AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly 200 children died of abuse and neglect in Texas during the most recent reporting period, according to a new state report.

From September 2020 to August 2021, the Department of Family and Protective Services investigated 964 child deaths total. The agency confirmed 199 of these children died as a result of abuse or neglect.

In 177 cases, or the “vast majority” according to the report, there was no ongoing state investigation or services being provided to the home. Therefore, “there was no regular monitoring of the family occurring that could have protected the child,” DFPS wrote.

In 114 cases, or 57%, the child was not enrolled in either a licensed daycare or in school.

“Finding good care for a child’s needs is critical, especially when the primary parent/caregiver to the child is out of the home. School and day care also provide another adult outside the family the opportunity to be around the child regularly and be on the lookout for signs of abuse or neglect,” the report reads.

Meanwhile, the rising costs of child care have limited families’ options, experts say. Research from the Austin-Travis County Success By 6 Coalition shows the average cost of child care can range from $15,000 to $20,000 a year in parts of the city.

“Child care costs as much for infants as a year at the University of Texas at Austin,” said Cathy McHorse with United Way For Greater Austin. “So, you have 18 years to save up for college, and you don’t have that time to save up for child care for your infant and toddler.”

  • Read about the Success By 6 plan here

McHorse oversees the Success By 6 Coalition, which aims to get resources for providers, parents and children — with the goal of setting up children to “enter kindergarten happy, healthy, and prepared to succeed in school and beyond.” McHorse said part of their effort is to bring all the relevant programs and services together in a coordinated and efficient way.

“We don’t have necessarily a centralized resource center for parents to navigate and understand what they might qualify for,” she said.

Jason Gindele, the executive director of Mainspring Schools, said they work to make tuition subsidies available for families so cost isn’t a barrier. However, he noted the pandemic has heightened the need in the city — as demand has increased with families moving to Austin, while supply has dropped with providers closing their doors.

“There’s a huge crunch for child care throughout Austin that is really putting families in a bit of a predicament. They want to go back to work; they want to go back to school, and they’re not able to because they can’t find care for their child,” he said.

Mainspring Schools serves about 100 children, but its waitlist has grown to nearly 500.

When asked about the DFPS report, Gindele said, “You can’t help but be shocked. But is it surprising? Not entirely … Texas has done a fairly poor job of investing in early childhood.”

He explained Mainspring relies on a higher teacher-to-student ratio to act as a second set of eyes.

“We are a people organization — taking care of people. That means not only the children, but also their caregivers and also our team. So, that’s always front and center,” he said.

Chloe Picot-Jacobs, the director of Therapy Services at the Austin Child Guidance Center, told KXAN high-quality child care can make a difference in an entire family system, not just in the life of a child.

“Children that have those high-quality environments are more likely to thrive academically, have long-lasting and healthy relationships, and be more likely to stay enrolled in school, go on to graduate and earn a college degree, and even be more employable, because those social-emotional skills — and that mental health — that’s really embedded throughout their lives has long term benefits,” she explained.

She went on to say, “[High-quality care] is something that we want to be accessible for all families in Austin, and the fact is that that’s just not the case right now.”

McHorse said the coalition has increased kindergarten readiness in Austin-Travis County by 10 percentage points over the last decade, but — perhaps “more meaningfully” — they have seen more access to services. For instance, she said there has been an increase in the number of “quality seats” in child care centers connected more family-based child care programs with resources and built more partnerships that allow families to utilize full-day child care but also Pre-K, through community-based child care centers.