Childcare a key consideration as employers map return to workplace

As Governor Abbott further lifts restrictions on Texas business and the state moves forward with gradual re-opening plans, childcare providers are now permitted to resume operations beyond serving only the children of essential workers. His recent executive order enables childcare providers to operate subject to certain health guidelines that limit their capacity.

Since the widespread closure of much of the state in mid-March, reporting shows that nearly 40% of Texas’ childcare centers closed their doors[1]. As of May 20th, 721 licensed childcare providers were still operating in Dallas County, down from 1,142 in late February, representing a 37% decline. Available childcare seats have constricted even more, down to 55,135 from 95,489 over the same time period, a 42% decrease[2]. While the remaining childcare center capacity was sufficient to handle the reduced demand while shelter-in-place orders were in effect, the reopening of work across Texas could significantly tax the childcare system as it reemerges with reduced availability due to physical distancing requirements combined with fewer childcare centers overall.

Even as childcare centers re-open in response to the Governor’s order, their capacity to serve children will be limited. Per the Strike Force to Open Texas’ minimum health standards, childcare providers must reduce teacher-to-child ratios and group sizes (classrooms with two teachers) considerably. Providers are required to adhere to a 1:10 teacher-to-child ratio for children ages 3 and older. For children ages 5 and up, this represents a significant reduction, as a single teacher could previously oversee between 22 and 26 children in this age bracket. Ratios for younger children such as infants and toddlers are less restricted, although a provider offering services across all age groups could see their effective capacity halved. Providers serving predominantly school-aged children could experience greater reductions. Group sizes are also capped at 20 children, down from between 30 and 35 for children ages 3 and older. These children may remain in the same classroom but must be separated into two groups with a teacher in each with student crossover strongly discouraged.

While these changes enhance health and safety protections for children and childcare staff, they will result in reduced bandwidth for our regional childcare system. As such, the DRC encourages employees to check with their local childcare provider before assuming they can re-enroll their child as their prior location may have a waitlist until the Governor further lifts restrictions. The DRC also encourages local employers to continue to offer flexible work-from-home arrangements for staff that cannot immediately access prior childcare arrangements in order to allow parents the flexibility to determine childcare arrangements that suit their needs. Such policies enable working parents to identify alternative childcare solutions without burdening the existing system of childcare centers, freeing up limited seats for those who cannot work from home.

“The North Texas business community is understandably ready to get back to the workplace with a safe, phased approach,” said Dale Petroskey, President and CEO of the DRC. “But that return must include consideration for all our workers, especially parents and guardians of children.  For those who can access alternative childcare options, we encourage them to use those resources to allow as many as possible to return to work. The DRC will continue to offer resources and highlight best practices to help businesses navigate this responsible return to the workplace.”

The DRC recommendations above are important,  but they are stopgap measures. In the long run, our economic recovery will depend upon a strong childcare system.  Shoring up this essential resource now is critical for our future of business. The DRC will continue to advocate for both state and federal stimulus funding for the childcare industry, a crucial sector of our economy that was already facing financial instability prior to COVID-19.

[1] Texas Tribune, 18 May 2020, Opening up childcare, camps helps working parents, but risks remain

[2] Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS)