Kara Waddell: Child Care is essential component of economic recovery

Kara Waddell, President and CEO of Child Care Associates. (Photo by/Sharon Ellman)

I’ve spent the last several months on Zoom calls listening to women. Lower-income women. Female executives. And mothers who opted out of work to be home with children or those who are walking the tightrope of working from home while caring for and educating their children.

Not to exclude working dads, who are part of this conversation too, They all share a common belief: it is crazy hard to work without quality, reliable child care.

Fort Worth is the 13th largest city in the U.S., yet we have the second highest share of families with children. Before COVID-19, over two-thirds of North Texas families reported two parents in the workforce. Having so many working families with children means one thing – there is a great need for child care in our community.

April 2021 employment numbers clearly demonstrated that many employers are facing a severe labor shortage. Millions of Americans have indicated child care responsibilities — with many schools and day care centers not back to normal operations — have been a central reason for not taking a job or heading back to in-person employment.

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While many of our local businesses and employers believe that reliable access to child care is only a family issue, it is a business issue too.

Decades of research on productivity and reliability of the workforce point to the critical importance of child care, especially for working women. In fact, child care remains a top reason why educated women exit the workforce. After COVID-19, both men and women are not returning to work, citing child care as a central cause. Child care is essential to a successful economic recovery and our future economy.

A recent Ready Nation study examining the economic impact of challenges with infant-toddler care on working parents and employers describes the consequences: an annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. An overwhelming 86% of working parents of 0-3-year-olds reported that challenges with child care negatively impacted their work. Meanwhile, those same child care challenges cause employers a productivity loss of $12.7 billion annually… and that was before COVID-19.

Historically, the early learning and child care industry face uphill challenges as the costs associated with running quality child care are greater than what the market can sustain and more than parents can afford. Those realities combined with the extra impact of COVID make child care all the more urgent. It is up to our community to think of innovative and creative ways to ensure our working families have access to a quality child care infrastructure.

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For example, our large and medium-sized employers could contract with quality child care providers and include reliable care as part of their employment packages.

Our banking, tax prep and legal communities can provide tailored resources for child care businesses to stabilize and sustain their business model. Our city and county can incentivize increased access to quality child care through innovative policies and incentives.

On May 19, 2021, Dallas Federal Reserve President Rob Kaplan and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, with Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce President Brandom Gengelbach and other community leaders, will be discussing employment trends and economic recovery. They recognize child care as an essential service and the need for a multi-sector response to increasing access to affordable, reliable and quality child care.  

(Register for this free online event here .

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Fort Worth is a community that loves and respects families. We encourage our local employers and leaders, as well as lawmakers, to join the conversation on May 19 and take action to ensure that every working parent has access to needed care. It’s time for help to be on the way for women and men holding down jobs while caring for and educating their children.

Kara Waddell is President and CEO of Child Care Associates, one of the largest child development nonprofits in North Texas. The organization has served more than 620,000 young children in the past 52 years. 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.