By Lisa Finaldi
Lisa is the Community Engagement Leader at the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation.
The COVID-19 crisis has made crystal clear the vital role that child care and other parent supports play in getting our economy back on track.
Even before the pandemic, 99 of 100 counties in NC were already child care deserts for infants and toddlers. This means that for every three children—infant to three years old—there was only one space at a licensed child care center. When the pandemic hit, many of our nation’s child care facilities closed their doors with no guarantee they would be able to reopen. In North Carolina, 43 percent of all child care centers were closed on April 14, and 41 percent were closed as of May 15. And many center directors have reported concerns about their abilities to financially withstand a lengthy closure. If these concerns are realized, the state could potentially lose 753 licensed in home and child care centers.
Without access to licensed, quality child care, working parents – who make up a third of our workforce – can’t get back to work. Prior to the crisis, states were already losing more than $1 billion annually in economic activity because of breakdowns in child care. Until we can get parents back to work and ensure stable, safe, high-quality care for their children, the rebuilding of our economy will be stalled.
As communities plan for sustainable, thriving economies during and after the COVID-19 crisis, they must address the breakdowns in the child care system that are forcing parents, employers and our state to question how we’ll remain at or return to work.
In the coming weeks, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation will be surveying parents to better understand parental preference and need for child care in the context of COVID.
What we know already is that we need a new model for child care services in our state to propel a vibrant and successful economy.
That model includes building a stronger system across our state where communities can be part of investing in child care businesses. It also includes employers who support their own workforce by incorporating family-friendly workplace policies. Employers can support employees’ child care needs by offering:
- Backup or emergency child care – Licensed child care programs offered at an employer’s work site or in centers, or in an employee’s home helps employees continue work despite disruptions in normal caregiving arrangements. Employers have the power to negotiate rates with local care centers. Offering a backup plan gives working parents peace of mind and increases your business’ overall productivity and improves recruitment.
- Subsidized/reimbursed child care – Employers can reimburse or subsidize all or part of an employee’s approved child care costs. They may also reserve slots at particular facilities for employees’ children. By implementing this policy, you offer much-needed resources to parents looking for quality child care in the area. In turn, your business will see increased retention, lower turnover costs, and reduced employee absenteeism.
Additionally, employers can support families and children by offering:
- Flexible work scheduling – Telecommuting allows employees to work from home or a remote site for some or all of the time. This is the life many of us have been living these days, but continuing this policy could improve your employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity.
- Paid parental leave – This is leave provided for those employees who have given birth, adopted, or accepted a foster placement of a child. This is separate from vacation time or sick leave. Not only does a paid parental leave policy increase morale and job satisfaction, it also improves recruitment and retention.
- Paid sick leave – Sick leave refers to paid leave for employees to care for themselves or a family member during a temporary, short-term medical issue, such as illness or for preventative health care, such as an annual well visit or a prenatal doctor appointment.
- Predictable scheduling – Allows employees to have input into their work schedule, provides at least two weeks’ notice of work schedule and discourages last-minute schedule shifts so parents can more reliably plan for care needs and secure high-quality care.
Including child care solutions in your community’s COVID recovery planning and encouraging employers to offer family-friendly business practices will help your community’s employers return to business and will get members of your community back to work in a way that allows for continued viability for business and continued health and well-being for parents and their children.