Mireya Miranda and Miguel Hernandez moved to Odessa from El Paso for work, and found it in abundance. But years later, when the couple started a family during an oil boom, they found another necessity in scarce supply: Childcare.
Miranda said finding daycare for their baby, Alexander, took more than a year. After an extended period on a waiting list, Miranda said the 18-month-old boy was finally admitted to Aladdin’s Castle Learning Center on Monday.
““It was rough,” Miranda said. “You’re like, well I give up. Because I called, I want to say, like twice a week saying ‘Hey, do you have something opening?’”
For months on end, the answer was always no.
Aladdin’s Castle, a longtime daycare provider that looks after about 380 children, has almost no availability for babies and toddlers, owner April Terrell said. Parents who want to enroll their babies or toddlers often have to wait a year. For older children, Terrell said the wait is at least six months.
Some parents tell Terrell they are forced to stay home from work, she said. Others considering a move to the area have decided not to come.
As the president of the Permian Basin Child Care Director’s Association, a regional industry group for the state-regulated daycare industry, Terrell said the capacity struggles are widespread.
“We’re all this way,” Terrell said. “If you’ve got an infant, you can’t get them in.”
In Miranda’s case, she said she was forced to take off work as a departmental manager at Walmart to stay home with the baby. When Hernandez could, he stayed home and watched the boy, but he works long hours in the oilfield. Miranda said her mom came to town to help watch the child. Still, Miranda said she ultimately missed so much work she fell below the minimum hours needed to keep her health insurance.
Amid the greater demand for childcare, which intensifies in the summer, Terrell said she’s also found it harder finding employees. She said she employs about 50 to ensure the daycare can comply with teacher-to-child classroom ratios established by the state in the event of unexpected absences. As recently as February, Terrell said her staff dipped below 40 workers, briefly raising the fear of closing classrooms.
Terrell opened a new and expanded Aladdin’s Castle last year at 1601 E. 42nd St. The last center had enough space for about 220 kids.
“When I got this building, I thought ‘Oh yay, I’ll get everybody in.’ It will be fine — No,” Terrell said. “I’m about 30 applications deep on some of my waiting lists (for different age groups).”
During the year-long wait for Aladdin’s Castle, Miranda said she checked with other daycares in the area only to find similar crowding.
At the Children’s Center for Odessa College, Director Blanca Quintana said she’s seen the wait list continuously grow in her two years working there. Now, it’s about 185 names long.
That’s more than double the capacity of the children’s center. Wait lists are not common there because the school is growing, Quintana said. What’s unusual is the increasing calls from people who are not faculty, staff and students. She said it’s a symptom of shortages across the Odessa and Midland area.
“The husband is moving here, they are coming here and they want to work here and they are looking for daycare,” Quintana said. “A lot of them have been calling lately. I think it’s the fluctuation of the oilfield. People need more services. People need more care because of jobs.”
Like at Aladdin’s Castle, Quintana said the longest waits are for infants, and some of the women on her waiting list are pregnant women.
“It’s hard because people do need the care, and there’s not enough,” Quintana said.