Photography by Hunter Lacey.

Child care for young kids isn’t always accessible for working and sick parents, and managing medical treatments or a hospital stay doesn’t make it any easier.

The demand for child care increased when mothers returned to the office, and 52% of parents said parenting during the pandemic was difficult, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey.

One local nonprofit is addressing the issue of child care for mothers who need it most in Lake Highlands, East Dallas and the Greater Dallas area with a solution: free child care. Annie’s Place, which branched off from Mommies in Need to serve more families, opened in November 2020 on the Parkland Health campus.

Annie’s Place also broke ground on a 4,800-square-foot expansion with the addition of a learning center in the existing child care space at Parkland this past November, marking its second anniversary.

Hospital employees get a spotlight in the expansion because child care for children of health employees is a key focus.

Lake Highlands mom Natalie Boyle founded Mommies in Need in 2014 when she was struggling with her own illness. At the same time, she had two young children to care for, but she couldn’t find a babysitter.

“I was kind of going through some really difficult health stuff while being a stay-at-home mom to twin toddlers,” Boyle says. “I was just coming out of that when a friend of mine got diagnosed with colon cancer, and she had a 2- and a 4-year-old. Essentially, I started sending my nanny over to her and we got a bunch of friends to chip in to pay for it. We raised enough money that we were able to just have enough to cover her entire treatment.”

Her friend with the cancer diagnosis was named Annie. In her memory, Boyle named the center after her.

What sets Annie’s Place apart on the mother-child nonprofit scene is that it’s considered to be a first-of-its kind organization. No other hospital in the country has a fully-functioning child care center for patients, Boyle says.

After a hospital board member introduced Boyle to Parkland’s Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Kavita Bhavan, Bhavan suggested opening a child care center at the hospital.

“That’s sort of where we started getting the idea. We just started talking about, ‘Well, could you put a child care center at the hospital?’ And pretty immediately, she was on board with knowing that it was a need in the hospital.”

Until that point, Mommies in Need’s main issue was not being able to serve the most vulnerable families, those at or below poverty level. Patients were having to cancel appointments because they couldn’t find child care.

The children of patients also look for ward to what was previously the uncertain and frightening experience of going to hospital appointments with their parents. Now, they look forward to the activities the center offers, which include story times from Dallas Public Library librarians, daily music classes and an indoor play space.

In their first five years, Mommies in Need provided almost 30,000 hours of free child care, which was an in-home service for 40 hours a week for up to six months.

The in-home program was paused due to the pandemic but now has two nannies on duty working to relaunch the program. Initially, care was mainly for health crisis patients, but it has since expanded to all patients who need child care. Boyle even launched a podcast, Culture of Caring, to share good news from the nonprofit world.

“During the height of the shutdown and the last couple years with all the scary and bad news, I found that I always had a good news story to tell somebody because I’m very active in the nonprofit world,” Boyle says. “Every day, I meet people that are doing amazing work to solve all the problems that you hear about.”

Annie’s Place isn’t done growing. In 2024, Boyle says, the expanded learning center will open, along with a new location in East Dallas.