Schools throughout the U.S. reopened this year as large numbers of workers returned to their worksites, either full time or on a hybrid schedule. The child care crisis, however, has not gone away for working parents. Adding to their challenges is the problem of finding care for kids during the summer break from school.
SHRM Online discussed these issues with Jessica Chang, CEO of WeeCare, a firm that helps parents locate licensed day care providers, nannies and babysitters and helps employers support employees' child care needs by offering them child care benefits. The website and app are free for parents to use to find caregivers, message child care providers and perform other tasks.
With schools back open this year after COVID-19 closures in 2020 and 2021, has the child care crisis been alleviated?
Jessica Chang: No, the problem of finding quality child care hasn't gone away. It's not unusual for working parents to encounter wait lists of six months to two years for an open spot at a licensed day care center. Women ages 25 to 35, the prime career-building years, often have to leave the workforce until their children are old enough for school, and then they find it difficult to come back.
Why aren't more employers providing child care benefits?
Chang: Employers often don't realize they have options based on what their employees need. Obviously, an onsite child care center is one way to go, and it's the right path for some organizations. But onsite centers also come with capacity limits and can pose cost issues.
Another option is paying for child care fully or partially by subsidizing the cost for employees with a monthly stipend, for instance. Others may limit their benefit to 10 to 20 days of access to emergency backup care, if an at-home sitter is sick for the day. That can help working parents avoid using up vacation time to stay home, because child caregiving isn't a vacation.
In what other ways can employers help?
Chang: Parents often don't know where to find care, so giving contact information for licensed and vetted day care centers can be a big help. Employers can work with a child care benefits firm that knows about smaller child care providers in the area that don't advertise, that has access to a network of experienced sitters available for steady work, or that can help new providers in the area get licensed to provide day care services.
How has the rise of hybrid work changed employees' needs?
Chang: It's now not unusual for employees to work in the office three days a week and need at-home care, or access to a day care center, for those days. In these situations, parents may want to find a local day care center or a nanny/babysitter who works a limited number of days. A child care benefits provider with access to caregiver networks can help.
Of course, when working at home, many parents find that managing their kids is a second full-time job, so they may want to secure care for their at-home days, as well.
What challenges do the summer months pose?
Chang: For many families, summer child care arrangements, such as day camps, are expensive, difficult to find, or don't align with parent and guardian work schedules.
According to WeeCare's 2022 summer child care survey, conducted in June among 40,000 U.S. parents with children under age 18, 68 percent of parents experienced challenges securing child care for their children this summer and 66 percent had to make job sacrifices that compromise their household income or job security due to a lack of child care during summer.
Among parents of preschoolers, we also found that:
- 34 percent depend on day care.
- 17 percent rely on grandparents and other family members for summer child care.
- 8 percent enroll in summer day camps.
- 8 percent use nannies or babysitters.
Another 8 percent hadn't been able to find any child care or were still looking for it.
When we asked about what kind of support families need to secure reliable, quality summer child care, 41 percent of parents said they would benefit from financial assistance either from the government or their employers in the form of child care benefits, and 36 percent would like to have more spots available in local licensed child care centers and more flexible child care options to accommodate their schedules and family needs.
Related SHRM Articles:
SHRM Praises Introduction of Child and Elder Care Benefits Bill, SHRM Online, July 2022
Ask HR: Should I Ask My Employer for Help Finding Child Care?, SHRM Online, August 2021
Employers Consider Child Care Subsidies, SHRM Online, September 2020