Families struggle for childcare amid shortages, dwindling funding and 4-day school weeks

In the past, the concern and debate was about whether families could find quality child care.

Now, it seems the goal is to find Anyone childcare for all. Facilities are understaffed, making an already low-paying job even less desirable. As the end of the Texas Workforce Commission’s Child Care Relief Fund set up amid the pandemic – a fund that has committed about $4 billion in federal child care money – nears day care centers will be even more understaffed. money.

Add to that a move by a growing number of school districts to switch to a four-day week in an effort to recruit more teachers. Except, of course, and academic fears aside, where do these kids go on day five if they have working parents, including teachers with kids?

An alternative is in-home nanny care, but it often comes at a higher cost, making it something many families cannot afford.

“I think that’s going to be a really damaging thing for families,” said Dr. Cynthia Osborne, executive director of the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center, a research center at Vanderbilt University. “They will have to find a way to cover costs and it will be expensive at a time when they are already unable to find providers to care for their children.”

So far, 59 Texas school districts have moved to four-day weeks, and seven more have announced they will work with hybrid programs that include these shortened weeks, for part of the year.

Late last month, Crosby ISD became the largest district in the state, with approximately 6,500 households, and the only one in Harris County to adopt this change.

According to Osborne, to compensate for the need for parents to take over childcare during these days off, schools could consider providing additional after-school care.

“It’s entirely possible that the programs at these schools that offer after-school care could offer full day care on those days, but that still means the cost will be passed directly to the parents,” Osborne said.

However, these school programs may not be able to handle the capacity of other children arriving for full-day services, Osborne said.

Even out-of-school childcare centers may not be able to cater for this influx of children due to the problems they are already facing: “These settings are unable to open capacity,” Osborne said. “There are centers with empty rooms because they can’t find a provider to offer care to those children.

The Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center conducted a series of studies released late last month that found these facilities understaffed due to an inability to raise the cost of their services.

The rising cost of care – which would allow for higher wages for providers – would make it much more difficult for parents to invest in childcare services.

“In order to access any kind of quality care, families pay at least $1,000 a month per child and that’s more than most families pay in rent or mortgages,” Osborne said.

This is also a problem in nanny care, as nanny agencies — organizations that place nannies on families — have found more dual-income homes who were previously able to pay for nannies, now unable to, she said Michelle LaRowe, executive director of Morningside Nannies, a local nannies agency.

Babysitting services tend to be more expensive because they provide personalized home care and require parents to cover what would be employer expenses.

“We need to educate families about the cost of nanny care. They don’t realize that this isn’t the same cost as daycare; you don’t just write a check or pay for it,” LaRowe said. “You have employer responsibilities, which include paying a portion of your employer’s taxes, withholding from your nanny’s pay, and out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare.”

However, nannying may be cheaper than daycare if a family has more than one child, as parents only have to pay for one provider and not for multiple places at the local daycare, LaRowe said.

Additionally, more families are seeking nanny services after the pandemic, as they are unsure about bringing their children back into group settings.

But similar to childcare, nanny agencies are seeing a decrease in the number of new nannies and returning nannies, which has resulted in more job vacancies than nannies available to fill them.

According to LaRowe this is because during the pandemic, when job availability was low, some nannies took on temporary jobs, such as Uber Eats or DoorDash. They made more money, while also setting their own schedules.

Now, those who have returned to nannying are demanding higher wages, some as low as $30 an hour or more, but many families are unwilling or unable to pay it.

As for daycare, low hourly wages — $12 to $14 or about $24,000 a year — leave little incentive for workers to join or stay in this line of work, Osborne said.

This inability to hire or retain current suppliers is one of the biggest problems facing these facilities today, as more than 97 percent are unable to find the workforce needed to keep up with household demands, according to the report. Prenatal-3-Policy center.

Home-based childcare centers are affected by this problem at a higher rate, as they are often the only source of childcare in smaller towns and rural communities, Osborne said.

These smaller facilities tend to be owned, operated and operated by a single or small team of vendors. To assist these smaller, single staff, there are programs such as the Shared Service Alliance. This non-profit program connects child care centers with resources for accounting, purchasing and other operational needs. However, Osborne said more could be done for these providers who still require further assistance.

“They’re really picking up the slack on the system and providing a deal that a lot of families, especially with younger children, prefer,” Osborne said. “We need to make sure these providers are able to deliver the high-quality care they do, while still having access to what they need.”

The center found that more state funding and federal dollars need to be invested in payroll initiatives to incentivize current providers, raise subsidy rates to reflect the true cost of child care, and distribute larger amounts in more funded subsidies. disposition of several families.

“The only solution to this very public problem has to be public investment,” Osborne said.

As Child Care Relief draws to a close, it was extended late last year to the Child Care and Development Fund, a separate fund also established by the Texas Workforce Commission under the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

This addition provides approximately $892 million for the 2023-2024 fiscal year to help support families with low income or low assistance access obtain affordable child care services, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, a non-profit organization that advocates for political solutions for low-income people.

While this allocation could be a permanent increase and provide some relief in the wake of the latest 2022 Child Care Relief Fund payment round in the coming months; there is a possibility that this increase is only temporary, Osborne said.

“You can think of funding in a big pot right now, it’s like getting a bonus check at the end of the year that you can’t rely on to come to you next year,” Osborne said.

According to Osborne, if Texas doesn’t find a way to provide even more state dollars and federal funds for more initiatives, facilities, providers and parents will continue to struggle to make ends meet.

And with the potential for more children in need of care if school districts continue to opt for four-day school weeks, parents will have no choice but to invest additional dollars in child care services or choose which parent becomes the de facto provider. of childcare, Osborne said.

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