Angelica Portillo, Director of Advocacy, Dallas Afterschool
Casey Rodriguez, Manager, Leadership Programs
The Dallas Regional Chamber’s Young Professionals (DRC YP) hosted three outstanding panelists to discuss early childcare and afterschool programs in the latest Critical Community Conversations event. The DRC has always made early childhood education and care a priority for how its supports and advocates for the region, so it was exciting to have leaders in the space give us more insight into how COVID-19 impacted program providers and how they have navigated this past year.
Christina Hanger, CEO of Dallas Afterschool, gave an overview of new data from the Dallas After 3 PM report, which highlighted the impact of the pandemic on the afterschool field. The research showed that the overall capacity for afterschool care is down 45% in Dallas compared to pre-pandemic period. The data also shows that for every child in an afterschool program, three are waiting to get in to a program. The area’s higher than average cost continues to be the most frequently cited barrier for families. The average is $120 in Dallas, which is nearly 50 percent higher than the state’s average of $82 a week for afterschool programming. Though the limited openings and high cost were a surprise, Dallas Afterschool is looking to help add capacity among its afterschool partners and is exploring ways for how to better help working families have better access to the quality afterschool programs.
Marissa Castro-Mikoy, President and CEO of Jubilee Park and Community Center (Jubilee), serves nearly 2,000 members of the Southern Dallas community and shared the hardships many families were facing due to the pandemic. Jubilee quickly increased its financial assistance and food distribution efforts to meet the needs of those behind on rent or going without meals. Despite several changes Jubilee was able to make in response to the pandemic, including running virtual afterschool programs, Castro-Mikoy said she worries about the social and emotional well-being of the children in the community. Many students are suffering from trauma, loneliness, and stress associated with being out of a normal routine. Fortunately, Jubilee plans to open its doors again for normal programming later this year.
Rob DeHaas, Vice Provost of the new School of Education at Dallas College, gave staggering data to highlight the state of early childhood education in Dallas. Before COVID-19, childcare was in short supply and cost was a barrier for many communities. The pandemic caused extended or permanent closures of childcare centers, which created challenges for working families, employers, and the children in need of early education. Research from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shows 32% of employers have seen employees leave the workforce due to these effects. Though the childcare care industry is facing serious challenges, Dallas College hopes to lead the way in addressing some of these issues with Texas’ first four-year early childhood baccalaureate degree program.
For working families, access to high-quality childcare is absolutely critical and the value does not go unseen. The panel discussion ended with the question, “Why should Young Professionals care about childcare?” The panelists put it simply – first, these children are going to be alongside us one day; they are going to be the ones taking care of us, and we want them to have the resources to be smart and capable. And secondly, childcare is expensive. Organizations like Dallas Afterschool are conducting research and trying to identify ways to bring down the cost of afterschool programs since it is one of the biggest barriers for families. We know that the success of the Dallas Region and Texas are closely tied to the quality of the workforce and talent pipeline. Therefore, ensuring that early childhood education, along with K-12 and higher education are broadly accessible and affordable is one of the most important keys to a successful career and a fulfilling life.