Working parents struggle to find affordable child care in Texas. That's according to new research from Children At Risk, a nonprofit that reports many poor Texas families spend up to 30 percent of their income for child care alone.
Shay Everitt is director of childhood education for Children at Risk. She says a lack of affordable options causes families to find child care that either isn't reliable or is of lower quality. That can pose problems for working parents.
"When a parent doesn't have reliable childcare, they might miss work and it might cause them to lose their job," she says.
In some cases, she says, some parents choose to stay out of the workforce.
Interview Highlights: Shay Everitt ...
On child care costs in Texas:
"There are a number of reasons child care in and of itself is just very expensive for families. And then you have families who are low income, or even making poverty wages, they just can't afford it.
"The recommended amount of a person's income that they should be spending is 7 percent on child care. That's not even realistic for higher income earners who may spend 10 percent or more on child care."
On how expensive child care can affect families:
"Low-income families may often choose to have one parent not work. If we look at stay-at-home moms vs. working mothers, the ones who are staying at home have lower levels of education and lower levels of income than our mothers who are working. So it's also kind of an underemployment of our female workforce.
"Parents may also find [child care from] a family member or a neighbor down the street or sometimes, unfortunately, illegal operations like in a person's home, that may not be licensed and monitored by the state.
"Even if the child is at home with grandma, they are certainly going to get a lot of love and affection and nurturing, which is very important for babies and toddlers. But it's up in the air about whether they're going to get a high-quality learning environment where they're being interacted with and they get the appropriate kinds of play that are developmentally appropriate."
On how child care can affect businesses:
"When a parent doesn't have reliable child care, they might miss work and it might cause them to lose their job.
"That is a cost to business when their employees don't show up reliably. Child care is one of the biggest problems for parents when they talk about being reliable, stable employees.
"Also right now we see that native-born Texans have lower levels of education than those who moved here from other states, and part of this is because we're importing workers from other states to meet the demands of our industries rather than preparing students themselves to meet the demands of our industries in our state. Investing in child care is the first step to a child's education and success throughout their life."
On the success of government assistance programs:
"The Texas Workforce Commission provides the Child Care Subsidy Program, which offers financial assistance to low-income working families. It is working for those families who can get access to these funds.
"The funds definitely don't serve all families that are in need. There are waitlists across the state — they're in the tens of thousands. And when parents can't access this, then they are finding alternative solutions to child care, which sometimes can be unsafe for children.
"We definitely need greater investment on that side.
"But for parents that do get the subsidy, the child care they're accessing is ... not meeting higher quality standards. Only about 1 in 5 child care providers that will accept subsidies through the Texas Workforce Commission program are certified quality [care providers].
"We have a long way to go to make sure that children who are receiving child care assistance paid for by taxpayer dollars are getting quality educational experiences."
Shay Everitt is director of childhood education for Children at Risk.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for clarity.