New parents face up to a three-year wait for childcare at UT

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Photo Credit: Mel Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

You might think getting to your 8 a.m. class is difficult, but it gets a lot harder when you’ve been kept up all night by a crying infant. Many student parents have to manage raising a child, holding a job to support that child and finishing their education, and daycares around campus are already operating at full capacity.

There is up to a three-year waitlist to enroll newborn children and a one-year waitlist to enroll older children at UT’s Child Development Center. The center has three locations around campus — Comal, San Jacinto and Lavaca — and offers their program to children aged six weeks to five years old. Enrollment is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Hara Cootes, the program director at the center, said she recommends parents sign up on the waiting list the moment they find out they are expecting.

“If you got on the waiting list for a three-year-old right now, I’d have a place for you starting this summer,” Cootes said. “If you get on the waiting list while you’re pregnant, it could take up to three years.”

Cootes said about one-fourth of the parents at the center are students, with the rest being faculty and staff of the University. The center uses a sliding scale model for the price of childcare so that lower income students still have the opportunity to enroll their kids.

Education senior Jessica Cantu said the most difficult part of raising her now four-year-old daughter was finding a place for her to stay while she was in class. She was on the UT Child Development Center’s waitlist for a year and a half, and once her daughter was admitted, life became a lot easier for her.

“I was a single parent at the time, and so trying to maintain my grades while raising her and working — balancing it the whole day was quite the adventure, to say the least,” Cantu said. “Having a daycare where I could bring my daughter to school with me was very helpful.”

For parents stuck on the waitlist, Cootes said she often recommends the Early Childhood Center at University United Methodist Church, which she said has a good reputation in the community. This center has its own waitlist of over a year for infants and anywhere from six months to a year for older children.

Madelynn Fierova-Martinez, the director of the ECC, said while being affiliated with a religion might keep some parents from enrolling their children, the amount of religious teaching they do is very limited. She said it also tries to keep its services affordable, and it does so by having the parents work as classroom aides one day a month.

Cootes said she also gives parents on the waitlist tips on how to find a quality certified daycare nearer to their homes, but the value of the childcare centers near campus is their proximity. Cantu said UT’s center is special because of its low teacher-to-student ratio and ability to implement the research done at the University to continually better their care.

“Being a daycare on the UT campus means they’re getting this leading research while being able to implement it firsthand,” Cootes said.

Cantu said that while the waitlist was inconvenient, once she got her daughter into the program, she was very impressed with the personal care she and her daughter received.

There’s never a day that I walk in the door that (the directors) don’t say hello,” Cantu said. “They always are very on top of saying hi and saying my name and asking about my future. I don’t feel like it’s just dropping my kid off and dumping the money.”