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State of Care: New Year, New Child Care Challenges
Here’s how to plan for coverage.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but not for parents who need to find new child care arrangements. Rising costs, labor shortages and long waiting lists are making the task more difficult. Experts say there is “every reason to believe America’s child care crisis will get worse before it gets better.”
Since it’s the season of hope, we won’t end on that discordant note. There is good news, too, but before we break it down, it’s helpful to look back at how we arrived at such a perilous position on child care.
Though the worst of the pandemic is fading into the past, its consequences are still very present. School buildings were open in 2022, but many kids missed weeks of learning after coming down with the flu or a respiratory virus like RSV, which circulated at “unprecedented” levels this year. Parents were once again pushed to the brink, struggling to find back-up care or work while taking care of sick children.
It was also the year that federal attempts to give parents’ relief failed: President Biden’s Build Back Better package was whittled down to exclude paid family leave, child care and child tax credits.
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The measures are much-needed. There are 100,000 fewer child care workers today than before the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many child care centers to reduce their enrollment, limit their hours, raise their prices, or all three. Parents now face lengthy waitlists for care, or pay for private babysitters, who can cost more than $800 a week on average in places like California and Massachusetts.
“The bad news is that we’re unlikely to see the cost of child care change much in 2023 because demand still outpaces supply, whether you’re looking for in-home or in-center care,” says Natalie Mayslich, the president of Care.com’s consumer business. “That could ease some as the economy improves, but it won’t be immediate.”
As for the chances that lawmakers in Washington might help parents pay for child care, the signs aren’t encouraging. Not only did the family-focused portions of Build Back Better fail, Congress can’t seem to muster enough votes to protect a right to contraception or abortion. The child tax credit, which was expanded during the pandemic and lifted 2.1 million children out of poverty, was recently scrapped from a $1.7 trillion federal spending package. All in all, it’s not a good sign that measures that primarily benefit women and working parents are likely to happen soon. (One glimmer of hope arrived today: The Senate finally passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to give pregnant workers accommodations that would enable them to continue working.)
Now for more good news: State governments stepped up to help families, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center. Many states loosened eligibility requirements for child care assistance, helping more families afford care. Others funded pay raises and bonuses for care workers. And in a groundbreaking move, New Mexico expanded eligibility for child care assistance to nearly all families and guaranteed funding for early learning by enshrining it in the state’s constitution.
The private sector pitched in, too. Many employers continued to offer flexibility, allowing employees to work from home, or according to their own schedule. Our survey with Care.com found that employees and company leaders alike believe the new hybrid workplace is more flexible, more productive, and better for gender equality. That’s changing the equation on child care, too.
“As many working parents settle into routines of remote and/or hybrid work, they’re finding that the type and frequency of child care they need has changed. Flexibility with work can mean flexibility with care,” Mayslich says. “Maybe you’re finding you can balance work with part-time child care or perhaps you only need coverage a few hours a week now. Maybe a nanny share is for you. January is a great time to reset and explore more flexible, customizable, budget-friendly options.”
With that in mind, we asked the experts at Care.com for their best advice for preparing for a new caregiver scenario. If you are one of the many families (like mine) changing up your child care in the new year, read up!
The Fix: How to Prepare for Child Care Resets in the New Year
By Sheri Reed, Global Managing Editor, Care.com
According to Care.com data, January is the second busiest time of year for child care resets after the back-to-school season. Whether you’re figuring out child care for the first time or changing your care setup as you start a new work schedule, finding a just-right child care option for your family’s unique needs is a time-consuming job in itself.
If you’re facing a child care reset, here are five tips to make the inevitable household shakeup as painless as possible.
Evaluate your current care needs
Maybe you’ve been trying to work at home without child care. Or maybe a helpful family member or your part-time nanny just isn’t cutting it, or day care hours don’t mesh with your work schedule. Either way, it’s time to get real about your child care needs.
Make child care changes
There are more flexible child care options than ever before. The Care.com Guides to Child Care can provide tips and advice for making decisions between hiring a nanny or babysitter, trying out a nanny share, finding day care or putting together a hybrid option.
Don’t go it alone
Talk to friends, coworkers and neighbors about child care to brainstorm options that might work for you. If you have a partner or are co-parenting, figure out ways to share the load of researching and lining up child care.
Prepare your child for the change
Starting new child care can be a big deal for kids. Try these tips for helping ease their transition:
Give kids advance notice: If you’re getting a new nanny or starting a new day care, give children as much advance warning as possible so they can share and work through any worries with you.
Help kids process feelings: Your child may be upset or anxious, and that’s OK. Explain that everyone is nervous at first, and empower them by answering their questions.
Get kids excited: Arrange a nanny trial or a short play visit at your new day care so your child can get acquainted with their new caregivers while you’re present, too. Use this time to walk them through their new daily routine and, of course, talk about how much fun they’re going to have.
Whether you’re placing your infant or even an older child in another person’s care for the first time or switching things up, intense feelings are bound to come up—and this, too, is absolutely normal. These steps can help ease your worries:
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LOVE TO SEE IT
Congress set to approve $2.8 billion more in funding for early childhood education. The proposed federal funding bill for 2023 includes a big boost in spending for federal early learning and care programs, including Head Start and the Child Care and the Development Block Grant program, which helps states provide child care subsidies for low-income families.
HATE TO SEE IT
Child care chains lobbied against Build Back Better behind the scenes. The Early Care and Education Consortium, a lobbying group representing the chain child care industry, publicly supported Build Back Better’s proposals for providing near-universal child care, but its members criticized the bill in private meetings with lawmakers, reports The New York Times.