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COVID-19 Pandemic Sheds Light on Barriers to Quality, Affordable Childcare

September 11, 2020

Interfaith Family Services Offers a Solution

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Guest Author:
 Jessica Rood, Director of Development at Interfaith Family Services, mobilizes donors, volunteers, and community partners who give their time, talent, and treasure to make a difference in the lives of hardworking families.

Since our inception in 1985, Interfaith Family Services (Interfaith) has remained committed to empowering families in crisis to break the cycle of poverty. We’ve helped hundreds of families work their way out of poverty. We exclusively target working families that are least likely to qualify for temporary assistance, but the most likely to achieve long-term self-sufficiency when support is available. Our Family Empowerment Program offers transitional housing for homeless families, rent assistance for families at-risk for homelessness, vocational training, career coaching, financial literacy, childcare and tutoring, family counseling, and more – all at no-cost to families.

Given our experience, Interfaith is acutely aware that employed adults, and especially single parents, desperately need childcare while they work to provide for their families. However, not all families benefit from the standard offering of these services. photo-1.jpgLow-income adults often work non-traditional or fluctuating work schedules in industries like retail, hospitality, and healthcare. Yet, only 8% of Dallas childcare providers offer evening and weekend care – when these working families need it most – and only 4% of those offer services at a rate that is affordable for families like the ones Interfaith serves. In fact, childcare is the second largest expense for Texas households (after rent/mortgage) costing $5,000 - $8,000 a year per child, according to a recent study published by the Texas Women’s Foundation. With an already limited set of options, parents then face the additional challenge of finding services that are conveniently located near their work or home.

With all of these barriers, and the fact that 1 in 4 Dallas children currently live in poverty, we recognized that there was a tremendous need for a practical childcare solution. With support from a grant from the W.W. Caruth Jr. Fund, Interfaith opened the Moody Family Childcare & Youth Services Center, a state-licensed childcare center for ages 0-5 available to both program clients and surrounding community members. At the time the center was built in the fall of 2019, its primary purpose was to provide affordable childcare that also offered extended-hours services. This would help solve for the overwhelming need - or so we thought.

Enter: The COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
Those same parents who work in the retail, travel, and hospitality industries serving us day in and day out are now seeing additional strains placed on their financial stability.photo-2.jpg Like many agencies in North Texas and throughout the country, Interfaith has had to pivot to respond to the urgent needs of hundreds of these families either furloughed or laid-off. Although we’ve all picked up the term “new normal” to represent this trying time, when it comes to childcare barriers, it’s really “same old, same old.” The current pandemic did not create the challenges families face, but instead has simply brought to light many of the issues that low-income families and families that work hard to make ends meet have always faced: housing instability and displacement due to gentrification, an ever-growing wage gap and dangerous working conditions, racism and discrimination, unequal access to health care and education, and so much more. These hardworking parents have been left unable to earn enough money to afford rent, childcare fees, or essentials like groceries. Their school-aged children, similarly, were sent home from DISD over two months early, but required support to continue their learning virtually.
 
Interfaith’s Chief Executive Officer, Kimberly Williams, encouraged our organization to continue to provide essential services during the lockdown and to develop innovative strategies to engage working parents who were facing one of the greatest upheavals of their lives. She reminded us that “crisis can be a catalyst” for social service organizations like ours and families.
 
With that in mind, the Moody Family Childcare & Youth Services Center continued operating throughout the pandemic thanks to an amazing team that educates, nurtures, and keeps our children safe and healthy. We offer rental assistance and free childcare to adults who had been furloughed or laid-off so that they can fully focus on gaining new skills that will give them a leg-up in the job market. We provide discounted extended-hours childcare and other support services to essential workers with nontraditional hours. Additionally, all program participants create savings plans and debt-reduction plans through our financial coaching curriculum, ensuring that they are empowered to make prudent financial decisions and stay on course to achieve their financial goals through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Since March, we have provided emergency rental assistance to over 60 families and we have invited 7 new families into our Home & Hope Transitional Housing Program. Dozens of children have received virtual learning support (including one-on-one tutoring in math and reading), play therapy, daily meals and snacks, and opportunities to continue learning and exploring through the pandemic. Our goal is to continue to develop ongoing relationships with families whose first contact with Interfaith occurred because of the pandemic.
 
A parent in our residential program, which provides 6-9 months of housing, training, and counseling for homeless families, shares:
 
“I work as a Medical Claims Resolution Specialist, so I’m considered an essential worker. Due to COVID, I was allowed to work from home. Interfaith provided me with a WiFi hotspot in my apartment and my children spend the day at the Moody Childcare Center. At first it was difficult to adjust to working from home, but it was much easier knowing that my children would be taken care of even though DISD closed.  Through financial coaching, I prepared for my life after Interfaith. I now feel as though I have the proper skill set and mindset of finances that will help me to maintain a self-sufficient lifestyle. We created a budget that I can follow once I leave so that I won’t fall into the same trap that caused me to become homeless. Now everything is working out well and if it weren’t for Interfaith, I’m not sure how I would have handled this pandemic. I’m very grateful.”
 
Our hope is that this approach to childcare and overall family empowerment will serve as a model for organizations to re-imagine our community:  A community where service workers and single parents have complete access to career advancement opportunities and living wages, financial education, and quality care for their precious children. And that benefits us all.
 
You can learn more about Interfaith Family Services by visiting interfaithdallas.org and moodychildcarecenter.org.


 
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