As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. No one understands this better than working parents. The misalignment with work and daycare or school hours; the lack of flexibility needed to bring children to doctor’s appointments, sports practices, after-school programs; the struggle to keep up with grocery bills, or to make healthy, hearty home-cooked meals each night; and to top it all off, the need—for both children and their parents—to spend quality time together: all this can prove difficult for working parents to weather alone.
And perhaps one of the most time-consuming, frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and challenging tasks that working parents are charged with is finding that so-called “village”—i.e., childcare support—to entrust their children to during the workday; specifically, the “right” village that perfectly aligns with their location, transportation needs, time constraints, expectations, safety and development concerns, and, of course, their child’s age…or, as is increasingly the case in the US, even just finding a village at all.
Childcare: An American Crisis
As new reports posit, childcare is a $122 billion issue in the United States—with no chance of improving anytime soon. By the end of 2023, some 70,000 childcare programs are estimated to have closed following the expiration of the country’s $24 billion federal COVID-19 support program, leaving more than 3.2 million children without a spot in such programs. Findings from Care.com reveal that more than half of families were placed on waitlists while searching for daycare in the last year, with nearly half of them having to wait more than three months for a spot to open up.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that home-based childcare services—the crux of care for at least a third of children under the age of 5—have declined by a whopping 50 percent over the past two decades—drastically outpacing the decline in children under the age of 5, which stands at just 3 percent.
As programs grow scarce and the costs to retain childcare staff continue to climb, working parents—and their workplaces—are taking the hit. For starters, for working parents who are able to access childcare, it is estimated to comprise at least a third of their income on average. For those who struggle to set up a stable arrangement, experts contend that they may lose $6,000 per working parent annually in missed workdays, lost earnings, and time spent looking for work or childcare.
In the context of the workplace, this of course translates to lower productivity and profitability, high absenteeism, high turnover, and frequent disruptions, as recent survey findings reveal that, over the course of three months:
- Nearly a third of working parents will be late for or leave early from work;
- Nearly three in five will miss a full day of work;
- More than half will have been distracted at work;
- And more than two in five will leave their jobs—all due to childcare-related problems.
That being said, it’s safe to say that finding a solution to this snowballing crisis is equally as important for employers as it is for their employees—turning the focus toward wellbeing programs and what they can do to take some of the burden off working parents’ shoulders.
Support in Action: How Wellbeing Programs Can Assist with the Challenging Search for Childcare
Key details, including names, have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
Like most parents, Kelly found the ability to work from home during the early stages of the pandemic to be a blessing. It allowed her to spend more time with her newborn daughter, save on childcare expenses, and, as it happens, to put off the daunting task of having to find that childcare in the first place.
So, when the time came for Kelly to return to work, she was understandably distraught. Questions, doubts, what-if, and uncertainties raced through her mind.
How would her daughter, now 2, adapt to a new surrounding and, more importantly, to new people?
How would she, a single parent, keep up with the costs of a new arrangement, when the current cost of living has already exceeded her budget?
How generous would her employer be in the event that her daughter was sick and she needed to stay home to watch her? Or if she needed to arrive late or leave early to bring or pick her daughter up to the center?
And most importantly, How would she be able to find the right place for her daughter: one that was affordable, nearby, in alignment with her work schedule, and most of all, reliable?
Lucky for Kelly, she didn’t have to. Upon learning about her anxiety, her supervisor referred her to Workplace Options (WPO), her employer’s wellbeing program, whereupon she got in touch with the Practical Support Team who were immediately on the case, researching childcare services in her area and referring her to the right services that perfectly matched her budget, location, and scheduling needs. In addition to that, the team also provided her with a list of pre-screened candidates for an in-house nanny service, as well as resources on financial assistance for childcare.
After hearing more about her anxieties regarding her return to the workplace, the team also referred her to WPO’s New Parent Return-To-Work program, as well as to the organization’s counseling services to help her develop strategies on how to cope with her work, financial, and familial responsibilities. This way, she was not left without support once the Work-Life team concluded their task of finding her the perfect childcare service in her area. All this left Kelly feeling confident that she could manage both the return to the office and her parental responsibilities and gave her the freedom—mentally as much as physically—to focus her energy on spending (and enjoying) quality time with her daughter, no longer fretting over the hypotheticals or what’s to come.
This story represents just some of the many valuable ways in which wellbeing programs can help working parents balance their work and home lives. Whatever challenge a person faces—whether it has to do with one’s work, family, finances, health, home, relationships, or any other aspect of their life—it never takes place in a vacuum; every problem extends to other areas of a person’s life, whether seen or unseen. In the case of finding childcare, the issue more likely than not will not be “solved” once something has been arranged. There’s, of course, a financial cost, but also an emotional cost that comes with handing your child over to someone else’s care. There’s worry for the child’s wellbeing, but also for the parent’s.
By having integrated access to childcare, financial, and emotional support all through their employer’s wellbeing program, working parents can be sure to get the timely and effective help that they need to continue to be the best employees, the best parents, and the best version of themselves.