What are the childcare challenges facing working parents?
You’ve come so far in your parenting journey, congratulations. But you’re ready to go back to work. Now what? Navigating childcare is one of the toughest challenges parents have to tackle. And it’s not a new issue.
Since the industrial revolution when women began entering the workforce for the first time consistently, they’ve needed help with childcare. The simple fact remains - most jobs (back then with industrial roles) and now in our modern workforce, cannot be done with a child in tow.
While childcare is a joint parenting challenge, it’s typically much more of an issue for women (and employers who want diversity). Let’s face it, women still carry the majority of the child care burden.
Just look at recent Bloomberg Equality research - women did three times as much unpaid childcare during the COVID pandemic as men, despite both parents WFH. The global study found that women, on average, spent 173 extra hours last year, doing unpaid labour looking after their children.
Elsewhere, The New York Times reported that the pandemic has set gender equality back 10 years. They found the most substantial gender gaps are actually motherhood gaps - where mothers are taking a large career penalty to have children. Because women tend to shoulder more of the childcare and family burden, in order to go back to work, they have to find someone to hand responsibility over to i.e. a grandparent/paid childcare. But, given the prohibitively expensive nature of the majority of childcare options, many women simply quit work to become SAHM.
According to Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In:
"43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time… Only 74% of professional women will rejoin the workforce [after children] in any capacity, and 40% will return to full time jobs".
That was published in 2013. A more recent study by the University of Bristol found that this is more like 28% (compared to 90% of fathers) in 2019.
Last month, anonymous workplace chat app Blind surveyed over 6,100 employees from companies including Google, Salesforce, Lyft, and Facebook about being a working parent amid the coronavirus crisis. The survey found 61% of parents were working three or more extra hours per day to complete normal tasks, and that more than 50% of working parents were worried about their performance compared to employees without children.
The childcare issue is not new, but it has reached a critical point. And while Anna Whitehouse has made incredible gains in her campaign FlexAppeal, flexible working is not enough.
It’s not EITHER childcare OR flexible working. It has to be flexible working AND childcare that parents need in order to thrive at work and at home.
Saying that, it’s not all doom and gloom, and there is progress being made: Silicon Valley, long known for its lavish in-office perks, has been leading the way in making the switch from fun perks at work to accommodating benefits that support working parents WFH.
Tech companies such Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Salesforce have been offering employees new benefits such as free back-up childcare, extra paid caregiver leave, and subsidised memberships to childcare and tutoring services, as well as flexible schedules and months of paid leave.
More on that later, but first...
Why is childcare such a big problem?
Let’s explore three MASSIVE challenges (and two extra, smaller ones, that are still challenges nonetheless):
1. It’s very costly
According to the Money Advice Service, the average price for a part time nursery place in the UK in 2021/22, is just over £7,000 per year. In London, this cost can be even higher. To break that down even further:
- The average cost of sending a child under-2 to nursery part-time (25 hours a week), is £138 per week. Full time (50 hours) is £263 per week.
- If children are at school and they need to go to an after school club, it’s £62 per week for 5 days after school.
- A part time nanny (25 hours) costs on average £250-£400 per week, including tax and NI contributions.
- Live-in nanny (50 hours) costs on average £400-£650 per week, including tax, NI and room and board.
- Live-out nanny (50 hours) costs on average £500-£800 per week, including tax and NI contributions.
Inevitably, this is a key decision factor for parents (especially mothers) when planning their return - or quite often, non-return.
2. It’s very complex to navigate
As you can see above, there are multiple options. The market is fragmented and massively underserved. With so many different types of childcare to choose from: from nurseries to childminders and nannies, even navigating the terminology is hard.
To help you navigate the different childcare options available, we’ve broken down the four categories of childcare available in this helpful article.
Nanny v. nursery: which one is right for you? We’ve put together this article to help you weigh up your options.
And finally, there are multiple specialities within the nanny segment. You’ve got a nanny, a nanny-housekeeper, a maternity nanny, a live-in nanny, a live-out nanny, an au pair, a mother’s help, the shared nanny, and the rota nanny. To find out more about each one, we’ve gone into much more depth in this article.
3. It’s very emotional
Separating with your young child is not easy, for either the parents or the child. Most parents experience pangs of anxiety about their child’s safety, their emotional wellbeing etc when they’re not the soul caregiver. Not to mention, many children cry when you hand them over at the nursery door or when the parents leave home. Leaving your child is tough and incredibly emotional.
4. Back up childcare
There are times, even when you have solid childcare arrangements in place, permanent childcare arrangements, that life invariably gets in the way, and your ‘solid’ childcare support crumbles like a house of cards.
Whether that’s due to illness, nursery closure, etc, parents are routinely left floundering, trying to juggle work and childcare, and achieving neither satisfactorily. In such instances, they need backup childcare for emergencies. But who has a nanny vetted in place, on call, ready to go at a moment’s notice?
Parents either need backup childcare support, or they need employers to be more understanding around them taking time off on a short notice for childcare reasons.
5. School age childcare
The final big challenge we want to discuss is that the need for childcare doesn’t stop when children are old enough to go to school. People - mistakenly - believe that childcare will be sorted because the child is ‘at school’.
Schools go from 9am - 3pm (and work is normally 8am - 5pm), leaving parents “short” 2-4 hours of childcare. Parents require what’s known as ‘wraparound childcare' (i.e. an hour in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon, including drop off and pick up).
However finding just afternoon childcare is notoriously the hardest format of childcare to arrange for.
Plus, schools have anywhere between 10-18 weeks of holidays per year, twice as much as most parents’ annual leave. While there are holiday camps available for children to attend through the holidays, hours are often shorter than school hours, so again, parents are left short of childcare hours.
What are the industry standards and recent trends?
While childcare has been a big challenge since the industrial revolution, it has been a problem that’s been largely ignored up till now. But it can’t be ignored any longer. The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges of working parents.
Despite the unprecedented levels of flexibility that many employers have begun offering to their employees, it’s become very clear that parents cannot work (well) without childcare.
Children are a full time job in themselves. In fact, they are three full shifts in a row, every day, and so if parents don’t have childcare they either cannot work, or they burn out. In a study conducted by myTamarin during the midst of lockdown last year, parents were asked about the impact of inaccessible childcare on their work. Over 60% of parents rated it an 8 (on a scale of 1-10, with 10 = my ability to work has been completely wiped out).
Almost one year later (in February 2021) “flexible working” became all the rage, and is now quite the norm. But does it fix… anything? Yes they now have more time to perform their parental duties, but at a cost - in the form of reduced hours or having to take holidays.
As discovered previously parental burnout is on the rise and now is the time for employers to act to protect and support their employees. This will help those working parents facing burnout or supporting a family member struggling at home.
Parenting is the only legally allowed 24/7 job that can go on not just for days but for weeks or months at a time. But now, thanks to the pandemic, childcare has finally made it into the boardroom.
What are progressive employers doing to help?
(Even) more flexible working?
Flexible working existed before the pandemic, but the pandemic has taken it to the next level. But what that means for parents is (best case scenario) splitting a day with their partner, spending half a day working and half a day looking after a child (or home schooling), which in turn wipes out all free time and quality family life. Resulting in parents burnt out.
Workplace nurseries, or creche at the office
The concept has been around for a while, but with remote and hybrid working, they are less relevant. Plus, if you’ve ever tried taking a baby on the tube to your central London office creche (during rush hour), you’ll be aware how stressful it is.
Emergency, paid time off
Zurich UK introduced a fully paid emergency lockdown leave policy for parents and carers who face childcare emergencies following the closure of schools. The insurer offers fully paid time off for employees, to help them balance work and childcare.
This can work for emergencies, and thus very limited situations such as a short lock down. But employers cannot afford to offer such benefits for more than 10 days, which is what Zurich did.
The creative agency, St Lukes, launched a new policy to help working parents by introducing a childcare policy that offers employees with young children a monthly cash benefit up to £500 to help cover childcare costs for the first three years after maternity/paternity leave.
Companies like Amazon and Salesforce have gone one step further, offering childcare allowance and then some.
- Amazon subsidises tutoring and backup childcare for full- and part-time Amazon and Whole Foods employees.
- Salesforce adopted a similar policy, offering six weeks of paid time off for parents and a back-up childcare reimbursement of $100 per day for five days each month.
- A top tier management consultancy company is now offering permanent childcare solutions as a benefit
- A magic circle law firm is offering virtual consultations on all parenting topics from sleep to anxiety
What childcare benefits are available, who are the benefit providers & which companies are offering them?
Backup childcare as an employee benefit
Backup childcare has been around as a potential benefit even pre-pandemic. Backup childcare essentially covers emergency childcare typically 5-10 days a year.
What’s its advantage to you as an employer? It helps with maintaining productivity.
Also, it’s a popular benefit because employees feel their childcare issues are being heard, and employers don’t have to lose out when regular childcare falls through.
By offering this form of childcare benefit, you’ll be joining the ranks of giants such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, city law firms.
Childcare providers fulfilling this benefit via vetted nurseries and nannies include Bright Horizons, Care.com and myTamarin.
Permanent childcare as an employee benefit
Offering employees support with finding their permanent childcare solution goes a long way in building employee loyalty and increasing employee retention. Most importantly, it is the benefit that significantly increases diversity and inclusion. Childbirth remains the biggest driver of the gender pay gap with 90% of returning mothers (if they return) feeling like they were not supported, and 37% feeling so isolated they wanted to resign.
While backup child care typically covers 5-10 days a year, parents actually need childcare 250 days a year. The reason most mothers don’t come back to work? Because they simply can’t sort out their permanent childcare - they can’t find an affordable solution that is both an emotional and workable fit for their family. And if permanent childcare is not sorted and mothers don’t come back to work, it doesn’t matter whether you offer backup childcare, there’s going to be no one there to take you up on it.
In terms of benefits to employers, this benefit improves diversity and inclusion (as it attracts more women), and increases employee retention.
Navigating childcare i.e. finding a suitable nursery, childminder or nanny, whether you have one child or multiple, can be a minefield. Offering permanent childcare is a critical benefit, and indeed more critical than back up childcare, but not as widely adopted. In fact practically non-existent.
What does this benefit look like in practice?
myTamarin is now partnering with top management consultancy firms to provide their employees with a service that includes child care consultations, followed by matching with (and shortlisting of) handpicked childcare providers (either nurseries, childminders or nannies). They also manage all the admin, from HR to legal to payroll. This partnership is saving employees dozens of hours and thousands of pounds they would otherwise spend on finding and managing the right childcare set up. Once solid permanent childcare is set up, the need for back up childcare is also significantly reduced as the arrangements are much stronger and stable.
Newborn support as an employee benefit
Newborn support is a relatively new benefit, but one that’s vital given how hard the first few weeks and months with a new baby can be.
Newborn support can be either residential (i.e. provided by residential maternity nurses, night nannies, doulas or sleep consultants), or virtual support, provided by the same experts, but via virtual video consultations or chat / email support.
Either form of support helps expecting parents prepare for the birth and the arrival of a new baby, or it addresses a variety of post-natal topics such as sleep, lactation, weaning, tantrums, separation anxiety.
In the UK, myTamarin provides this benefit, and in the US it’s covered by Partum Health. myTamarin recently partnered with a magic circle law firm, Cleary Gottlieb, to provide this offering as part of their Return to Office support.
Rather than arranging childcare for parents, some employers are simply providing childcare allowance to parents. St Lukes creative agency are giving employees a childcare allowance of up to £500 a month to use as they see fit. The decision as to which type of childcare you would like for your child, and which provider you’d like to use is, after all, incredibly personal and subjective.
Vitruvian, on the other hand, are offering employees up to £1000 per newborn for a night nanny.
Flexible working is not enough
While the above are clear examples of employers taking a positive step forward by supporting parents with childcare, they’re not exhaustive options.
For employers who believe that simply allowing working parents flexible working is ‘doing enough’ to tackle the childcare issue, don’t get it. Flexible working is not enough. Childcare is critical.
From newborn support to after school clubs, if you want employees to bring their whole self to work, you need to ensure they feel comfortable doing so, that they’re not worrying about who’s watching their children.
Tracy Brower, a sociologist and principal in the applied research and consulting group at furniture manufacturer Steelcase, told Business Insider that a big about working from home is how much flexibility it offers, especially for parents.
"So much of our normal routines have been taken away. Yes, I can work in a flexible way if my child is at school. Yes, I can work in a flexible way if I have daycare available to me.”
So, if you want to improve your employer proposition and demonstrably support working parents, childcare is a great place to start. The results you reap will be multitudinous.
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