Local social entrepreneur, family child care provider and national speaker Jerletha McDonald, and the public-private partnership The Best Place for Kids! have received the Child Care Associates (CCA) North Texas Early Childhood Leadership Awards in the categories of individual and organization, respectively.
This is the third year CCA has presented awards to local honorees.
“At Child Care Associates, we are devoted to ensuring every child has access to the quality early education needed to succeed in education and life. While there is much work to be done, CCA celebrates leaders who work creatively to advance outcomes for young children. We established this award in recent years to honor these early childhood heroes,” CCA CEO Kara Waddell said in the announcement.
McDonald is honored for her leadership in the family child care space. Home-based or family child care is an important option for families seeking affordable, accessible care that meets their family needs.
McDonald is the founder and CEO of the Arlington DFW Child Care Association, a family child network, working to improve the quality of child care among home-based providers. She is also the owner/director of Nurturing Gifts Infant and Toddler Center, JayMac Enterprise – a consulting agency for family childcare professionals, and the host of the highly acclaimed Radio/Visual Podcast Show, The Jerletha McDonald Show: Everything Child Care! In 2019, she was appointed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s Early Learning Council.
“I will continue to use my voice and influence to empower programs and collaborations for early childhood educators. We want to unapologetically strive for excellence in leadership while also working to excel in business development and economic mobility,” McDonald said in a news release. “The early care and education workforce is a significant segment of the United States workforce and economy. Families and businesses rely on us to care for and educate young children.”
Best Place for Kids! is a local public-private partnership focused on ensuring that 1.) every child has access to a quality education starting at birth, 2.) families are connected with critical community resources, and 3.) businesses are supported with research-backed strategies that benefit working parents and businesses’ bottom line.
In the last year, Best Place for Kids! launched the FIND! Child Care Tool, allowing families to search in real-time for nearby quality, available child care seats for their children age 0 to 12 in Tarrant County. Best Place for Kids! has also developed a business tool allowing businesses large and small to self-assess their workplace as a “Best Place for Working Parents.”
“We are honored to receive this award because Best Place for Kids! has been such a collaborative effort. We are proud and humbled to have business leaders, city officials, nonprofits, philanthropy, and educators all working together to develop innovative solutions that make Tarrant County an ideal place to live and work,” said Cheraya Peña, director of The Best Place for Kids!.
Child Care Associates is one of the largest child development nonprofits in North Texas and has served more than half a million young children in the past 53 years.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked, “What was the first sign that civilization exists: the invention of fire or the discovery of the wheel?”
Mead replied, “Neither. The first sign of civilization was the discovery of an ancient femur that had been broken and healed.
“The healed femur tells me that someone found that wounded person, took the time to stay with them, and bind the wound. A healed femur indicates that someone helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life.
“Helping someone else through difficulty. … That is where civilization starts.”
By Mead’s definition, the level of charitable activity in our community over the past six months indicates that we are, indeed, a civilized bunch.
When the pandemic brought our nonprofit sector to its knees financially, North Texas Community Foundation fundholders, private foundations and individual donors pumped more than $20 million into organizations working on the front lines.
The impetus to “do good” helped stabilize our community.
But doing good is not enough to get us on the road to recovery. For our community to thrive again, we need to do good, well.
Doing it well – that’s surprisingly hard. So what do we need to get the job done? Adequate resources and strong, solution-driven partners are important in the best of times. In a crisis, they are essential.
Here’s a quick run-down on where we stand today:
Resources: Charitable Giving & Federal Stimulus Helped Meet Immediate Need; Uncertain Funding Dims Prospects for Long-Term Recovery
Charitable donations have accomplished a great deal to date. That $20-plus million in local funding fueled a phenomenal response from leading agencies such as Tarrant Area Food Bank, Meals On Wheels, Catholic Charities, United Way, Child Care Associates, Boys & Girls Club, Camp Fire, Center for Transforming Lives, Safe Haven, Alliance for Children, ACH Child & Family Services and so many more.
Outstanding leaders at each of these organizations went into overdrive to diagnose problems, develop solutions and marshal the resources to deliver critical, life-saving services.
The good news?
Essential services continued, unabated. Using the broken femur analogy, we bandaged the wound, applied the cast and administered the painkillers (which I hope were brewed locally!).
The bad news?
The patient is in critical condition.
When COVID hit, our nonprofits doubled-down on the delivery of services and cancelled the revenue-generating events on which they depend for nearly 50% of their income.
Now, many are struggling to survive – during a time when their clients are more fragile than ever.
So, where do we go from here? How do we ensure that we rebound and fully recover?
First and foremost, we can’t let high-performing organizations go out of business due to short-term cash flow issues.
If we do, we will live to regret it. Who wants to start from square one next year to recreate the teams and strategies that are so effective today?
Nonprofits play a critical role in our economy – creating jobs, leveraging public dollars, and delivering vital services. According to economist Ray Perryman, Fort Worth/Arlington nonprofits employ 130,000 individuals and generate $10.3 billion in GDP. In addition to all the good work they accomplish, that revenue pays salaries and buys goods and services.
While not on the front lines, visual and performing arts organizations are vital to our well-being and need our help as well. Over the past six months, they stepped to the sidelines so that we could devote charitable resources to meet emergency needs. Going forward, artists will be essential to helping us process, understand and heal from this experience and all those that follow.
The same holds true for animal welfare organizations. They have risen to the challenge to meet the needs of all those animals whose human companions have hit hard times.
Bottom line: Flexible, general operating support is the lifeline for the organizations on which we depend. If we want them here next year, they need our support today.
As we emerge from this pandemic, nonprofits that struggle financially will need to make tough decisions.
They will need to take a hard look at what they are doing today and reimagine how to meet the needs of our new environment.
As John MacIntosh of SeaChange Capital Partners observed: “Nonprofits may need to explore mergers, consolidations and the divestment of ‘non-core’ programs. … If restructuring allows for survival and the continuation of the mission, it is far better than hitting the wall and closing up shop altogether.”
PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERS ARE DRIVING SOLUTIONS
Our local nonprofits are partnering with other agencies, city and county government and local foundations to develop solutions that scale. Here’s a re-cap of some incredible work underway to meet immediate needs:
Child Care for Frontline Workers: Child Care Associates, Camp Fire and Best Place for Kids collaborated with The Miles Foundation, Rainwater Charitable Foundation and others to create FIND!, an online platform that allows remote users to identify available slots at local child care agencies. CCA also launched financial support services to offset care costs for essential workers. The Tarrant County model is now going statewide.
School Age Collaborative: Working parents are struggling to balance their children’s health and safety with job responsibilities while dealing with virtual learning, lay-offs, and limited financial resources. Girls Inc., Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and Clayton Yes have joined forces to provide supervision and assistance to students while they complete virtual learning hours and provide enrichment activities.
Digital Connectivity: Read Fort Worth and Best Place for Kids are working closely with the FWISD to provide devices and tech support to meet families’ critical IT needs. The work is fueled by investments from AT&T, Facebook, Fort Worth Education Partnership, The Morris Foundation, North Texas Community Foundation’s Better Together Fund, Paul E. Andrews Foundation, PNG, Rees-Jones Foundation, and Sid W. Richardson Foundation.
Access to Food: The good news is we have enough food to go around. The challenge for those who are hungry is accessing it.
United Way of Tarrant County is working with local agencies to coordinate county-wide distribution sites. Tarrant-Area Food Bank is hosting five Mega Mobile Markets per week. For Meals on Wheels, demand has increased 30% since March. The organization is now serving 3,000 meals daily. Amon G. Carter Foundation, Better Together Fund, Sid W. Richardson Foundation and thousands of donors have provided critical support for this work.
Telemedicine: Dr. Stuart Flynn’s vision of patients across north Texas receiving vital healthcare via telemedicine has come to pass. Texas Health, Baylor, MHMR, and countless health providers have pivoted to use 21st century technology to conduct examinations, increasing the numbers served exponentially.
Housing for those who are Homeless: Tarrant County Homeless Coalition is directing $8 million in CARES Act funding, bolstered by thousands of donations from local residents, to prevent evictions, move homeless individuals and families into housing, and enhance cleaning at our emergency shelters. Critical partners include DRC Solutions, Presbyterian Night Shelter, and Union Gospel Mission.
FOUR WAYS TO FUEL LONG-TERM RECOVERY
While we work to stabilize essential organizations, we need to remember that a bigger, more expensive reconstructive period awaits us.
If we stick with “business as usual,” the femur won’t mend, and the patient won’t make it.
COVID has revealed opportunities for long-overdue change. Here are key ways we can bring about enduring, systemic improvements for the community we love:
1.)Create Educational Pathways to Economic Prosperity:
With just 14% of Tarrant County’s economically disadvantaged students achieving a post high school degree or professional credential, the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable.
Tarrant To & Through Partnership (T3) is a game-changing initiative spearheaded by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, Hillwood, JPMorgan Chase, and North Texas Community Foundation fundholders to help students excel academically and become successful participants in our economy.
Students, local businesses, FWISD, Tarrant County College, and local universities have made a compact to transform the way we prepare students for productive careers. Their success depends on our support — in funding, mentoring, internships and good advice.
2.)Bridge the digital divide: COVID-19 has taught us that access to technology and digital skills are necessities. Going forward, all residents need digital connectivity to learn, grow and advance. The City of Fort Worth, FWISD, and Tarrant County officials are working with local foundations and investors to determine how to best integrate a community-wide digital infrastructure.
3.) Support Comprehensive Economic Development: All the charity in the world will not create economic prosperity for our community. Fort Worth Chamber’s bold “Fortify” strategy — coupled with John Goff and Elaine Agather’s Fort Worth Now initiative -provides the framework for success. Corporate, city, county and philanthropic investments are critical to helping develop local industry, attract new business and cultivate public/private partnerships that drive our economy.
4.) Invest to Achieve Racial Equity: None of the investments described above will be successful if they are not available and accessible to all North Texans.
The pandemic revealed what many area residents and local leaders already knew to be true. The Texas miracle – of full employment, affordable housing, and quality healthcare – has not been equally shared across our community.
We have our work cut out for us.
Individuals and organizations such as Leadership ISD, Community Frontline, Diamond Hill Northside Youth Association, LVT Rise, Broadway Baptist Church, Early Learning Alliance, Fort Worth Chamber and Rotaryare on the case – taking on the difficult and necessary work of helping us understand our past and charting the path forward to an equitable future.
They can’t do it alone.
Get connected to the good work underway, and we’ll all be the better for it. Reach out to
Donna James-Harvey, NTxCF’s liaison for the Fund to Advance Racial Equity: [email protected]
Together, we can build a community strengthened by the full participation and contributions of all North Texans.
When it’s all said and done, will the broken femur mend, the patient heal?
Will we come through this pandemic stronger than we were before?
That all depends on what we do next.
North Texas Community Foundation stands here to assist. We are honored to work alongside you, and our 246 fundholder families, to make sure our community is strong – for this generation and all those to come.
The future is counting on us.
About North Texas Community Foundation
North Texas Community Foundation is dedicated to strengthening our region through effective philanthropy and civic leadership around key community issues. We serve local individuals, families and corporations by helping them achieve their charitable goals in a meaningful way – during and beyond their lifetimes. The Community Foundation is privileged to work in collaboration with our fundholders, their trusted professional advisors, nonprofit partners and civic leaders to make sure North Texas is strong for generations to come. The Community Foundation made grants totaling approximately $27 million in 2019. For more information, visit www.northtexascf.org.
Child Care Associates (CCA) reopened all 20 of its early education centers Oct. 5, offering low-income families quality early learning options with the choice of in-person or remote services, the organization said in a news release.
CCA serves more than 1,800 children in Fort Worth, Arlington and the greater Tarrant County area.
“CCA and our team of early education professionals are thrilled to offer in-person Head Start and Early Head Start services again to children and their families,” said CCA President and CEO Kara Waddell.
“We’re big fans of in-person learning for our youngest children because they learn by rich hands-on experiences. Play-based learning allows children the opportunity to develop speech and language skills and to hone their listening skills as well,” she said.
CCA campuses are finalizing the additional health and safety features including portable hospital grade air filtration systems or HVAC UV light air cleaning systems, contactless health screening checkpoints at entry, and other enhanced protocols to minimize COVID-19 exposure, the organization said in a news release/ “We’ll start off the year with smaller classroom sizes – no more than eight for infants and toddlers and 10-12 for our preschoolers – and two teachers per classroom,” said Travis Davis, CCA’s chief of early education. “CCA teachers and staff are following CDC and Tarrant County Health guidelines to better support the health and wellbeing during this COVID-19 period.”
For families not quite ready for in-person learning, CCA offers income-qualifying families’ direct access to remote teaching teams to support developmentally appropriate, home-based learning and promote family engagement.
All of CCA families, including those who opt for remote instruction, will continue to receive the full services of CCA’s whole-child whole-family approach including weekday meals of breakfast, lunch and snacks for their children, the news release said.
Families who select remote instruction may receive a mobile-powered tablet with access to home-based activities and content to shape their child’s development and support their ongoing learning.
Child Care Associates Aims to Nationally Accredit Its 20 Early Education Campuses that Serve 2,000+ Underprivileged Children in Tarrant CountyThe Agency is Leading Tarrant County Child Care Outreach Efforts During COVID-19 and is the largest provider of Head Start and Early Head Start Programming in the County
FORT WORTH, TX – The lead agency advising Tarrant County officials on child care for essential workers and child care provider support during COVID-19, Child Care Associates (CCA), today announced its commitment to achieving national accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for its early education campuses within three years. In Texas, of the 14,796 licensed child care settings, only 317, or less than two percent, have achieved NAEYC national accreditation standards. NAEYC is the nation’s largest and most-widely respected accreditation in early childhood quality practices.
“NAEYC Accreditation has been a benchmark of high-quality early childhood experiences for more than 30-years in Texas and we are so excited to have Child Care Associates commit to this level of quality. Now more than ever, young children need to be not only in a safe and healthy environment, but surrounded by environments enriched with learning experiences that will help them grow and develop to their fullest potential with educated teachers leading the way,” said Texas Association for the Education of Young Children (TXAEYC) Executive Director Kim Kofron, M.Ed. “When families have their children in a NAEYC accredited program they know they are getting the highest quality care for their children. TXAEYC applauds CCA for this level of commitment to our youngest Texans.”
According to leaders in the child care industry, COVID-19 has raised the profile of need for ensuring early education settings are high-quality with appropriate square footage, highly qualified staff and health/safety standards at the highest levels. While there are other organizations that offer accreditation for programs serving young children in the field of early childhood education, NAEYC remains the gold standard for programs serving children birth to 5-years of age.
“At CCA, we put children first…always. COVID-19 has helped us realize our need to be steadfast on our longstanding commitment to quality education for young children,” said CCA CEO Kara Waddell. “While we have always worked to attain standards higher than what child care licensing requires (including Head Start and Texas Rising Star standards), we are formalizing our commitment to the families we serve with this national accreditation. Families of all income levels value and expect more than ever before including a commitment to safety, health practices and the highest standards of child-centered learning.”
CCA’s history of providing quality early childhood education has proven that the experiences of young children influence brain development and adult attachment, as well as prepare children for lifelong learning. Areas of additional commitment from CCA include:
Early Ed Essentials – a validated tool that assesses the campus conditions including a culture of family engagement and collaborative teaching.
University assessors – who externally assess the quality of teacher-child interactions in CCA classrooms twice annually using a gold standard CLASS observation tool.
As the lead agency advising Tarrant County officials on child care for essential workers during COVID-19, early on CCA collaborated with its data and technology partners to create FIND!, an online platform that allows remote users to update child care status at local child care agencies. CCA also launched financial support services for essential workers that allows essential workers to apply to offset 100 percent of child care costs via CCA’s Child Care Management Services (CCMS) program. Waddell serves on Governor Abbott’s Texas Frontline Child Care Task Force and leads a subgroup of the National Emergency Child Care Task Force with Save the Children.
About Child Care Associates
Child Care Associates is one of the largest child development nonprofits in North Texas and has served more than 620,000 young children in the past 52 years. Through Head Start and Early Head Start programs, Child Care Associates delivers early education that ensures children who need it most are ready to succeed in school. Child Care Associates operates 20+ child development centers in the greater Fort Worth and Arlington-area to serve 2000+ disadvantaged children per year. Partnering with school districts and charter schools, Child Care Associates ensures underprivileged children in Pre-K also benefit from whole child, whole family services.
Child Care Management Services (CCMS) is CCA’s largest program, annually providing services to more than 12,000 children by assisting working parents with the cost of child care and improving the quality of child care programs and professionals.
At a time when Fort Worth and Arlington are rallying around the needs of early education in unprecedented ways, Child Care Associates is dedicated to supporting the growth and development of young children zero-five years old. CCA supports the belief that all children benefit from access to quality early education. For children from lower-income families, CCA’s signature early education services help “boost” children to success. CCA combines high-quality early education for young children with supports that promote nurturing parenting to help ensure children reach their full developmental potential by the end of third grade.
Only a few hours after putting my mother on a plane to fly home early from our family visit, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley rang in on my mobile.
“Better get down here, Kara, we’re making decisions now and we’re going to need child care in all this.”
Emergency declarations and stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19 followed later that day. Having previously worked in disaster relief in Asia, I felt a familiar pit in my stomach that hits when on the edge of an emerging disaster.
With some space and time between the initial emergence of COVID-19 and our current state, it seems our experience the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be somewhat mercurial.
It is a disease that impacts the elderly, yet, in recent weeks cities have been reporting 30-40% of cases are involving 20- to 40-year-olds. It is said to be transmitted by non-symptomatic persons but then some studies indicate otherwise. Masks weren’t needed – now masks are a staple in the workplace and hanging from folks’ rear-view mirrors.
Yet some certainties are emerging from COVID-19. As an education leader, it is these certainties that worry me the most. At Child Care Associates (CCA), we focus our efforts on children from the lowest-income families. And watching these families is what has me concerned.
First, COVID-19 is currently being contracted more by persons of low-income and who are black and brown. The CDC points out that health differences that vary by race or ethnicity often point to underlying economic and social conditions. Some might more directly point to structural and justice conditions in our society.
Regardless of where you identify the cause, COVID-19 is flat out impacting families in our community differently. CCA’s team includes an African-American staff member who lost three members of her family to COVID-19 in a span of two weeks. She commented that she can’t process the grief because more keeps coming. COVID-19 has been tough on my family but doesn’t come close to her experience.
Additionally, low-income families are heavily overrepresented in unemployment numbers. Two-thirds of CCA’s Head Start families have indicated on a recent survey that their household has experienced a change in work status.
For my family, a change in work status meant working from home. For the families we serve, a change in work status means a loss of job and/or a significant loss of hours. Families are struggling to make ends meet as Fort Worth and Arlington see long queues of vehicles for a box of food or a meal. And families of color are also disproportionately impacted by COVID’s resulting economic challenges.
Yet it is this last concern that, as someone working in early education, has me particularly distressed: Education leaders nationally are predicting an explosion of achievement gaps we’ve not seen before. Nationwide.
Richard Rothstein, a distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute, writes frequently on achievement gaps. He asserts that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate existing achievement gaps between middle and low-income children. The gaps that already exist will widen – again, black and brown children – will figure prominently in these statistics.
These trifecta adversities facing minority and lower-income families is what has me penning this op-ed.
For many children, an early learning center or a school is their safest place. Child abuse reports have dropped in our community while the instances of abuse that are reported are particularly severe. Why? Because the “tellers,” our teachers, doctors, religious leaders and child care workers who are mandatory reporters aren’t seeing the children.
And while all children are impacted, the impact may even be greater among our youngest children. Toxic stress in the home from economic insecurities and other factors alter how young brains develop hindering their emotional health and learning. Richard Rothstein points out in the Washington Post, “If a research consensus exists on anything in education, it is that the socioeconomic gap in cognitive performance is well-established by age 3.”
The case for quality early education among disadvantaged children has been made for decades.
If we ever needed quality early learning and care, certainly it is now. This is not a time to shy away from our Texas investment in full-day Pre-K for preschoolers made last legislative session. It is a time to shore up our investments in quality child care for infants and toddlers.
In Austin and locally, we need to continue to aim our CARES funding in meaningful ways to sustain quality child care programs. The real cost of quality child care cannot be borne by low- or middle-income families and cannot be sustained on the vapors of child care vouchers.
For those running businesses, COVID is helping executives rethink the kinds of supports and flexibilities parenting employees will need if returning to work.
While there is no silver bullet for academic achievement gaps, now is the time to double down on investments in quality early learning, including Pre-K, child care, home visiting and (Early) Head Start.
Link to story: https://fortworthbusiness.com/education/commentary-the-trifecta-challenge-of-families-during-covid-19/
Child Care Associates proudly congratulates CEO, Kara Waddell on being named one of the 400 most influential people in Fort Worth.
Launched in July 2018, “The 400” identifies the most influential individuals in Tarrant County across a range of sectors, including arts, business, education, economic development, government, professional services, nonprofits, and philanthropy, as determined by the editorial staff at Fort Worth Inc. The editorial staff at Fort Worth Inc. considers potential members of this list as people in Tarrant County who wield significant influence in industry, philanthropy, nonprofits, government and public policy, economic development, professional services, education, civic affairs, arts, religion, sports, and media, or within their own spheres.
Child Care Associates (CCA) has been tapped to lead Tarrant County’s efforts to ensure childcare for children of essential workers, as well as to support childcare providers during the COVID-19 response period. Just before the emergency declaration was made by Tarrant County, CCA’s CEO Kara Waddell was asked to help coordinate a response.
A fundamental building block in disaster response is to understand the supply.
“In working to determine the supply of available childcare, CCA turned to our data and technology partners to build an online platform that allowed remote users to update childcare status,” Waddell said in a statement. “Critical information such as if a childcare program is open and how many slots are available for children by age, is now available through this platform.”
Within days, former classroom coaches now turned “caseworkers” had called every licensed facility in Tarrant County. In partnership with The Best Place for Kids!™, CampFire and Educational First Steps, CCA helped to stand up the new, free childcare search function FIND! (https://find.bestplace4kids.com/families) to help essential workers see where the quality, available child care slots are for children zero-12 years of age across Tarrant County.
“Our community is now able to support working parents, specifically essential service workers during this emergency, with easy-to-use search tools. FIND! grants working parents the real-time information they need to make the incredibly personal decision of finding quality care for their children,” said Cheraya Pena, program director, The Best Place for Kids!™.
Post-COVID, this platform will serve every family who needs childcare by allowing a quick search for available quality childcare including openings for immediate service. http://find.bestplace4kids.com
Financial Support for Child Care for Essential Workers
CCA also launched new financial support services for essential workers. Now essential workers can apply to offset 100 percent of childcare costs via CCA’s Child Care Management Services (CCMS) program. CCA-CCMS works with Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County to pay for the cost of childcare for more than 7,300 lower-income working families across the county. Using this same system, CCA has now launched an emergency three-month assistance program for essential service workers to cover 100 percent of childcare costs. (https://bestplace4kids.com/child-care-financial-assistance-for-covid-19-essential-workers)
CCA said is was well positioned to direct the county’s response because of its scale and close working connections with the hundreds of childcare programs across the county. Waddell also brings experience in disaster relief from 10 years of international relief and development efforts in China.
“What’s important in disaster relief is to remember that disaster response requires local action. CCA already had close ties to our county and city leaders as well as close connections with childcare programs. We were just really well-positioned to respond when our leaders called upon us,” said Waddell.
Child Care is Critical
In addition to launching the new FIND! search tool and the financial assistance weblink, CCA has been helping the 412 childcare programs open for childcare during this response period. CCA and community volunteers delivered health and safety supplies to the front doorstep of childcare programs.
“I’m not sure everyone considered childcare ‘essential’ until COVID really hit. Our county’s childcare programs really are frontline workers, too, helping to ensure children are healthy and safe and essential workers can serve our community,” Waddell said.
With COVID-19, CCA changed how early education is delivered but is still serving children and families daily. CCA provides early education and care services to 2,300 infants, toddlers and preschoolers from disadvantaged families daily.
CCA Family Service Advocates have been reaching out to families to connect them to meal services, food pick up points and even doing door-to-door delivery of critically need infant formula and diapers. CCA teachers are in live remote contact with young children through an app that connects children to home learning.
“At CCA, we’re supporting our youngest Texans in our communities to feel connected during what can be a frightening time for young children,” added Dr. Travis Davis, CCA’s Chief of Early Education. “CCA is also working with the Tarrant Area Food Bank and other partners to ensure families with young children are accessing formula, diapers and others supplies needed by young children.”
CCA’s Waddell was also asked to serve on Gov. Greg Abbott’s Texas Frontline Child Care Task Force to guide statewide efforts. The Tarrant County FIND! platform proved the concept and served as a model for the statewide platform just launched to help guide essential workers across Texas to the 86,000 available childcare slots in the state. Waddell was also asked to join a National Emergency Child Care Working Group convened by Save the Children along with select federal and nonprofit leaders.
As I conclude my career of decades of leadership positions for a Fortune 500 company, becoming forthright about the need for employers to invest in child care has surprised many. After all, I have not typically been an executive quick to offer public support for social causes. Rather, I believe in a return on investment approach in managing public companies, which is why I am calling on companies to reconsider investing in child care for their parenting employees.
Unemployment is at historic lows and the corporate need for a trained, committed workforce is at a premium. Savvy employers are responding by re-examining their approaches to employment and benefits to both attract and retain talent. Millennials are clear about what they value: 83 percent of millennials will leave one job for another with stronger family policies and better family support.
Millennials and families with young children are concerned because the situation is bleak for families with young children. “High-quality child care is out of reach for working families,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. The average American couple spends 25.6 percent of net income on child care, and that percentage soars to 52.7 percent for single parents. In Texas, families may spend more on child care than they will on public college tuition for those same children.
Why business should get involved
Traditionally, many businesses may have viewed this problem as a “personal issue” for families or assumed there must be publicly-funded support to help out families who really need it. However, the U.S. doesn’t have a public system designed to universally support families with their child care needs. A recent Pew Research Center study ranks the U.S. last among nations in government-supported time-off for new parents. While no federal support exists, more U.S. companies are beginning to step in and create improved policies and cultures that support leave for parents with newborns.
The U.S. government is beginning to respond as well, represented by the significant 2017 federal budget increase in the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF). The fund helps lower-income working parents offset the cost of child care. Despite this historic increase, the actual needs dwarf the increase.
In the Fort Worth area, the CCDF increase will enable our community to assist only about 10 percent of the families who economically qualify for child care assistance. Waiting lists are so long for the assistance funding that families who sign up may actually send their children to kindergarten before they are ever pulled from the waiting list.
It is clear that the near-term offers no likelihood of sufficient public funding to meet this child care need for working parents. Companies whose success depends upon attracting, retaining, and supporting a qualified workforce need to re-examine their human resources benefits and how they support child care to keep and support their talent. It’s a good return on investment.
Companies whose success depends upon attracting, retaining, and supporting a qualified workforce need to re-examine their human resources benefits and how they support child care to keep and support their talent.
A parent who is supported with high-quality, reliable child care is able to commit to one’s profession, stay with the job longer, and miss fewer workdays. Estimates place U.S. businesses loss at $3 billion annually due to employee absenteeism resulting from a breakdown in child care coverage. Company-supported child care options simply help parents work consistently. I’ve heard from parents that they are proud to be connected to a company that helps with their child care needs and understands their need for work-life-family balance.
The motherhood penalty
The case for businesses to invest in child care is even more convincing concerning women in the workplace. Child care fundamentally supports the retention and advancement of women in the workplace, especially during critical years for tracking into senior and executive management roles. Women are still the primary gender opting out of work for a period of time to provide care for infants and young children.
For some families, it is a “first choice” decision to have a parent at home to support young children. However, for many other families, women are feeling forced to decide to stay at home, citing the high cost and lack of quality child care as the primary reason. And “opting out” has impacted women. Businesses have unintentionally left women with what could be called “motherhood penalties,” such as losing out on important salary increases and career progressions.
Businesses today understand the critical competitive edge of diverse teams with women and men together leading towards innovation and profitability. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in management ranks in companies across the U.S. Smart companies are re-evaluating how they support career tracks and employment for women with family benefits that include child care and paid family leave.
Some will point out that these arguments have tended to assume a two-parent household. The 2017 U.S. Census indicates 12 million single-parent households with children under 18 years old and 80 percent of these households are led by single women. The child care needs of working single parents who lead a household are nearly insurmountable without significant assistance from businesses, government, or one’s family.
The child care needs of working single parents who lead a household are nearly insurmountable without significant assistance from businesses, government, or one’s family.
The corporate community also recognizes the need to invest in their future workforce by investing in education.
Many corporate social responsibility plans include significant investments in local schools. However, these investments tend to focus on middle and high school programming or university scholarships versus recognizing that the social skills and educational outcomes needed for tomorrow begin in the young years with children ages zero to three. The Federal Reserve has been arguing for investment in comprehensive early education and care services for young children for well over a decade.
Arthur J. Rolnick, formerly of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, writes that, “Careful academic research demonstrates that tax dollars spent on early childhood development provide extraordinary returns compared with investments in the public, and even private, sector. The potential return from a focused, high-quality early childhood development program is as high as 16 percent per year.”
Companies investing in quality child care for their employees reap immediate benefits in their current workforce and are investing upstream in tomorrow’s workforce. And not all child care is alike. Companies should help employees offset the cost of quality child care that supports children’s development, not mere babysitting.
How companies can help meet child care needs
Large and medium-size companies can help address these realities by first meeting with employees who have young children and understand their needs, costs, and support requirements that may help them excel in the workplace and at home. And companies, once your employees’ needs are understood, consider your options:
Employer-provided child care is tax free to the employee, much like health insurance is tax free. Providing child care for your employee is a game-changing benefit that increases retention and commitment to your company team.
Consider offering a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA) or a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) for your employees and help contribute to that plan (up to allowable limits of $5,000 per year). Employees can then use pre-tax dollars to pay for child care expenses, possibly saving employees up to 30 percent in child care costs.
Review policies that support your parenting employees. That includes paid parental leave and flexible return policies for a parent who has taken time away from work upon the birth of a child. Women employees who are mothering young children especially benefit from flexible work schedules and an active human resources team that is working to support her transition back to work.
On-site child care or contracting with nearby quality child care programs are highly desired options by families. Many companies have on-site gyms, eateries, or health clinics, so perhaps it is time to look (again) at the benefit of on-site child care. When companies provide child care, employee absences decrease by up to 30 percent and job turnover declines by as much as 60 percent.
Ask your local Chamber of Commerce for guidance in understanding options and helping a human resources team evaluate the best options for a company’s situation.
For small businesses, consider flextime and telecommuting not as perks but as business strategies that may help make a small business more attractive than a rigid corporate environment. Examine roles in the business to determine if there is an existing role or combination of roles that could specifically attract or support a working parent. Parents who find the “right job” that aligns with their lifestyle and family tend to be loyal and stay in roles longer.
How the U.S. government can help
At a national level, Washington should increase the usefulness of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Specifically, Congress should increase the limits to align with average actual costs as well as index the limits to rise with inflation. It has been over 17 years since the limits were raised in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. Lawmakers should consider making this credit available to low- and middle-income families as a kind of Advanced Refundable Tax Credit.
Congress should increase the limits to align with average actual costs as well as index the limits to rise with inflation. It has been over 17 years since the limits were raised in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
In summary, policymakers should expand the tax credit’s limits, provide the credit in advance to families to help cover expenses as they are being incurred, and refund the credit to families who owe no income tax (or refund the difference between credit and liability). The U.S. government should also increase the limit for Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (DCFSA) to align with the average cost of child care full-time. This means allowing DCFSAs to adjust with inflation each year as with other FSAs and considering an increase in the amount companies are allowed to invest in their employees’ accounts.
Lastly, if the federal government is interested in companies investing more in child care supports for working families, policymakers should consider creative additional corporate tax incentives to “nudge” corporate executives to move on this opportunity quickly.
The time is ripe for nudging companies to take a lead in supporting their parenting employees with child care. Leading companies are leaning into these new benefits that support families while supporting their bottom line.
An Essay by Matthew K. Rose, Executive Chairman of BNSF Railway Company and Chair of the Board of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank
The author would like to credit Kara Waddell, president and chief executive officer of Child Care Associates, with assistance on this article.
Recent news reports have shed light on the alarming challenges in keeping Texas children safe in child care.
We have seen heartbreaking stories in North Texas and around the state about injuries to young children in child care, including the tragic, yet entirely preventable, deaths of our youngest and most vulnerable Texans. The disturbing reality is that Texas child care standards are too low, challenges in obtaining data are too high, and the need to enact change is too important to delay.
Consider these Texas facts:
Over 1 million young Texans are in child care.
In the previous 10 years, nearly 90 young Texans have tragically lost their lives as a result of abuse or neglect while in unlicensed or licensed care.
Texas’ standards for teacher-to-child ratios are among the worst in the country, despite efforts to enact needed change.
Wages for child care educators in Texas are exceedingly low, with 54 percent of these educators drawing on public assistance.
Texas Rising Star (TRS) is the state’s quality rating system, but participation is voluntary and limited to only child care subsidy providers. Only 8.5 percent of licensed child care providers in Texas are TRS-star rated, leaving parents without a reasonable guide in locating quality care.
The state can play a critical role in supporting transparency and encouraging quality improvement by collecting and sharing relevant data and by establishing and enforcing standards that protect the health, safety and well-being of children. And it should provide Texas families with ready access to information about the safety and quality of providers.
Parents with young children must have child care in order to work and provide for their families, and it’s reasonable for them to expect their children will be nurtured, cared for and educated, especially within those facilities receiving state funding. Parents should be able to trust that their child care provider is operating under state regulations designed to support child development and safety.
As stakeholders and providers in the field of early education and child care in Texas, we support efforts to promote, support and sustain quality child care programs and to help parents understand what quality programs look like, and how to find and access the right program. We applaud the steps the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has taken to use the significant increase in federal funds in FY2018 toward quality enhancement in child care in Texas, and we believe there are some other necessary, near-term improvements.
With the 86th Texas Legislature convening soon, we encourage lawmakers to consider the following initiatives to further improve the safety and well-being of our tiniest Texans:
Expand participation in Texas Rising Star by incenting participation by all licensed child care programs and requiring participation by all providers in the child care subsidy program.
Collect data and review Texas’ current teacher-child ratios.
Expand and incent Pre-K partnerships between schools and TRS 3- and 4-star child care centers.
Build consumer awareness in finding quality early education by developing a statewide website and app for parents to locate quality child care, Pre-K, Head Start and Early Head Start, all in one place.
Now is the time to work together to improve child care for Texas families. We don’t want to read one more devastating story – we want to work with our policy makers to make the right adjustments to the child care system.
Kara Waddell is the president and CEO of Child Care Associates in Fort Worth. Tori Mannes is the president of Child Care Group in Dallas. This op-ed is endorsed by the Early Learning Alliance, with its 52-member organizations and partners in Tarrant County, and the Dallas Early Education Alliance, with its 50 supporting organizations.
Read more here: https://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/other-voices/article223101145.html#storylink=cpy
The “Texas Miracle” has become a common description for the state’s vibrant economy and successes. While we have much to celebrate, meeting the needs of our current workforce and providing our children with a solid educational foundation are critical to maintaining opportunity and potential in the State of Texas.
Fortunately, there is a straightforward solution that will create the best opportunity for educational success, while solving our most difficult workforce challenges — access to quality early education for all children. When you provide access to quality early childhood education across a community, you are overcoming both workforce and educational obstacles.
Employers face numerous challenges to recruit, train and retain top talent. One of the primary barriers for any parent in the workforce is lack of access to high-quality child care, which is an early learning program. High-quality child care can cost about $1,000 a month — if you can find it. This burdens families across the income spectrum, especially for those with multiple young children. A family with two children under the age of five could pay up to 30 percent of their household income for child care.
Improving a child’s life in the earliest years with early education is one of the smartest investments we can make for our youngest Texans. A child’s zip code should never be a predictor of future success; providing educational opportunity at the earliest age possible ensures we enhance every child’s future. We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by age 5, but our education pipeline is still not prioritizing education at this critical time from age 0 to 5. Throughout Texas, the lack of access to quality early childhood education comes at a significant cost to our students. During the 2016-2017 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported only 59 percent of our children were kindergarten-ready. We are forcing many of our children to play catch-up before they even get started.
The best opportunity to develop a thriving workforce and build an educational pipeline starts with using Texas cities as laboratories for change in the early learning space. To promote this, Fort Worth is hosting teams from 20 of the largest cities in Texas. “Momentum 2018: Texas City Early Learning Summit” brings together city leaders from nonprofits, school districts, municipal government and philanthropy. This summit is about partnering with families for stronger children, a thriving workforce and improved educational outcomes.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to early education. We know best practices and innovative initiatives are happening in our major Texas cities and some of the smaller communities. We see a focus on improving the quality of early learning programs, extending access to more families, making the whole system more efficient and giving parents better skills as their children’s first and most important teachers.
Important efforts throughout Texas are enhancing quality early child care. In San Antonio, the collaborative PREK4SA, started in 2011 by then-Mayor Julian Castro, is now serving 25 percent of San Antonio’s four-year-olds in a high-quality full-day program. Fort Worth ISD is recognizing the value of universal free full-day pre-kindergarten by combining limited state funding and voter-approved bond funds, grants and a generous donation from the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.
These are just two examples of numerous positive stories we see across the state. We want to build on the momentum in our communities to develop a master plan for education that begins the moment children are born. We will turn to the Texas Legislature in 2019, supporting important statewide efforts to prioritize early education. This includes support for Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to prioritize high-quality pre-kindergarten, and advocating to improve access to quality child care.
If you are worried about the workforce of tomorrow, look no further than at the infants and toddlers of today. The most efficient and cost-effective workforce training is to enhance and strengthen programs that serve our youngest children, birth to age five. There is no more important priority in Texas than the future of our children, and we are rolling up our sleeves to create the strongest educational foundation for our youngest Texans.
Besty Price – Fort Worth Mayor
Kara Waddell – CEO-President, Child Care Associates
Libby Doggett – Former deputy assistant secretary of Policy and Early Learning, U.S. Department of Education