Dallas Working Parents Still Seek Childcare Solutions
February 18, 2021

Dallas Working Parents Still Seek Childcare Solutions

Foundation Grantees Dallas Afterschool and ChildCareGroup Featured in Dallas Morning News

Dallas nonprofits Dallas Afterschool and ChildCareGroup were featured in an article by the Dallas Morning News last week discussing a survey that Dallas Afterschool commissioned from Afterschool Alliance, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for strategies to increase public and private investments in afterschool programs.

The survey showed that Dallas’ working parents are struggling to find after-school care for their children due to COVID-related shortages. A multitude of factors led to the shortage of childcare options including reduced capacity at the childcare facilities due to social distancing, a shortage of sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment, exposure or infection closures, financial hardship which led to an inability to pay childcare fees, fundraising shortfalls paired with an increase in operating expenses, and safety fears had by all parties.

Access to high-quality, affordable, out-of-school-time programming has long been a priority for The Rees-Jones Foundation. The pandemic highlighted this need, and as part of an overall COVID-19 response, the Foundation helped support front-line workers or those deemed essential with access to safe, reliable child care. To this point, the Foundation awarded urgent funding to Dallas Afterschool to provide training and guidance to its out-of-school-time agency partners in order to safety re-open child care facilities in compliance with the CDC.

The Foundation also sought to ensure that families, especially those impacted by COVID-related job loss or financial hardship, had access to infant care items such as formula, wipes and diapers, as well as child development activities. Among others, the Foundation awarded urgent funding to ChildCareGroup to assist with such needs.

But, as the Afterschool Alliance survey shows, the need for safe afterschool programs remains great, and demand is even more concerning in terms of the ability of childcare organizations to provide capacity and overcome the impact of COVID-19. The Rees-Jones Foundation remains dedicated to the families of North Texas and will continue to lend its support provide access to early childhood and after-school options.

The following article, written by Valeria Olivares, originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News on February 2, 2021.

Thousands of Dallas Children Are in Need of After-School Care, Survey Finds

Dacia Tarleton works remotely, with days consisting of sifting through emails, attending virtual meetings, analyzing data and tag-teaming child care responsibilities with her husband.

The couple scrambled to take care of their two children when preschool programs closed last March. And nearly a year later, they’re still struggling to balance parenting and work even though her 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son are now going to school in person.

“The first thing that we noticed when school started back in person was there were no options for aftercare,” said Tarleton, 45.

They have to stop their workdays early to pick up their children before coming back to the house and clocking in again.

“Some of your worst moments can be when you have a deadline or something critical happening at work and your children are also right there and they need your attention,” she said. That makes her constantly feel the “tension of the competition between home and work,” which sometimes leads to her feeling guilty.

Working parents across Dallas are facing challenges brought on by the pandemic, and there is a high unmet demand for after-school care programs to support them and their families, according to a survey in the city by Afterschool Alliance.

For every child in an after-school program in Dallas, three are waiting to get in, the survey found. It also projected that after school in 2020, more than 32,600 children were alone and unsupervised.

“We would love for all of our independent school districts and public charters to ensure that there was an after-school program on every elementary school campus. That’s not the case today,” said Christina Hanger, the CEO of Dallas Afterschool.

The city has more than 101,000 children who would be enrolled in an after-school program if one were available to them, the survey found.

To meet the demand, Hanger said, Dallas would need up to $30 million to provide enough resources for the city’s children and to restore after-school programs to pre-pandemic levels.

“That is a big, big number,” she said. “But the benefits of that number — of families being able to work; of children getting academic help; of children being able to develop relationships with caring adults … when you think about kids not being able to read and dropping out of school or things like that — it’s not a lot of money.”

After-school programs not only serve as a lifeline for parents to be able to keep their jobs or even work more hours, they also can provide children with extra time and help with academics, she said. That’s especially important right now as students struggle with learning loss due to the pandemic.

Dallas Afterschool is an intermediary nonprofit organization that supports existing after-school and summer programs in lower-income neighborhoods and advocates for families who can’t find or afford them.

But Hanger said that because there’s not a lot of financial support for these types of programs in Texas, there are few resources for them to perform well.

Afterschool Alliance found that the average cost per child for after-school programs in Dallas is about $120 a week or $4,300 a year, which for 69% of parents is the biggest barrier.

Hanger said that cost is higher than the Texas average by about a whopping 40%.

Parents also struggle with the lack of safe transportation for their children to go to such programs or the absence of after-school care within their communities.

The pandemic’s toll on programs in Dallas was heavy, Hanger said, as 30% of after-school sites closed and 45% of seats were removed so children could follow social distancing protocols.

“COVID really has wiped out a lot of capacity, and it’s going to take a lot to build that back up in our community,” she said.

Program providers are also being challenged with the complexities and costs created by the pandemic, Hanger said. For example, providers must now ensure they have enough sinks for children to wash their hands, acquire protective equipment and keep spaces well-ventilated.

Children are losing out on a resource that provides meals, support, routine and space to be with friends safely — a home away from home, she said.

Some of the neighborhoods most in need of after-school programs are those that house many essential workers who can’t work remotely, Hanger said.

The country’s economy relies on dependable options for families, said Tori Mannes, CEO at ChildCareGroup, a Dallas-based early childhood education agency.

“Child care workers are the workforce behind the workforce,” Mannes said.

COVID-19 exposed the lack of funding for the child care industry within Texas and across the country, Mannes said.

Because the bulk of the cost is borne by parents, it is difficult to support and sustain child care systems as parents consider whether they can even afford it at all during the pandemic, Mannes said. This has resulted in a “huge decrease” in the number of women in the workforce this past year, she said.

“They’ve either decided they don’t want to take the risk, lost their job or they decided to stay home because of the challenge of trying to care for their children,” Mannes said.

She added that when the pandemic finally subsides, “our businesses are going to depend on child care programs and after-school programs to be open and operating so parents can get back to work and our economy can get back on track.”

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