Economic development requires a talented workforce who can get to work. So just as we must provide affordable housing and reliable public transportation, we must ensure the widespread availability and affordability of safe, quality child care. Without it, working parents, particularly mothers, are unable to build their careers, and the economy and the community suffer as a result.
There are challenges to increasing access to quality child care, and many opportunities for businesses to help overcome them. One of the largest issues is lack of a clear cut or universal approach to finding child care, and the ambiguous nature of “quality” in the absence of any sort of central rating system in the state. Parents often assume all programs are regulated, and that a program with regulatory violations would have been shut down. Neither is true. Additionally, families at every income level have difficulty paying for child care that can average about $21,000 a year, easily rivaling rent or a mortgage. There are limited financial resources: public subsidies are only for extremely low-income working families and scholarship funding is rare and cannot keep up with demand.
These are symptoms of a larger system that needs major improvement. Policy changes and public funding are needed, as well as a shift in mindset. Child care has historically been viewed as parents’ private responsibility, but we now understand access is essential to our ability to attract and retain a talented workforce. In addition, the early brain growth achieved in quality child care settings between birth and kindergarten makes a lifelong positive impact in academics, health and career success.
So, what can you do today as individual business owners? A lot. Companies big and small can address the issue of child care in very practical ways so that rather than a source of stress for working parents, their supervisors and their colleagues, it’s an opportunity to offer an extra benefit at little or no cost.
We urge every employer to inform employees about the Child Care Council’s free referral services for parents. This includes specialists available by phone and email, and a 24/7/365 online child care database, checklists to bring when visiting programs, a link to look up regulatory inspection history, and resources to help pay for child care. The Council can provide print and digital materials for distribution via email, intranet, HR welcome packet, wellness fairs, etc. For a nominal fee, the Council’s specialists can also provide more full-service searches and on-site presentations.
Other excellent benefits employers should consider include maternity leave for at least 3 months, paternity leave, access to a Dependent Care Assistance Plan (DCAP), vouchers for child care or an agreement with local child care programs to provide a discount for employees, accommodations for lactating mothers, flexibility on when and where employees can work, parent-friendly meeting time policies, backup child care, and more. These policies, which take the “whole employee” into consideration, will help reduce stress on working parents and their colleagues and ensure you are able to recruit and retain a diverse population of talented employees.
With the support of the business community, we can make great strides in increasing access to quality child care for more families. Reach out today to learn more: (914) 761-3456 or www.childcarewestchester.org.