While HHS is exploring options, childcare benefits are getting more attention and action on the state and local fronts.
Many working families find it difficult to locate and afford child care that meets their needs, according to a recent blog by Eric D. Hargan, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As a result, he said, “They often face tough choices in balancing work and caring for their children.” Hargan and others at HHS have been traveling the country and talking to employers and other stakeholders about this issue, but no immediate government action is in the works. Nonetheless, you can follow the lead of innovative employers to devise your own solutions.
Hargan observed, “Based on what we have seen across the country, we know this work will require strong cross-sector public-private partnerships between states and local governments, local programs, the business sector, philanthropies, and parents. We look forward to engaging new and existing stakeholders to increase access and affordability to high-quality child care, so more families can take full advantage of the opportunities this economy affords while their children receive the great care they deserve.”
The average cost of child care is more than what families spend for housing in most states. At the same time, Hargan said, insufficient child care costs employers about $57 billion annually in lost earnings and productivity. He said he has spoken with employers who say they can’t fill some jobs—especially those on late shifts—because workers need but can’t find child care necessary for them to work during those hours.
It’s not only employers and working parents who feel the pain. Hargan said that child care providers say they have trouble keeping and sustaining their businesses while juggling paperwork and other requirements. At the same time, those providers who want to expand their business can’t find or keep capable staff.
Hargan said that his agency is “committed to listening to parents, providers, businesses, and states to ensure regulatory and monitoring practices are not duplicative or inconsistent, and are not unnecessarily driving up the cost of providing care or pushing different types of providers…out of the market.” Moving forward, HHS looks for states to take the lead with “cross-sector public-private partnerships.”
In the meantime, consider some of these innovative solutions:
- Babies at work. The Arizona Department of Health allows employees to bring their infants to work. The program has been so successful that other departments in the state have copied it.
- YMCA Early Education. Consider partnering with your local YMCA to increase access to these programs by your employees.
- Mobile childcare units. Staffed by early childhood professionals, these can be moved from building to building. You could partner with other organizations and, for example, have the unit at your location on alternate days.
- Child flex care. For occasional care, such as when there are weather-related school closings, consider letting employees “buy” time off to stay home with unpaid leave.
- “Grandmas” that care. The Gma Village allows families to hire prescreened, health-and-safety-trained “grandmas” full-time, part-time, or on special occasions.
- Resident child care programs. Particularly in assisted living and senior living communities, there may be willing and able caregivers right in the community. Consider connecting qualified and interested residents with employees who need child care. These people either could be paid directly by the employees; or the management could give them a discount on monthly rent/fees.
- High school/vocational programs. Some high schools or vocational/trade schools offer daycare programs/services, where caregivers are adult instructors and students enrolled in early-childhood-care programs.
Lauding the many “bright spots across the country,” Hargan said, “We know there is much work ahead, but we also know progress is being made in states and communities who are listening to what parents need.”