Could child care reforms work? Newest hire at this North Texas nonprofit believes so

·4 min read

Child Care Associates, one of the largest child development organizations in North Texas, is playing a key role in funneling millions of federal coronavirus relief dollars into child care centers in under-resourced neighborhoods in Tarrant County.

Catherine Worth Davis, the newly hired policy director for the organization, said the investments are just the beginning, with recent attention creating an opportunity for solutions that can transform the way child care works in Tarrant County.

“This is a critical time in child care and early childhood education in Tarrant County and frankly, for the entire country,” Davis said in a statement. “I look forward to putting my experience in program strategy and policy to work at CCA to ensure every child, regardless of neighborhood or circumstance, has access to high-quality early learning and care.”

Davis, who started her career as a Teach for America corps member teaching middle school math in Irving, said it is important to create models that will continue to thrive beyond the infusion of funds currently being allocated to child care centers.

“There’s more money on the table than there’s ever been, and ... it gives us a really exciting opportunity ... to incubate new ideas and new models for doing things that can fundamentally transform and quite honestly, save the childcare industry,” she said.

“I think with ... unprecedented amounts of funding coming down from the state and our statewide workforce board, it’s really an exciting opportunity to work with other organizations statewide to advocate for solutions that can really have a multi-generational impact on children.”

Uplifting successful ideas

Child Care Associates has been a pioneer in combining community resources, like partnering with local school districts, to house Head Start and early Head Start programs for children in need.

More recently, Fort Worth City Council voted to allocate $7 million to CCA to renovate and construct early childhood learning centers in traditionally underserved communities.

A total of $2 million will go towards renovating the Gwendolyn C. Gragg Child Development Center in Riverside, where there are plans to renovate classrooms and expand infant and toddler services, which are key to many low-income families.

Davis said in her new role she will be spreading the word about CCA’s efforts to local, state and national policymakers.

“I see CCA continuing to incubate ideas, but then it’s really my job to lift that up,” she said.

CCA’s partnership with Crowley ISD to serve families in need with early Head Start has already inspired a similar program being considered in Fort Worth ISD.

Davis has nearly a decade of experience working in education, nonprofit and policy sectors, most recently serving as the associate director of programs for The Principal Impact Collaborative (PIC) at UNT Dallas, where she led the organization’s strategic growth, impact measurement and continuous improvement initiatives.

During her time at PIC, she facilitated the design and launch of three pilot programs in partnership with Dallas ISD and Uplift Education and was also instrumental in developing the framework for PIC to expand its advocacy initiatives on behalf of urban school leaders.

She also worked at The National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C. where she provided technical assistance to state education agencies seeking to improve their teacher workforce through policy and systems changes.

Kara Waddell, the CEO of Child Care Associates, said Davis’ experience working with state and local governments to create meaningful change for students and families would be valuable to communities in Tarrant County.

“CCA is poised to help lead the charge as we collaborate with our elected officials to improve child care and early childhood education for families in Tarrant County and across Texas,” Waddell said. “Catherine is the right person at the right time.”

Davis holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Communications from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Science in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania.

Still work to do

While unprecedented funds have kept many early childhood education programs from going under, Davis said there is still work to be done.

“There’s a lot of great work already happening,” she said. “But I think it’s critical that we continue to take a look at our workforce, and ensure that we have a strong sustainable childcare workforce.”

While COVID-19 exposed many of the problems in the sector, and brought national attention - it also created new problems for the sector, she said.

“It really caused the supply of childcare, particularly high quality childcare, in our highest need neighborhoods, to shrink,” she said. “So I think we’re gonna have to take a good hard look at what we call the quality childcare deserts, and make sure we’re being strategic about how we invest our resources and our time and thoughts and efforts there.”

“I think there’s definitely momentum, but there’s still a lot of work left to do.”

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