Not long ago, a Washington Post writer detailed the odyssey of finding child care for her first baby.
She started her exhaustive search more than five months before she gave birth. She finally found something after her daughter was more than a year old.
Such is a fact of life for parents today — that child care is impossible to find. And it’s a message for employers who think they can address employees’ child care problem with a voucher and a search engine. You can’t.
That’s because subsidies alone take on child care as a cost problem. And it is. But it’s not just a just a cost problem. With the number of providers down roughly 90,000, it’s also a supply problem, as well as an access problem, and a reliability problem, and a quality problem, and an “I can’t find something reliable that I feel good about” problem. Plus, for employers it’s a multi-audience problem, since what checks the right boxes for one audience (a new parent looking for a full-time center) looks different from another (a school-age parent who needs to have their finger on reliable back-up care). In other words, the answer to, do you need a center, back-up care, or a self-service option is — yes.
Counting Down the 4 Questions Your Program Needs to Address
Solving for all of that requires a child care program to ask (and meaningfully answer) four questions:
1.Will parents have access where they need it? Workforces are not monolithic, especially today. In any company, employees are working across multiple arrangements: in primary offices and by satellite; in hybrid arrangements and by full-time remote. There are logistical issues — people who may plan to access child care near home or near work; who might need to balance pick-ups and drop-offs with older children. Just as importantly, they all need to be able to work within their company’s or industry’s unique schedules. CHIPS plants, for example, will need a specific approach to meet its frontline-centric audience that might include early hours and school bus schedules. To be nimble enough to meet all of those audiences will require not just one approach, but many — full-time center, back-up care, and self-serve — and packaging that allows parents to easily navigate between them.
2.Will employees be able to afford it? Tuition isn’t a static number set arbitrarily, nationwide. Instead, it’s a math equation based on specific locations, audiences, competitors (where applicable), and potential for subsidies. All of that’s wrapped around the financial model of your program and how efficient it’s run. Without a hard look via benchmarking, financial modeling, and demographics, your program risks being priced outside its market, leaving you with a solution that misses the mark because people either can’t or won’t use it.
3.Will care be reliable? Arming parents with a voucher and a search engine won’t answer the child care challenge if there’s no child care supply to be found. So a dependable child care solution will require both robust care networks that can actually create supply, and a fleet of live customer-service people to help employees tap into it.
4.Will they find something high quality? How safe is your program? And can you vouch for it? All the carefully planned logistics in the world can’t make up for a program parents don’t trust. And the only way to assure quality is to create and leverage child care supplies that are known to you — as in, providers you can vouch for because they’re part of your own or your managed network. At the end of the day, care parents feel good about is the only child care employees will ever use. “What parents really need,” wrote The Washington Post author, “is reliability — to know that there is a safe, friendly place they can routinely leave the most important people in their lives.”
Why all the concern? Just look at The Washington Post story. During her daughter’s first child-care-free year, that writer cobbled her schedule in part by taking time off. Now multiply that by hundreds of thousands. In Massachusetts alone, an estimated 300,000 parents lose an annual 14 workdays each to child care — adding to hundreds of millions of related revenue losses for employers every year. The government’s CHIPS Act rules — requiring child care for certain funding levels – sends the clear message: that technological advancement doesn’t exist unless help for parents does. It’s the same for every industry.
But to capitalize on any industry potential, you’ll have to take on the obstacles, and build child care the right way.
From child care to elder care, Bright Horizons provides easy access to high quality solutions for all audiences. Work with us, and you get a single provider to answer all of your needs for the recruitment and retention success you’re after.