Story by Misty Jackson-Miller. Photos by Jan Osborn.
Finding quality, affordable child care can often pose a significant challenge to mothers who are trying to re-enter the workforce. For women who are living at or below the poverty line, this challenge can seem insurmountable. Not only do they have to find a job with amenable hours, but they have to find a job where they can make enough money to afford the cost of care—and pray that the arrangements they make will be in an environment where their child can thrive.
According to data published by think-tank ChildCare Aware of America, the annual cost of center-based infant care in Texas came out to $9,102—by comparison, the annual cost of tuition at a public university was $9,836. For a married couple with two young children living at the poverty line in Texas, the cost of care totaled 65% of their family’s annual income. That leaves very little left for regular bills, let alone emergency savings or a job training program at a local community college.
For economically vulnerable mothers, the price tag on child care is very expensive. Planning for the future can seem like a luxury when you’re not sure if the gas in your tank will last through the week. But that’s where Dallas nonprofit ChildCareGroup comes in.
Because the cost of child care affects the entire family’s financial stability, not to mention overall well-being, ChildCareGroup has been a leader in advocating for affordable child care on behalf of working mothers—and they’ve been doing it since 1901.
“ChildCareGroup is the only organization in Dallas that addresses all facets of child care services,” says President and CEO Tori Mannes. “Our mission is to be a thought-leader in this space. We want to change the destiny for these children.”
Tori has been the CEO of ChildCareGroup since 2011. Before that, she served as a board member. At the time she was approached about a board position in 1996, she was a working mother with three children, ages 1, 4, and 6. “As a working mother,” she says, “I loved everything ChildCareGroup stood for. I understood that road, and I felt such a kinship with our clients. My passion dates back to that.”
What makes ChildCareGroup so unique among Dallas area nonprofits, is the guiding philosophy that access to affordable child care is not just about child care. Lack of access to affordable child care has become a significant factor in perpetuating generational poverty. When children do not have educational opportunities and resources to support emergent, buildable skills, they will have a difficult time adjusting to academic challenges of more formal schooling. Without any further intervention, they will struggle in school, which will make it even harder for them to support themselves—and their families—as they grow into adulthood. Therefore, in order to truly disrupt this negative feedback loop, ChildCareGoup has adopted a two-generational approach to child care, known as 2Gen, to create a path for families to self-sufficiency. The 2Gen approach, originally developed by Ascend at the Aspen Institute, links together key programs and services.
Tori describes the 2Gen approach to child care as “holistic.” ChildCareGroup provides early education and child care throughout the metroplex, using the Head Start and Early Head Start program models which support socio-emotional development in early childhood. “We are always looking at what we can do to help [our students] feel safe and loved, to help them grow,” says Tori. In addition to early education, ChildCareGroup also provides professional development training to child care providers and connects families with financial resources and post-secondary educational opportunities within the community.
“The 2Gen model says let’s get smarter about this,” says Tori. “There is a growing awareness that we need to align all of our support systems.” That means helping families gain real-world momentum. Tori likens their approach to a line of train cars. The first car is child care. The next car to link up is employment, followed by health care, education, social capital, and so on. The more cars linked, the better. “This way, families can gain momentum,” says Tori. “We want them to be able to do it on their own. We know what they hope and dream—so let’s help them dream.”
ChildCareGroup’s network of over 40 community partners includes government agencies, school districts, nonprofits, and corporate sponsors. Through these partnerships, they are making a meaningful difference in the lives of their clients in a way that supports the educational and economic needs of working families. This year, they’ve served 1,287 children through their Head Start and Early Head Start programs across four North Texas counties.
“This is an exciting time for us, because we’ve literally doubled our enrollment since the 2018-2019 school year,” says Tori. “We’ve received two large contracts with Head Start and Early Head Start, so we have recently opened a program in Corsicana. We want every child in every community to have access to a quality education.” And as 2019 winds down, the organization is already looking ahead to 2020. Their 10th annual Great Adventure Hunt is slated for January 25th. For this fundraising event, guests are encouraged to swap out their tuxedos for jeans, because the night will feature a variety of puzzles scattered throughout the venue—and the team which solves the most puzzles in the shortest amount of time wins.
ChildCareGroup has come a long way since 1901, when impoverished women worked brutal shifts in the cotton mills so their children could have something to eat. Then, as now, there was an urgent need for child care and early education. Tori says ChildCareGroup “started because a group of civically-minded Dallas residents identified a problem or need, and they came to came together to meet that need.” She warmly refers to them as “founding grandmothers,” and ChildCareGroup is their legacy. A lot of things have changed in the last 12 decades, but ChildCareGroup has remained true to their core beliefs: “Children do better as their parents do better; when families thrive, communities succeed.”
To find out more about how you can assist ChildCareGroup, you can contact them by calling 214-630-7911 or by filling out a contact form on their website. You can also register a team for the Great Adventure Hunt.
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