Ngoc Ho graduated from the University of Houston in spring 2020, as COVID-19 forced many students and small children to end in-person instruction and stay home.
The 29-year-old said she was unsure about job prospects coming out of school. She came to Houston after immigrating from Vietnam six years ago.
“After I graduated in the pandemic time, I didn't know what to do,” Ho said.
When a friend told her about a free child care entrepreneurship program, she decided to enroll.
The program starts with teaching participants how to run a business, then moves into child development up to 5 years old. It then helped Ho get her business application approved through the state, which was a more complicated process because of COVID-19 — departments were closed, and the processes moved online — but less than a year after graduating from university, she was running her own child care business: Dino Land Academy.
“It was really difficult and wow we tried our best and we did it,” Ho said.
Ho is one of dozens of people who’ve gone through the child care entrepreneurship program from refugee organization the Alliance, which was limited to refugees when it first began. But a City of Houston grant made it possible to open up the program to other immigrants and Houston residents. More than 70 child care businesses have opened up in Houston through the program, the majority by refugee and immigrant women.
Earlene Leverett, who runs the program for The Alliance, said that in addition to helping women to start their own business, the program adds affordable child care in underserved communities so other moms can get back to work as well.
“That is one of the things that prevented many of the refugee families from going into the community and into the workforce, were the small children at home,” Leverett said.
The pandemic has only made the search for child care more difficult.
In Houston, 110,000 workers left the labor force to perform child care, more than most major cities, according to an analysis of Census data by the left-leaning think tank Third Way.
Third Way’s analysis also found that from April to December 2020, 35 states including Texas saw an increase in the share of parents who dropped out of the workforce for child care reasons — 1.2 million people, a 36% jump on average.
And University of Chicago researchers found nearly 10% of the U.S. workforce has a child under 6 in their household.
Creating new day care businesses focused in refugee and immigrant communities makes child care more accessible for locals, Leverett said, by offering competitive prices and dual-language services. The program has also helped open day cares tailored for Spanish-speaking kids and for Arabic speakers.
Ngoc Ho said speaking both English and Vietnamese is a huge plus for her clientele. A lot of her students haven't been to child care before, in some cases because Vietnamese-speaking parents didn't feel comfortable putting them in English-only day care.
To accommodate demand for the specialized child care she offers, just six months later she’s already looking to expand her business and accept more kids into her preschool.
“I help them in English so they can have enough language to go to Kindergarten to understand what the teacher says or if they want to say something to the teacher,” Ho said, “And I can help them with Vietnamese because most of them speak Vietnamese.”