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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

89% Of Low-Income Dallas County Kids With Working Parents Live In 'Child Care Deserts'


Many low-income working parents have a tough time finding child care.

The nonprofit Children At Risk mapped zip codes in Texas with very limited access to certified child care, areas known as "child care deserts." The vast majority of low-income kids in Dallas County live in one.

Parents seeking quality, affordable child care

Toddler recess at Good Street Learning Center in South Dallas is an intense kind of fun.

Shrieking as they dunk mini basketballs and pedal red trikes, these 2 and 3 year-olds keep their teachers laughing, and when they head home, they're happy.

Mom Tamara James, for one, is grateful her little boy is so well cared for.

"My child he comes home saying he wants to go to his teacher's home because he's so comfortable with the teacher, so someone that you feel like you could trust with your kids," she says.

And, James says, Good Street offers a solid curriculum. One that fits her budget.

"It's affordable, and then on top of that, they do have a good learning center. So it's not only just like a daycare, it's a learning center," she says.

Good Street costs between $56 and $90 a week per student, depending on the age of the child and whether parents need a full day of care. It also accepts subsidies, so some qualifying families pay even less.

Emphasizing early childhood education

Charlotte Carlisle, managing director of Children At Risk in North Texas, says affordable, quality child care before kindergarten is a game-changer.

"Ninety percent of the brain development occurs between from the ages of zero to 5," she says.

And it's that sobering statistic that led Children at Risk to take a close look at early child care in Texas.

"Because when you go and ask for money and you say there's this crisis in not having enough subsidized child care seats for working families, the first question they ask is 'Where?' And 'How many?'" she reports.

What the maps say

Across Texas, 75 percent of low income kids ages zero to 5 with working parents live in what's known as a child care desert with very limited access to subsidized child care. In Dallas County, that jumps to nearly 90 percent.

"And believe it or not, we have areas that have no registered child centers in that zip code," Carlisle says.

The most underserved areas in Dallas County are just south of Hutchins, and just west of Duncanville. Carlisle says mapping these child care deserts didn't turn up a lot of surprises.

"Where are the deserts, the lack of access to quality child care? Where does that happen? It follows income because people can afford to pay for it the higher income they have," she says.

Getting the most from care

Carlisle says low-income families who can't get a spot at a subsidized child care center usually turn to family members for help. And while relying on Grandma or a trustworthy neighbor down the street is a safe arrangement, a child might miss out on the curriculum of more traditional daycare.

She says a motivated friend or relative can provide that, too, with a little effort. Think educational games, reading aloud, songs, even a daily schedule.

"It's really more important that there's structure to the day, and that your interactions with the kids value educational attainment and that the time is spent learning, and showing off their learning," she says. "There's not a kid in the world who doesn't love to sing the ABC song to you when they learn it."

Four-year-old Shania certainly does, and her dad, Vincent Dent is pretty proud. He's also thrilled with his family's choice to send her to Good Street Learning Center.

"We wanted her to just have an environment where she could thrive and continue to grow, and interact with children her age," he says.

A dream most parents have for their kids, no matter where they live.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.