It’s Time to Redefine “Childcare”

Not that long ago, if you were to say “childcare,” I might have blurted out “daycare!” or “babysitter!”

Now, in 2021, I might burst into tears or laugh. So much has changed and so should our definition of childcare.

We’re struggling to reinvent and redefine so many things we now recognize as broken. The pandemic shed an unsympathetic light on everything from childcare to health care, racial equity, and pay equity.

Childcare, especially for women, was already riddled with flaws. In the “before times,” our lives were forced to fit into the rigid parameters of a work culture built at the expense of our families, our mental health, and our wallets.

Most days looked the same. We woke our kids up, handled the morning routine, dropped them at daycare care or school or camp, and picked them up later. This was followed by shuttling to after-school activities or rushing home to attend to the household and evening routines. The time between drop-off and pick-up was a frantic mix of careers, errands, and trying to accomplish the millions of other things that seem easier when kids are elsewhere. Heaven help us if anyone woke with a low-grade fever, or the district declared a snow day.

Then lockdown happened and everything changed. Childcare imploded and even disappeared for many families. All those components — intricately pieced together from a range of providers — simply fell apart, and everything fell squarely on the shoulders of parents or caregivers. This not only means supporting our children through massive change, but finding new options, managing new providers, mastering new payment processes, accounts, calendars, and executing new and complex protocols.

The management of childcare instantly became exponentially more difficult for families, and not simply because much of it was no longer available. Everything we previously “outsourced” was now front and center while we tried to hold down a transformed job and run a household. It’s no wonder an estimated 3 million women left the labor force in 2020 because of “persistent pay inequality, undervalued work, and antiquated notions of caregiving.” (CBS News)

While the return to schools and traditional care models feels like the panacea, the reality is that things have changed, they will continue to evolve, and the needs of families require new solutions.

We all know that providing care and support for children is a lifelong journey. Childcare doesn’t end with daycare graduation, or at the moment a nanny or sitter is no longer needed. It also isn’t simply, as some definitions state, “having an outside person or service” physically present with a child while the parent is at work.

Our post-pandemic world presents an incredible opportunity to address the pain families have endured in part because of these narrow, traditional views. There are two key points that need redefinition.

First, let’s broaden the age range of what is perceived as “childcare.” Children from pre-K through high school need a wide range of high-quality support. Families have always supplied this full range of care, yet our institutions, providers, language, and legislation continue to cling to an implied, outdated definition of “childcare” that covers only pre-toddler/toddler age kids, with the primary caregiver doing most of the heavy lifting. This is simply not the case.

Second, support cannot be limited to narrow academic coaching, a musical instrument, or a single sport. It must feed the development of a well-rounded child who is fully prepared to seize any and all opportunities in their young adult years. Social and emotional wellbeing, online safety, medical and physical education, sports, arts, AND academics. All of it is childcare.

We need to redefine childcare for many reasons beyond the theoretical — including simply staying afloat! It’s increasingly clear that we’re not simply “going back” to how things were. Many of the changes in how employees work, and the shifting of individual childcare needs, are permanent. And all of it has made the cultivation, management, and execution of a holistic childcare program for our children exponentially more difficult. Piecing these parts together has clearly contributed to the rise in attrition; it’s simply unmanageable and unrealistic without new options. But in those new options, there is, perhaps, a silver lining.

An incredible opportunity has emerged for childcare companies, tech startups, and incumbent providers.

Using advanced technology to bring together these expanded childcare offerings in a cohesive, integrated fashion, and eliminating logistical challenges for parents, is absolutely achievable right now. The opportunity to not only reinvent and redefine childcare but to reimagine the very way in which families engage across the continuum of care services, regardless of a child’s age or activities, is within our grasp.

An even greater opportunity exists for companies. As more organizations adopt full or partial remote work structures, an incredible inflection point has emerged. Employees are raising their collective voice and emphatically stating they will leave or change jobs without remote work options AND flexible childcare options that extend beyond traditional models.

Dan Price, the trailblazing CEO of Gravity Payments, states in The Guardian (July 7, 2021) that research shows remote work has fueled a 5% increase in productivity (bloomberg.com, April 21, 2021) and asks:

“What motivates you? The chance to have a pizza party at the office? Or knowing you can spend rush hour having dinner with your family instead of getting honked at by someone who just cut you off?” Dan Price, CEO Gravity Payments

His employees overwhelming favored continuing the remote work model — 7% preferred returning to the office full time, 31% wanted an office-remote hybrid and 62% wanted to work from home all the time. It’s Price’s position that forcing workers back to the office will cost employers in both turnover and low morale.

Companies offering varied options will win the ‘War for Talent.’ Conversely, those that do little to support the emerging needs of working families will experience an accelerating wave of costly attrition and fail to attract high-quality replacements. Providing flexible childcare options that address the entire ecosystem of individual needs will differentiate the best from the rest.

Sit-a-Bit is The Kid Enrichment Company. Our solutions directly rise to meet both these challenges. Through the Sit-a-Bit Marketplace, we bring together best-in-class providers and their exceptional content, making it easier for families to manage the logistics of childcare. And our corporate clients extend this access along with exclusive corporate benefits to their employees. As a result, companies mitigate costly attrition and elevate their brands.

Fortune Magazine estimates it will likely take women two years to recover to pre-pandemic employment levels, to say nothing of the financial impact to families, our economy, and our communities. Without flexible childcare solutions, the massive increase in caregiving responsibilities will jeopardize women’s ability to stay in the workforce and progress.

This is our opportunity to take bold action.

Carleen Haylett is the Founder and CEO of Sit-a-Bit. We dare to imagine a world where families can easily access incredible activities for kids provided by best-in-breed providers. We believe that childcare support extends beyond traditional offerings of daycare and in-person care, and we elevate the entire care ecosystem by making it easily accessible to families. Our corporate clients are leaders embracing the evolving individualized needs of employee caregivers by offering our services as an extension of traditional childcare employee benefits. To learn more about Sit-a-Bit, The Kid Enrichment Company, visit https://enrichedhq.com/. To see our virtual activities, visit https://sitabitmarket.com/.