Child care can cost as much as college. How do Tarrant County families deal with this?

·6 min read

Nastashia Savoie, of Arlington, began looking for child care when she was pregnant with her youngest. The mother noticed that many day cares were expensive, no matter if it was through a church or a center.

“One even quoted me $300 a week for child care,” Savoie said. “At that point, I was like ‘that is more than my rent.’”

Savoie, 33, was determined to find child care and called the on-campus daycare at UT Arlington every week until a spot was open. A partnership with the Center for Transforming Lives allowed the mother to receive inexpensive child care.

The mother of two was able to get ahead. She finished school without taking time off, got a job and became a first-time homeowner without worrying about where her daughter would go for care each week.

Child care is in the national spotlight as the costs for many families are rising and the workers in the industry are among the lowest paid.

Low-to-moderate income households in Texas struggle to afford child care while trying to avoid the risk of poverty. Infant care is almost the same cost for college tuition on average.

The U.S. Department of Treasury stated in a September report that many parents are asked to pay for child care when they can least afford it.

“Parents of young children often have little work experience, and most people earn higher incomes as they spend more time in the labor force and their careers progress,” the agency stated in the report. “Some parents have other major expenses, like mortgages or student loans.”

What are the costs?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Texans paid $777 a month or $9,324 annually for infant care as of 2020 and $589 a month or $7,062 a year for child care.

That, according to the EPI, is almost 8% higher than in-state tuition for college, and accounts for over 15% of a median family’s income in Texas. The average cost for tuition at a four-year public university was $10,300.

Those costs are even higher in Fort Worth, according to analysis of costs by CareLuLu, a child care information website which found that the average monthly cost for child care is $647 a month or $7,764 a year based on the rates of 190 home-based programs and 274 centers.

Carol Klocek, CEO of the Center for Transforming Lives, said the math doesn’t work for a person trying to afford child care and rent with a $10 per hour job. She said many child care centers don’t have enough spots for the amount of people who qualify for subsidy programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to many families to begin struggling financially. Even children with a parent in a stable job had difficulty finding care when centers closed and eventually re-opened.

Raven Symone, an account resolution manager at Wells Fargo in Fort Worth, was able to manage her finances before the pandemic despite having to spend thousands of dollars a month on child care for her two young kids.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, things changed for Symone. She said when child care centers re-opened, she had to pay more when re-enrolling her children. The cost was higher than her mortgage.

“Taxes, rent, car, and all of that stuff plays a part,” Symone said. “And you are paying $1,300 in daycare. It is hard to manage.”

When a crisis hits

In 2018, The United Way conducted a report over those who live above the poverty line but struggled to meet financial obligations when a crisis hit. The Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed Report, also called ALICE, found 184,210 households in Tarrant County were in this category.

Faye Beaulieu, senior vice president of community investment at the United Way of Tarrant County, said the survival budget for a family of four in Tarrant County is about $64,500. The cost of housing, child care, food, transportation and medical needs can quickly make it challenging to keep a budget.

“The amount of that budget that they are going to be spending for child care, just becomes a challenge,” Beaulieu said.

She said child care is an important building block for a child’s success and needs to be something that is of quality, healthy and safe, and provides protection. However, these factors can make child care expensive.

Before the pandemic, the amount of households under the ALICE category was increasing. The United Way is still waiting on data for the pandemic, but said the layoffs and furloughs may cause even more households to be under ALICE.

Wanting children to be safe

Even though affordable child care is needed for many families, parents also want to find options that will keep their children safe.

Monica Rodriguez wants her children to have the opportunity to grow academically while also being in a safe environment. Rodriguez is provided cost-free child care through the Child Management Services subsidy program.

The program is managed by Child Care Associates for Tarrant County. The organization has its own child care centers and also contracts with different facilities to administer the subsidy. Rodriguez said without the program she wouldn’t be able to afford child care for her children.

“The truth is that I earn very little money and it’s an excellent tool in my case because I’m a single mom,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t have a good salary, so this is like my salvation.”

Parents using the state-wide subsidy are able to choose which contracted child care facility to attend. However in Rodriguez’s case, the mother had to change facilities multiple times due to safety concerns.

“I had different problems at different child care centers,” Rodriguez said. “I saw it didn’t matter if I changed them to different child care centers.”

Kara Waddell, president and CEO of Child Care Associates, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the organization strives to keep children safe and works to follow up with concerns about contracted facilities.

What needs to happen?

Quality child care helps children with language and educational skills, and screen for developmental delays and medical needs.

“Good quality child care gets those kids ready to succeed in every way and to enter kindergarten,” Klocek said. “It also helps support the families, as well.”

The lack of child care can lead to homelessness. Klocek said ways to improve access including adding more funding to programs, like Head Start, and for employers to be more aware of the issue.

“I think it is important for employers to understand the importance that child care plays in maintaining the consistency of their own workforce,” Klocek said.

For Symone, she wishes there were more programs for parents who are fully employed, but still struggle with the costs of necessary programs like child care. The mother suggested the government look at people who have 9 to 5 jobs and are not eligible for benefits.

“It was hard to get food sometimes,” Symone said. “People talk about ‘Oh I can get this much in food stamps.’ Well, I can’t even get one food stamp.”

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