Motherly | We’ve officially passed the date that Congress was supposed to “do something” to figure out how to replace funding for over 3 million kids predicted to be without care starting in October, thanks to the end of pandemic-era funding.
Dubbed the “childcare cliff,” educators, parents, and businesses seem to be sort of looking around, waiting to see what happens next. But businesses are in a unique position, in that they don’t have to wait and see, and they might be the broken system’s only hope in the midst of a Congress failing to act fast enough to protect families who rely on childcare.
Some businesses are stepping up, from Pittsburgh International Airport recently announcing a childcare facility for employees, to organizations supporting businesses in trying to create best practices and policies.
“Businesses are well-positioned and have a proven track record of innovating solutions for their workforce, including working parents,” says Sadie Funk, National Director, Best Place for Working Parents®, Fort Worth Texas, and a mother of 2 kids under 3 years old. “Across the national network of Best Place for Working Parents® businesses, we are seeing businesses take inventory of their employees’ child care needs and respond with a variety of supports.”
She adds that these include Dependent Care FSA’s (which can save businesses $382.50/employee on average, she says), onsite care, and flexible schedules. “Business leaders understand that listening to their employee’s needs and being part of the solution, not only makes for happier employees that stick around, but increases business success.” She points to data proving just that.
n fact, 70% of credentialed women who left the workforce would have stayed for more flexibility, and 83% of millennials would leave their current job for another that offers stronger family-friendly benefits, she says.
Her role isn’t about waiting for Congress. “By addressing the child care crisis through the private sector, families everywhere can receive the support they need during this challenging time.”
For some businesses, a survey and audit of their employees’ needs is long overdue. “To support families that will be impacted by the closures, it’s important for companies to…uncover their specific needs and inform their company benefit strategies,” says Mandy Price, co-founder and CEO of Kanarys technology company focused on providing the tools organizations need to create long-term systemic change around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) challenges. She explains that workers who will be most affected by the childcare cliff are “families in rural communities, low-income families, and women and families of color.”
So, she calls on businesses to build more on-site childcare centers, subsidize childcare for families needing it, and design flexible caregiving benefits. Mothers’ careers are on the line—according to Motherly’s 2023 State of Motherhood survey, 52% of working moms said the cost of childcare has made them consider leaving the workforce.
“Business leaders have both an opportunity and responsibility—morally, yes, but also it’s just profitable! — to realize that childcare holds up our economy. My corporate clients—who, granted, represent a subset of businesses who want to work with someone like me—are all over this moment, improving their benefits, doing management training, walking the walk,” says Lauren Smith Brody, the author and founder of The Fifth Trimester, and Co-Founder of the Chamber of Mothers. She calls it a “both/and” moment: “We need both private-and public-sector progress.” Her two roles allow her to make strides in both of those areas.
She has some advice for businesses: “This is the moment to crunch the numbers and realize that offering employees subsidized and backup childcare will immediately improve retention and recruiting (both of which have clear ROI), and it will make for happier, more productive, more diverse, and more values-aligned teams of workers.”
Business leaders can take note, and parents can encourage their employers to step up, by pointing out examples of those already implementing out-of-the-box solutions —
- North Carolina is launching a pilot based on a Michigan model, in three counties with buy in from local businesses, targeting those especially at the poverty line
- Maine employers are collaborating with existing childcare providers to increase access to avoid the cost of building an on-site center
- An Alaska-based credit union is offering reduced-cost childcare to employees
- the Skimm has a new campaign and resource called #ShowUsYourChildCare, calling on employees to be transparent about their childcare policies– it can be a helpful resource for businesses and parents
Parents who are on the job hunt for a better work/life/childcare balance can also prioritize companies who prioritize them first by helping with childcare.
“Last month, we saw women’s workforce participation exceed pre-pandemic levels. Unfortunately, this progress is now threatened by the impending closure of childcare programs across the country. The facilities that manage to stay afloat may be forced to reduce staff, shorten operating hours, or raise tuition fees,” Price adds. “This would push women to work fewer hours, switch to less demanding roles, or even exit the labor force altogether.”