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There's an Easy Solution to the Childcare Shortage Problem for Working Parents

A mother and toddler play in the living room of their home. The mother is dropping plastic balls for the toddler who is sat in a pop up ball pool / tent
Photograph by Getty Images

Finding childcare for my baby was at the top of my priority list when I became pregnant. Like many working parents, achieving that goal didn’t come easy. My initial plan of seeking assistance from family members, neighbors and friends was a bust. Everyone was tied up with work and other personal responsibilities.

But then I thought to myself, why are aren't more companies stepping up to the plate to help working families find childcare? Alternatively, why don't companies also do their part in making daycare affordable for parents? Don't they want productive, committed employees?

Seems like the great idea, right? Unfortunately, that wasn't the case when I became a mom. Instead, choosing the right daycare became a full-time job in and of itself. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And when we did finally find one we liked, we ended up paying $30,000 dollars in daycare expenses for our two kids. That's right. $30,000.

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As it turns out, many working parents face this very same issue. NPR and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health asked over 1,000 parents across the country about their childcare experiences and a third of them said they had a tough time.

Part of the problem is that many parents start hunting for daycares during pregnancy only to discover that, often times, they're already too late and there are no spots available for when they'll need it. So many parents end up paying heft wait list fees in the $100-$200 range to many childcare centers simply hoping space opens up in one when the time comes.

Megan Carpenter of Alexandria, Virginia tells NPR that she and her husband "spent over $1,000 in wait-list fees" and didn't ever hear from most of them. By the time her daughter was born, she still had no daycare to take her to.

If more employers partnered with daycare centers, the childcare dilemma would be solved.

But these daycare centers often don't have a choice but to continue this wait list practice because if they want to keep prices affordable enough for parents to want to send their child there, yet still pay the high liability costs, putting people on a waitlist is necessary for providers’ survival.

However there are daycare companies like Bright Horizons—which has over 1,000 locations in 42 states—that still manage to stay afloat. So how do they do it? Bright Horizons CEO Dave Lissy tells NPR that they owe their success to employer investments.

"We've convinced employers to invest over a billion dollars, in either capital investments or subsidies, for their working families," Lissy says. "That just didn't exist before we pioneered the model."

He went on to say that tuitions are funded 75 percent by working parents and 25 percent through employer subsidies. I imagine that each company operates differently in terms of the type of care being offered.

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In fact, my husband works for a company who has also partnered with Bright Horizons. However, they only offer emergency care for up to 20 days per calendar year. Although there are a limited amount of days, it does come in handy and we only pay $20 per child for each day. It’s such a shame that more companies don’t do something similar.

If more employers partnered with daycare centers, the childcare dilemma would be solved. Large corporations may be able to accomplish this by offering onsite day care centers. While smaller business may not have the space or resources for an on-site center perhaps they can team up with off-site providers strike some sort of deal to offer employees a discounted rate.

It's hard to say why more companies don't make more of an effort to keep parents in the workforce. I've worked with companies in the past that were able to reserve spaces for expectant workers ahead of their maternity leave. The move was a great way to combat employee turnover.

If more companies take a more active role in helping their employees find adequate child care, it eliminates the stress on working parents. Families would be happier and more productive at work, which is also great for a company’s bottom line. If you ask me, that’s a win win.

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