As the discussions, debates and zoom school board meetings rage on, parents across this country for the most part still do not have a confident strategy regarding if and how their children will return to school in the coming weeks. The implications with this decision are far reaching either way you go, and will have long lasting social, economic, health, financial and business consequences. For purposes of this article, I am going to focus on the business and child care symbiotic relationship, but understanding that is just one facet of this dilemma. How can the business community support this next phase?
The pandemic has brought together compounding child care issues, the availability, i.e. schools and daycares being closed, quality care institutions closing, and the not new issue of the high cost.
A study in 2016 by the New America Foundation and Care.com found the national average for at home care to be around $28,000 and in center care to be approximately $8500.
Much of the debate from a macro and micro level, center around how parents return to work in the old normal capacity with children distant learning at their computers presumably at home. Even with the return to in person schools, parents fear how long until the next shut down, not to mention the inherent health risks of opening up their lives. The lack of child care represents a huge hurdle in being able to return to a brick and mortar working environment, and no parent has forgotten how taxing the virtual environment for working, schooling and caring was in the spring.
The initial response strategy was for employers to provide as much flexibility as possible, in schedules and working from home. SHRM conducted a survey of HR professionals in May and found the following.
- 86% of employers offered flex schedules / hours
- 71% Full Time Remote offering
- 63% offered reduced hours
At the time though companies were not stepping in financially to support the child care problem.
- 9% of employers providing or considering providing child care assistance/subsidies
- 7% considering onsite child care options
Employer support will be needed in our new normal, and arguably overdue.
According to a survey from Boston Consulting Group, 60% of US parents reported at the time of the shut-down they had no outside care support during the pandemic.
The initial immediate shut down, parents made it work, but is it sustainable for families to do it all? What about businesses? How much revenue and productivity do employers loose due to employees lacking resources for child care and emergency child care resources? This is an existing problem compounded by the pandemic.
Strategies to Consider:
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Passed in March, to provide sick leave at 2/3 of employees regular pay for parents who cannot work due to childcare.
- FSA is a helpful pre-tax option to help with cost of child care. Employers need to ensure that employees are educated on this benefit and are utilizing it. As we navigate the new normal some employers are looking into
- Back Up Care: This can come in various forms, reduced or negotiated rates for at-home care services like Care.Com or back up access to child care centers that can be arranged with short term notice.
- Child Care Resource Partnerships: there are many companies that work directly with employers to find back up child care solutions as well as providing services to manage onsite facilities. These companies are part of your overall benefit and offering packages.
- Extension of current policies: Employers extending or broadening current leave policies to assist families. This would entail going beyond federal and local leave times.
- On-Site Care Centers are another option, while expensive, it certainly speaks to a corporate culture of supporting the family unit, with long term upsides in recruiting and retaining employees and less lost productivity.
- Meeting Times: This is so easy to implement. Agreements not to start meetings prior to a certain time, 9/9:30 or have meetings end no later than 4/4:30. This offers parents anxiety reduction around pick up and drop off, as well as financial because fines surrounding late pick ups or early drop offs are steep.
I was listening to our superintendent of schools in Palm Beach County make a passionate speech / plea as to what we as a community with rising cases is going to face and need to do as we move into new phases of opening. He focused on a new normal where not one institution is going to solve the problem for us. Our employers, the federal and local governments, the non-profit and community based organizations and neighbors helping out neighbors, need to be the Village the we rethink moving forward as a country.