted during the press conference. allows users to look specifically at child care closures from March 2020 to September 2021. Using data provided by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), it contains the operational status of child care providers from March 2020 to September 2021. Users will also find 2019 – 2021 snapshot data from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), including child care subsidy enrollment and TRS status. The map is available at www.childrenatrisk.org/childcareclosuremap.
“The mapping project allows users to look at child care closures in Texas from March 202o to September 2021,” said Diane Girouard, state policy analyst for Child Care Aware of America. “Users can narrow down the data to look at how many providers within the state during this specific time frame remained open, served infants and toddlers and accepted families receiving subsidies.”
The second tool is Children at Risk’s Child Care Desert Mapthat has been updated with new data and functionality.
Users will see pandemic era closures and changes through September 2021. Additionally, the map now has a state summary feature which shows the total number of seats, child care seats per 100 children of working parents, and number of desert zip codes across the state. Data is available by state, county, zip code, workforce board, school district, state senate district, state house district, or city council. The map and analysis are available at https://childrenatrisk.org/childcaredeserts/.
“Early childhood education is important for children and families, but it’s also important for our Texas economy to thrive,” added Kofron.