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Without recovery funds, more than 50 Texas day cares close after Harvey

November 27, 2017
Aliyya Swaby

ORANGE — With her husband incarcerated on a murder charge, Jacquene Fontenot single-handedly wakes and dresses five kids under the age of 5 every morning, drops them off at a local child care center and drives two hours to her job as a custodian in central Louisiana.

Fontenot, who lost her furniture when her apartment in Orange flooded during August’s hurricane, could not imagine what she would do if she lost her child care. “I really don’t have a second option,” she said.

During Hurricane Harvey, the James Hope Center, her children’s for-profit day care, took on water and a layer of mold began carpeting its walls, leaving owner Jacqueline James floundering for a solution that wouldn’t leave more than 100 families, many of them low-income, stranded.

Across Harvey-affected counties, 52 child care centers have permanently closed and an additional 65 are voluntarily suspended and expected to reopen with three months, as of Nov. 10, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Those facilities had the capacity to serve almost 5,000 children.

With so many day cares closed and more in danger of closing, parents face difficulty moving back to their homes and getting back to normal, with no one to take care of their kids when they’re at work. Private child care centers, often run by individuals, churches or nonprofits, are struggling to recover from the hurricane’s destruction, especially in rural communities where they are among few options.

“For communities to be able to recover economically, you have to get your child care and early education programs up so people can get back to work,” said Jeanne-Aimee De Marrais, senior director for U.S. emergencies at Save the Children, a nonprofit international aid group working to help child care centers recover from Harvey. “The communities are not going to get fully back up until the child care is back.”