Shortage of quality child care in Amarillo creating "child care deserts", experts say

A press conference was held today to raise awareness about the lack of quality child care in Amarillo. (ABC 7 Amarillo - Abby Aldrich)

A press conference was held today to raise awareness about the lack of quality child care in Amarillo.

Around 3,200 low-income children with working parents do not have access to quality child care in Potter and Randall counties.

Children At Risk, a non-profit organization, is looking to improve the child care issues facing working families to ensure a vibrant economy. The non-profit developed a map for school districts, state agencies, community organizations, cities and counties to help identify areas across the state that are in need of quality child care. Using the map, people can examine the child care landscape across the state and the impact it has.

Mandi Kimball is the director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Children At Risk. She said quality child care starts with early education and making sure young children are school-ready and ready to learn.

Kimball said some low-income working families have access to child care through a subsidy program, but in many areas, there are not enough subsidized programs or the programs are not high quality, creating "child care deserts."

According to Children At Risk, child care deserts are defined as any ZIP code with fewer than 330 child care seats for every 1,000 children ages 0-5 with both parents in the workforce.

In Amarillo, only 13 percent of child care spots are Texas Rising Star (TRS) certified. TRS is the Texas quality rating system for child care. While only 13 percent are certified, the Texas Panhandle has a higher TRS participation than the entire state of Texas as a whole.

Jill Goodrich, Director of Opportunity School said the amount of child care facilities has dropped in recent years.

“Just in Amarillo, we’ve seen Amarillo has grown, but we have fewer child care centers and just fewer daycare opportunities than we did 10 years ago,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich said a determination of quality is based on the ratio of adults to children. She said when you have more adults interacting with kids, your costs go up, which is an issue.

“There’s a cost-benefit that happens there and right now, trying to keep that affordable for families is really difficult," Goodrich said. "So we need to look at all those factors to see how we can solve them.”

Goodrich said around 80 percent of our brains are wired by the time we are three-years-old and if quality child care is not present, it can impact a child's learning in the future.

"Those things really create the foundation for learning that create the building blocks for learning, so when they get to AISD, when they get to those public school classrooms, they can be successful," she said.

Vice President of Business Development and Governmental Affairs for the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce Jason Harrison said quality child care is key for success in the Amarillo workforce.

"It's important for our community to have quality child care so people can be employed, they can give back to the community, and businesses continue to grow," Harrison said.

"We invest now for a bigger payoff later," Goodrich said, "and that's what we do when we invest in a better way for young children in our community. We got to do that. We have a community that has so many opportunities, but we are handicapping our kids when we don't have enough quality programs for our families to participate in."

To access the Children At Risk "child care desert" map, click here.

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