Childcare 2.0: The Great Redefinition

What word springs to mind when you hear the word childcare?” We posed that question to about 100 families in our community in a recent, unscientific survey.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming number answered “nanny” or “babysitter.” Even myself, founder of a company providing new solutions to childcare, answered “daycare.” This traditional definition conjures up a physical place where small children (pre-K) are dropped off to be cared for while parents or caregivers are working.

We’re here to challenge that. What if we expanded it beyond “the littles,” and beyond a building? What if we defined it in terms that relate to what kids, families, and companies actually need? That larger discussion and redefinition is needed, and now. We started the challenge in a previous article, “It’s Time to Redefine Childcare.”

You might wonder — why bother? Is this traditional definition causing any harm? Why not leave well enough alone? In our estimation, this narrow definition does cause harm, and “well enough” is neither well, or enough, for working families or thriving companies.

The Old Definition No Longer Applies

A redefinition has become extremely important (and urgent) at this very moment. Families are looking to regain structure and return to school and work as corporations adopt new remote or hybrid work environments. All those factors present the ideal opportunity to redefine childcare and deliver solutions with innovation and creative, flexible solutions that didn’t exist before the pandemic. It’s imperative we seize this opportunity and get it right.

The devastating impacts of the pandemic on childcare options and availability are obvious for working parents and caregivers. It is virtually impossible for workers to fully return to jobs without available care. Not only has cost severely increased, waiting lists now extend to unprecedented lengths — years rather than months in many areas.

Locations referred to as “childcare deserts” are the hardest hit by closures. Typically, these areas, outside of urban centers, have relied heavily on family-owned-and-operated care centers that have been forced to close. These small businesses are unlikely to return, unable to shoulder the shutdown and the added costs of compliance with COVID-related regulations. The impacts to these communities and the ability to rebuild a strong and thriving economy are directly tied to the affordability and availability of quality care.

A Wave of Resignations on the Horizon

“The Great Resignation” is in large part tied to this lack of affordability and availability of childcare options. Just this week, a new study from the Center for American Progress determined that the average cost an organization shoulders for attrition equates to 213% of a worker’s annual compensation (Lattice Magazine for HR Professionals, July 26, 2021).

Employee attrition and its massive costs carry the potential to cripple American companies of all sizes with women employees bearing the brunt. Today, unemployment for women remains 1.9 percentage points above the pre-pandemic level (Fortune Magazine, Feb. 21, 2021) with mid-career and manager-level departures growing the fastest (Technically Media CEO Christopher Wink).

In nearly every study, childcare and work-life balance are major factors. Some “… had a little more space to ask themselves, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing?’ So, some are deciding they want to work fewer hours or with more flexibility to create more time for family or hobbies,” said Betsey Stevenson, University of Michigan economist, to Axios (June 14, 2021).

There is no “bouncing back” forecast for childcare due to closures and skyrocketing costs. As traditional childcare becomes harder to find, employees become more insistent that they’ll quit or change jobs without a remote work option AND flexible childcare benefits.

A Childcare Definition Families Can Use

So, the need for redefinition of childcare is upon us. Our Sit-a-Bit definition encompasses these truths:

  • Childcare extends beyond the pre-K years. Childcare may look vastly different for toddlers than high school kids, but it’s still childcare. Solutions addressing the current gaps must consider a wider age spectrum.
  • Childcare extends beyond physical needs. As children grow so do the diverse care needs extending into academic, emotional, spiritual, and beyond. Our view of childcare must begin to encompass solutions that support families across the entire continuum of needs.
  • Childcare isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Especially today and extending into the future, each family’s care needs are unique. Our view must welcome and support this diversity of needs and deliver solutions that allow families to choose those services supporting their drivers.

How Can Companies Meet this New Definition?

An expanded definition of childcare means families are supported in finding, scheduling, paying for, and managing high-quality care across multiple providers for multiple ages. Benefits offerings of subsidized daycare stipends or backup care services are limited to supporting families fitting into that narrow definition. The current working environment demands more.

In the coming months, our government leaders will release incredible legislation and funding to address the devastation realized in the childcare industry. Through funding to small businesses and centers that provide services, raising pay rates for childcare workers, and extending subsidies to families we will have the initial mechanisms to begin redefining childcare and the solutions we bring to market.

Yet there is more to be done and a wider population to serve.

In our next article, we’ll outline the solutions companies can offer employees to address the larger definition of childcare. In turn begin to combat the rapidly escalating cost of attrition and recruiting by delivering flexible, accessible options for parents with children of any age.

Carleen Haylett is the Founder and CEO of Sit-a-Bit, The Kid Enrichment Company. 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/.